Whether 2 months or 20 years have passed, when you’ve lost a loved one Christmas can be hard. We are sold the myth that we get over grief and can be caught off guard when a sudden wave of emotion comes over us and leaves us feeling like we have been transported back to an earlier part of our grief journey. These waves can happen at any time and often unexpectedly but they are perfectly normal. Here are 5 simple things to do to help you get through the festive season when you are feeling the absence of someone you love.
Recognise that you are in the middle of a grief wave, and what that means to you- if you feel irritable, sad or angry acknowledge your feelings and observe them. Our emotions can be powerful allies when we learn to observe them instead of repressing or indulging them. Slow down and allow yourself to just be, taking the time to reflect on how someone’s absence is felt in your life helps give your emotions space which is what they need. Check in with yourself regularly, ask yourself what you need and more importantly strive to give yourself whatever that is even if it goes against other people´s expectations.
Reminisce: Talk about your loved one, there is nothing morbid about keeping your loved one’s memory alive through stories and anecdotes and it doesn´t mean you are not moving forward. Just because a life has ended doesn´t mean the relationship has and talking about the ones we care about keeps them alive in our hearts, find someone who is willing to listen or even better -share a story or a tear with you. If you can´t find someone who can be there for you as you share think about connecting with a professional, we underestimate the power of externalising what we are experiencing to someone who can hear it without flinching or trying to make it better.
Rituals and traditions are big part of Xmas; was there a special food that the person liked or a tradition that seems to have died with them that you want to revive in their honour? Or is there one that no longer makes sense for you? You can choose your traditions and adapt them in a way that feels right for you now, in this point in your life. Clinging to old traditions that no longer work, or missing something that you could easily create, both cause stress that can easily be avoided. Think about what you want Christmas to look like this year, you don´t have to do things because ´that´s the way they have always been done.´
A personalised Christmas tree ornament is a beautiful way to keep someone close, especially when you don’t have traditions, memories or stories to share; women who have lost babies in pregnancy find this particularly healing.
Remember your loved one by donating to a charity or a cause that was close to their heart, or one that is close to your heart, in their name.
Retreat. Hibernate if you want to. You don´t have to go to every party and you don´t have to honour every commitment, if you think you would be better off not going -don´t go! Practice self-care and bow out gracefully rather than struggling through another social occasion if what you really need is to curl up on the sofa in your pyjamas and cry it out- there are no prizes for ploughing through and a little down time can be really beneficial. If you do go out watch your alcohol consumption. This time of year there is a lot of temptation to indulge in a tipple or three but excessive alcohol is never helpful but least of all when you’re hurting.
And finally, remember that your grief is as unique as you are. It may come and go or it may always be there just below the surface- but when we treat our grief like a welcome guest, meeting it without resistance, we might even be surprised by how soon it leaves.