Christmas: 5 Tips On How To Cope When You’re Grieving

Christmas, or any other celebration at this time of year  – how to cope when you’re grieving.

Is it even possible?

Just the thought of your loved one at this time can be a nightmare, especially when it is a partner, child or other person you were living with. I hope this infographic will help you with managing not just the day itself, but the run up to it.

 

  1. Manage Your Expectations

Traditionally Christmas (and other holidays too) are times when people look forward to the comforting nature of a tradition, that has sometimes been activated for many years. But when a death happens, it disrupts this tradition. The sailing boat within which everyone was sailing loses a member, and the whole boat therefore becomes unbalanced, until those still in the boat find a new way of balancing.

While this is happening, a transition is taking place.

And if you’re going through a transition when Christmas is happening, then you may both want things to be just the same (which they can never be) and different (which you may find equally as difficult).

The thing is, expectations lead you to imagine that this is going to be the worst day you can imagine. The mind can go into overdrive as it fearfully creates pictures of what it will be like without your loved one. It thinks it knows just what will happen, and how you will feel, and it takes you off on a journey of agony, as you imagine the scenario that you think will happen.

Or maybe you’re feeling guilty because you’re not feeling as bad as you think you ought to. (Actually, this can be the case quite often, but usually we don’t hear about it, because guilt prevents that person sharing as openly as they might).

The trouble with expectations is you set yourself up to experience exactly what you are expecting.

If you have already decided that it will be a dreadful time (and that it ‘should’ be) then guess what? You are many times more likely to experience it like this. Not helpful. Feeling bad does not benefit anyone, least of all you. So when you notice you have the words ‘ought’ and ‘should’ in your vocabulary, change them to ‘could’. At the very least this gives you an option.

At this point, what really helps is to be scrupulously honest.

The truth is, you don’t know what it will be like.

No-one can possibly know in advance what they are going to be feeling in a certain moment, let alone a few days or weeks hence. The mind thinks it knows, but that is it just doing overtime in the fear-based fantasy department.

The actual truth is the day might be awful. It might be difficult. It might be okay. It might even be enjoyable. It might be a mixture of all these things.

If you are even having a hint of ‘it should be bad’ or ‘if I enjoy myself then I am betraying X’ or ‘out of respect for X I mustn’t have too good a time’, then this is also a time to be scrupulously honest. When you die, would you want those left behind to have a bad time out of respect for you? Would you want them to not enjoy themselves? No! Of course not. You’d want them to be as happy as they can be. (Or if you don’t then you’ve got some work to do on that itself!)

And just because others tell you they had an awful day doesn’t mean that you will, or that you ought to.

It’s different for every person, and your ONLY job is to have it be the way it will be for you. So be open to it being what it is. You may have a whole rollercoaster of emotions all in the one day. And maybe that will be fine.

Be open to it being good, awful, great, sad, poignant, cheerful – be open to the fact you could enjoy yourself at the same time as being sad that your loved one is not there. It IS possible.

  1. Do things differently

Whether you like it or not, it is already going to be different, simply because your loved one is no longer here.   So maximize on this, embrace the fact that it is already different. You can keep some of the traditions and let go of others. Invent new ones. Make big changes like going away with friends instead of going to family, or helping out with the homeless.  Or make small changes like having your Christmas meal at a different time, or eating a goose or a succulent piece of beef, or a vegan meal, instead of a turkey. Even altering the routine of when presents are opened, or dressing differently, will help you cope better with what is already different.

  1. Welcome your loved one in

On my first Christmas after my husband Philip died, (it was only 3 weeks previously) I invited an old friend of ours to come and stay with me. On the day itself, of course it was different. I’d never spent Christmas with just one girlfriend before. We treated it as just another day, albeit special as we both had some presents to open, and we made a lovely chicken meal for ourselves. Crucial, though, was actively welcoming Philip in to be with us. It wasn’t like we tried to have him be there, as if he were in a body, but rather that we spoke often about him, in an easy manner. We shared over the meal about specific memories we both had. It was sad, poignant and beautiful all at the same time.

If you are sharing your day with other members of the family, set up a time to specifically welcome your loved one.

Let family members know in advance you will be doing this. Invite them to bring their memories and share them.

This is important because by doing this you create a space for this person, but you are also creating space for everyone else there too. Otherwise it can all too easily become a day that is dominated by the one thing everyone is not speaking of – the person who has died.

And there have been many instances where, because of not wanting to mention that person, they effectively infiltrate and dampen the atmosphere, simply because everyone is afraid they will feel bad because they are not there.

You want your Christmas Day to be about the people who are there with you in the room, as well as those who aren’t. To do this, you need to make a conscious space for those who are no longer in their physical bodies.

  1. Take care of yourself

This might be thought of as sacrilegious at a time which is mostly associated with giving to others. But your giving will only be true giving if you are willing to give to yourself too. Otherwise it is easy for it to be tainted with resentment, duty, and other victim-like thoughts such as ‘no-one understands what it’s like for me without X’.

In the run-up to Christmas this may take the form of not shopping at all other than online; of going to different shops than usual; of not sending Christmas cards in the usual way (or not at all – I sent none that first Christmas, I simply could not bear signing just my name. I’m not sure if anyone even noticed, but anyway I didn’t care).

If you decide you do want to shop in the actual shops, employ tip no 2 and do it differently from before.

On the day itself, be as kind to yourself as you can be. That means taking time out to just nourish you – that could be in the form of a nap on your bed in the middle of the day; saying no to the traditional walk if you really feel like you’d rather be alone; writing a letter in your journal to your loved one; reaching out to a friend; having a special phone call; being with any children more than with adults.

Communicate what you are going to do in a clear, firm and loving way. Be willing to take care of yourself even if others don’t like it. If you don’t give to yourself first, you will not be able to give freely to others.

  1. Accept and reach out for help

This is where ‘putting a brave face on it’ and ‘pretending’ have to go out the window. Of course you don’t want to be a dampener on the day for others. That’s natural. But you don’t do that by pretending that you are okay and don’t need anything from anyone else.

Bearing in mind that the only thing you probably want is your loved one back in the room with you, there are still things that others can give to you that will help you be present and more fully able to enjoy the day.

When you don’t let others know your heart is breaking, or you need someone to do something practical for you, how are they ever going to know what is going on?

People are not mind-readers. They cannot necessarily tell that underneath that apparently cheerful façade you are screaming or sobbing inside.

So reach out – be brave – tell someone how you really feel in the moment.

Let it out. Allow yourself to be fully held in someone else’s arms. Sob your heart out. Feel numb. Be whatever emotion is currently visiting for you, and you will at the very least have the benefit of knowing you are loving yourself by being authentic.

And when people offer help to you, accept it.

Even if that is difficult, even if it’s not your style, again, do things differently and say yes.

 

Finally, know that whatever way you decide to acknowledge Christmas (or indeed any festive holiday in the next few weeks) it is okay. It’s even okay to not celebrate at all. Whatever you decide, make sure you are taking care of yourself.

 

Much love and peaceful blessings to you.

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6 Comments

  1. Katherine on December 18, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Dear Jane, thank you for your post. Today is the anniversary of my father in law dying, I cared for him during his last year and he died at home with us. I have no regrets but I do miss him and wish he had sorted things before he went. I’ve been really angry about that over the last year and acceptance is something that’s coming to me very slowly.
    He spent every Christmas with us so we know things are going to be different this year. Some of the traditions we will be keeping, but we’ve decided to have a PJ day and not dress for dinner at all, even having Christmas dinner on our knees watching TV! I’m really quite looking forward to a fuss free day and now after reading your post, I’m not going to feel an ounce of guilt about not setting a table or getting dressed for dinner! Thank you and Happy Christmas Katherine xx

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on December 18, 2019 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks Katherine – so glad this has been helpful, and I’m really delighted to read about no guilt! It makes all the difference!

  2. Ann Wakeling on December 18, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Dear Jane, Thank you for those tips. That is exactly my situation. My husband died at the end of October, at home, after nursing him since April. I didn’t begin to think about Christmas until I started getting the ‘to Mr & Mrs’ cards, and realised I had not finished going through his address book to notify people, and writing letters to them. (no e-mails, pen & ink, printer on the blink).
    Things will be different, I am going to my elder son’s tomorrow for 10 days. Never done that before, and I shall have the opportunity to get to know my almost 7 yr old great-granddaughter a bit better. My greatest anxiety is the 8 hour train journey, with 3 changes. Thanks again Jane, Have a good Christmas yourself.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on December 18, 2019 at 5:41 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear that Ann. I’m glad you are going to be doing it differently, it is the only way, seeing as everything already is different. ANd the bonus of getting to know a great granddaughter is lovely. May your train journey go smoothly and as planned – and that you can even enjoy it!

  3. Sharon Simerville on December 19, 2019 at 2:15 am

    I feel mine is such an extreme case, it may seem untrue, but it is true. My husband began with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015, diagnosed in 2016. We had started our 59 year marriage with nothing and after 40 years had quite a sizable estate after starting and selling two businesses We had a daughter born in 1963 and a son in 1964. Dec. 1, 2015 knowing of my husband’s disease, I convinced my husband to appoint my daughter as POA to both of us. That afternoon for tax reasons our lawyer and accountant advised us to divide our assets to keep out estate paying less taxes. This began the beginning of the nightmare I have lived for 4 years. It has a name, “Gaslighting.” I asked my son to come into our existing business and gradually he has become VP, firing me as Corp. Sec. My daughter lives in the same city that we do 10 min. away with my 3 granddaughters, two married and one 21 years old; all of whom we gave new cars at 16 years, provided for their college educations, one graduate school, deb parties, wedding & receptions, a college education for my first great-granddaughter her first Christmas before she reached one year old. Very blessed we were with, I thought a loving family. Now my granddaughters that are in town (my daughters’) haven’t spoken to me for a year, have written emails stating how could I be so mean to have made their family so unhappy. I now have two more great-grandchildren; one born recently I don’t even know his middle name or what he looks like.
    My daughter and son, on August 23rd served my husband with a summons for an Emergency Conservatorship stating there was no one in authority to care for him and they were concerned for his safety; I rec’d a summons that I was incompetent. When we believe in the USA we are innocent until proven guilty, this is not reality. I had to prove with an extensive neuropsychological tests, personality test and an Alzheimer’s test which I aced and others that stated not only was I not incompetent but I was above average and showed no signs of dementia. Does this seem crazy….believe me it is. This has gone through the courts with my husband a “Ward” of the Court system and me treated as though we had lived as roommates for 59 years and they had to protect his money for his benefit as though I was trying to steal “our” money. We always had joint checking accounts, when they divided our estate I received our 3 homes and he received the money producing business and stocks, etc. You may feel I’m a spoiled prima donna. No, we were very blessed by God and we both worked to achieve what we had and always shared with our community, college scholarships, etc.
    My husband died Oct. 16, 2019. He never knew what our children had done. I needed him so badly through these 15 months of going through “hell” slowly losing my husband, my children’s betrayal, and being treated as though the Court had to protect the “Ward’s” money for his benefit from everyone, including me. I didn’t mention he was 83 and I’m 80. My son’s children, particularly my married granddaughter have supported me from the first day in Court Aug. 23, 2018. She and her husband live halfway across the USA.

    I will be visiting them this Christmas. I’m trying to be brave, but I lie in bed every night and cry with what has happened. I do miss him so and I’m still tied up with legal actions trying to mediate with my children to be able to get out of the control from the Court that I still have over any assets that were in my husband’s name. I have many prayer warriors that have kept me going and prayerfully will be able to continue. I’m not sure why I’m writing maybe just to write is lethargic. I keep praying for answers. I pray to be able to be a pleasant person to be with during the holidays. I never felt sorry for myself because we were confronted with Alzheimer’s. That is life! What I am having a problem with is the unnatural way my children have betrayed both of us. Please help me if anyone has anything that can help.

    • Jane Duncan Rogers on December 19, 2019 at 7:17 am

      Sharon, I am really sorry to hear this. Of course you will be especially missing your husband, even though he has in a sense been missing from you and your life since the diagnosis. It’s a very hard journey indeed that one, and yet, as you say, made much harder by the split in the family.

      What can I say? Who ever really knows why life gives us lessons to learn, until we are out the other side and can understand something perhaps of what is going on here. Is there any way you can find anything to be grateful for, even though you are in such a situation? That will be one way out of it for you, to focus on what you DO have, not what you don’t. I send you my love and blessings for this holiday period and it’s great you have your prayer warriors with you.

      And by the way, writing is definitely cathartic! I felt compelled to write my first book Gifted By Grief, and although it was painful, felt that it was a necessary cathartic process, and therefore healing. Keep those pages in your journal full! (And don’t worry if they are full of swear words, either – mine were!)

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