Anticipating Christmas

words: Dr Bill Webster, Grief Journey
Dr Bill

Although this will be the second Christmas since my son Steve died, I already know that it will not be so wonderful for me and others in our family.

We have come to fully realise he is really gone… but that doesn’t stop us missing him. I am sad that he will not be there to receive the traditional ‘socks and underwear’. I always teased him that that was all there was under the tree for him. There were many other gifts over the years, of course, but always those socks and underwear brought the greatest expressions of glee.

So I am not really looking forward to it. And I suspect I am not alone in that. Bereaved people often seem to struggle more with the Christmas season than any other, but that is also true of people in hospital themselves or watching a loved one struggle with illness; people who are travelling or working away from home; those who are incarcerated; or the ageing person in the nursing home who knows that they may get a quick visit for an hour from family and that will be it. It’s a miserable place to be in the season to be jolly!

What can I do to anticipate the season and try to make it as meaningful as possible in the circumstances?

1. Prepare: Get ready for it

  • Recognise that this Christmas is different. Be realistic. This may not be the best Christmas ever, but what can you do to make it meaningful?
  • Plan what you would like to do. Re-examine priorities and what would be really important: you are the expert on you.
  • Make the changes you think best. Could gift cards or Amazon vouchers take away some stress?

2. Perform: Go through with it

  • Be proactive. Take responsibility for your happiness. Don’t wait for others to make the decisions; maybe someone will but maybe not. Let people know what you want to do and what you need.
  • Let yourself feel your feelings. It takes more energy to pretend you are fine and everything is OK than to let others know that you are struggling.
  • Relive happy memories. Think back on other, better Christmases. I am going to miss my son this year, but I had him for 42 Christmases and I wouldn’t have missed that, even if I had known losing him would hurt so much. Try to celebrate the life as well as commemorating the death. Acknowledge the person’s presence. Create a special tribute – maybe I could buy socks and underwear for a homeless person. Steve would like that.
  • Find a quiet spot; remember the good things about the person you miss.
  • Do something you used to do together.
  • Share memories with friends or in a support group.
  • Go on holiday to a warmer climate – that won’t change the situation, but will give you respite. Supposedly 10 minutes in the sun enhance your vitamin D levels.
  • Go for a walk, listen to music, go shopping, have a massage, or hang out with friends. Do something – anything. Do one thing today, maybe one more thing, and soon you will feel better about yourself if not the situation.
  • Above all, set differences aside. Even if there has been family tension, Christmas is not a weapon to score points or get even.

3. Proceed: Go on after it

  • Remember Christopher Robin famously told his friend Winnie the Pooh: “If ever there is a day we are not together, always remember. You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”
  • So decide where you would like to be in your journey next year at this time. Set goals for your future.
  • Find the blessing in every opportunity and every person still in your life.
  • Celebrate what you have as well as regretting what you’re missing.
  • Trust that there are brighter days ahead.

I love this quote by Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there ’s something stronger, something better, pushing right back.”

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