Coping with a grieving Christmas

words: Dr Bill Webster, Grief Journey

For many people, this past year has brought an unexpected twist in their life journey. When someone you care about dies, your whole world looks and feels different – and with it, Christmas. For everyone else, it is the season to be jolly; it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But the grieving person probably doesn’t feel the same about their world this Christmas.

I have three gifts for a grieving Christmas:

1. My first gift is for you

Maybe you are facing this Christmas season with dread.

• Recognise that this Christmas is different
• Plan ahead. Decide what you want to do. Act rather than react.
• Re-examine your priorities
• Avoid ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’
• Make the changes you think are best
• Take responsibility for your own happiness
• Look after yourself. Don’t abandon healthy habits.
• Be compassionate with yourself if things are not perfect this year

2. The second gift focuses on your loved one

They may be gone, but they will be very much on your mind.

• Acknowledge your loved one’s presence
• Light a candle to remember them at this season
• Create a special tribute to your loved one. Involve children in this if you can.
• Be honest about your feelings, and sensitive to what they are trying to tell you
• Don’t be afraid to relive your memories
• Let the light of the years shine on the event rather than letting the event cast its shadow on the years

3. My third gift is for family and friends

Others around you may be grieving too. How can we work together to make this Christmas meaningful, even if not merry?

• Balance solitude and sociability
• Ask for and accept help
• Set differences aside
• Learn to say ‘no’
• Take a break
• Try to find something positive
• Take care of any children involved
• Try to do something to help someone else who is hurting

Finally, face the future with hope. A verse in the Christmas story of the wise men often goes unnoticed: after finding the baby in Bethlehem and presenting their gifts, they returned home ‘by a different route’. They had to find a different road forward. When you experience bereavement, you suddenly find life has taken on a new direction; we find ourselves and our lives having to go a whole new way.

Perhaps you face this Christmas with some apprehension and you feel like the light has gone out of your life. Nothing seems quite right, and you wonder if you have the strength to go on. But, my friends, no matter how dark your situation, remember: there is not enough darkness in the whole universe to hide the light of even one candle. Even when there is a flicker of hope, that spark overcomes the gloom. It may not banish it altogether, but it is never completely dark as long as there remains one glimmer of hope.

So, light a candle this Christmas in memory of your loved one, but also for yourself – to show you believe there is hope you will find your way through the darkness, even as you head home in a different direction to the one you expected or wanted.
This Christmas season, hold on to what is important:

• Celebrate the person’s life as well as acknowledging their death
• Don’t allow looking back at the past to spoil what you have in the present
• Enjoy what you have as well as grieving what you’ve lost
• Believe in people, in life, in love and laughter, and in hope
• Believe there are reasons to go on, even if you may not see what they are right now
• Believe in yourself and that your determination will help get you through
• Believe life is important and can still be meaningful, no matter how difficult your circumstances
• Believe in a brighter tomorrow; in possibilities beyond your bravest dreams

You will be surprised how that flickering flame of hope will continue to burn, even though it may not be easy. Your supply of strength and patience may seem low, but hang on, because no matter what has shattered your hopes, your dreams or even broken your heart, you are not beyond repair!

If you feel this article would be useful for your grieving families and community, it is part of a new series of quarterly newsletters entitled Along the Way, produced by Grief Journey UK. Contact Linda Jones, our Director of Resources for information and distribution details.

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