Christmas is a joyous, festive, sharing-with-family time of year. But it has just one drawback – and it’s a big one: on the 25th of December, you must be happy. No ifs and buts; no excuses. A happy demeanour is what’s required. And yet, for many who are experiencing Christmas for the first time without a loved-one, happiness is a scarce commodity. So just how can you cope, not only with the grief of missing the one you love, but also with the expectations of others?
Slow down on stress
It’s well acknowledged that the death of a loved-one is a significant stress in itself. At Christmas time, however, that stress is compounded by many expectations – those we place on ourselves, as well as those others place on us. Your overriding aim, this first Christmas without your loved-one by your side, should be to lessen your stress so you can focus fully on grief and recovering from it. No one is going to think less of you for not posting Christmas cards this year, or emailing the annual Christmas newsletter. Your usual baking or buying for charity will wait, and gift shopping can be kept to a minimum (such as buying only for small children in the family). Allow yourself time for quiet walks and gentle socialising such as meeting one or two friends for coffee – the larger gatherings and parties will manage without you.
Make and break traditions
Christmas traditions without a loved one can be completely baffling the first time round. If you decide to proceed with the usual decorated tree and gifts, you can often end up feeling guilty. Yet if you forgo all celebratory traditions, you’ll end up worrying that others will see you as holding too tightly to your grief. The key is to do what feels right (and healthy) for you. Tinsel and trimmings are fine if you have the energy and motivation. As is opening the Christmas cards and leaving them, undisplayed, on the dresser.
There’s only one thing certain about grief – and that is that you can’t predict when it will hit hardest. So if you find yourself on the receiving end of invitations to Christmas functions and Christmas dinners, it’s okay to say you can’t decide ahead of time. Be honest; thank your friends for the invitations and let them know you’ll see how you’re feeling on the day. Alternatively, say ‘yes’ to an invitation straight away, but let your host know that you may not last the distance if you are feeling overwhelmed. Knowing that you can quietly leave at any time, without causing offence, can often help you enjoy a function more than you thought you might.
Make room for memories
Your loved-one may not be with you, but your memories of them are. Don’t shy away from mentioning their name in your Christmas conversations and correspondence. Or talking about them to others if the opportunity arises. If it helps you grieve, dig out the photo albums to look for snaps from Christmases past, and pop a few around the house. If there are churches or funeral directors offering candlelight remembrance services, consider attending. Take flowers to your loved one’s grave or memorial – even on Christmas Day if you wish.
Give in honour
One of the warmest ways to remember your loved one at Christmas is make a donation in their honour. Whether it’s to the food bank, a gift appeal, an animal rescue agency, or a Give-a-Little page, you can really bring their memory alive for yourself and others by an act of generosity that has your loved-one’s name attached to it.
Make room to enjoy
Amidst your sadness, be open to the love others show you. Accept small kindnesses, and appreciate the pleasure others derive from the season in the certain knowledge that you, too, will one day feel whole again, and be in a position to help others who are experiencing their first Christmas without the one they loved most.