Christmas is an extra sensitive time of year for those who have been recently bereaved. Dealing with grief at Christmas is especially hard as it brings back memories of family and thoughts of time spent with the deceased. It is an emotional time of year, one which can be overwhelming but there are steps which you can take to make it easier.
While there are guidelines, what's most important to remember is to do what feels right for you and your family. This may mean spending Christmas the same way you always have, or completely breaking tradition.
Orla Keegan who is Head of Education, Research and Bereavement at The Irish Hospice Foundation emphasised the importance of planning but not over planning. She said “know what part is going to be the most difficult. By anticipating the triggers you might be able to put some coping mechanisms in place.”
When it comes to keeping tradition, or putting up a Christmas Tree, Orla said “there's no right or wrong answer” and it may just be a matter of introducing a new practice. “Every year families have the tradition of who sits where, who cooks, what jobs people do and if someone is missing it's a big gap. Even with putting up the tree, maybe ask someone new to take the lead on it, or even honour them by giving them that job.
“Think what new tradition can you introduce, maybe lighting a candle, having a special symbol or decoration or a special time to visit the grave; do what is special for the family.”
Orla further prioritised the importance of acknowledging the routine as it can be a comfort but leaving yourself open to knowing that there will be painful parts. She said it's also advisable for people to both engage and disengage: “Christmas day is a long time. Participate in the company of others and also allow yourself your own time. Monitor yourself and see what you need, there will be different things.”
The idea of Christmas cheer is a difficult one when dealing with grief as “there's real pressure to be happy and that can make people fear Christmas. The happiness of others can highlight your own sadness.” However, Orla reminds people that “Christmas is a devise which we over exaggerate, don't over romanticise Christmas.”
If there are children in the family or indeed you have lost a child and they have brothers or sisters, Orla recommends preserving normality. “A child is a child and a bereaved sibling at Christmas makes for a particularly sad child but you don't want to lose that child's childhood. Integrate the deceased child's memory in a positive and ongoing way.”
Allowing yourself time to grieve at Christmas is important, there are no rules for being content or joyful around the holiday season. Recognise you are hurting but allow yourself to be happy also, it doesn't mean you're betraying the memory of a loved one. Orla concluded by saying “sometimes people create a brand new Christmas tradition over old routines. There is grace in the freedom of creating a new future.”
A full list of guidelines on coping with Christmas when you are bereaved, can be found on The Hospice Foundation’s Website at www.hospicefoundation.ie