How to cope with grief at Christmas

Christmas can be a daunting time when you’ve lost someone you love. 

That’s why we’ve put together some suggestions for how to prepare yourself for the festive period. 

Everyone grieves differently and will find different things challenging or comforting. It may be that not all of these suggestions will be helpful for you, but have a read through and think about what resonates with you.

1. Be prepared

We all have different traditions and attitudes towards Christmas, and it’s worth thinking about how you feel before the big day. Talk to the people you spend Christmas with; you might want to consider introducing some new traditions, or doing something different like volunteering or going away this Christmas.

Alternatively, you might just want to let people know that you’re likely to find certain parts of the festivities difficult, and ask them to be understanding.

Either way, these things are usually easier when you’ve thought about them beforehand.

2. Hold a space for the person you’ve lost

Over the festive period it can tempting to try and pretend that everything’s fine, and that you’re not thinking about the person who’s died. But  sometimes that can make us feel worse.

You might find it helpful to think about ways you could incorporate your loved one into the day. Here are some suggestions how you might do that:

  • Raise a glass to your loved one over Christmas dinner
  • Share memories, letters or photographs, or set aside some time to look at them alone
  • Dedicate a virtual star to your loved one and share the link with your family and friends
  • Do something in honour of your loved one. For example, if they were a big football fan, you could introduce a new family tradition of football in the park on Boxing Day! Or perhaps instead of presents, you’d like to gift family or friends entry to next year’s Men’s Walk or Twilight Walk in memory of your loved one.
  • Light a candle in their honour on Christmas Eve

3. Take time for you

Sometimes our emotions take over and that can be scary, but don’t forget that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.

Here are some suggestions for making sure you take time for you over the festive period:

  • Think about whether there’s somewhere you can go if you feel overwhelmed. If you’re visiting with friends or family, why not ask ahead of time whether you can use a spare bedroom or study to retreat to if things get too much.
  • Schedule in some downtime. The Christmas season can be very hectic, especially if you there are kids involved! Try to factor in some downtime so you don’t become over-tired or overwhelmed.
  • If there are family members you find it particularly challenging to be around, consider not seeing them this Christmas. Or perhaps think about strategies for coping with them in advance!
  • Remember that others who were close to your loved one will also be experiencing grief. It may be helpful to talk to them, or simply spend some time together.
  • If you find it helpful, writing about what you’re feeling can be very cathartic. Try taking 10 minutes a day just to put your thoughts on paper.
  • Ask for help if you need it.

4. Remember you can’t plan for everything

Sometimes it can be the unexpected things like getting out the Christmas decorations, or accidentally burning the gravy that take us by surprise.

Whatever you decide to do this year, just remember that it’s ok to feel sad at Christmas, and there is no wrong or right way to grieve.