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Many people can attest that post-bereavement is a year of firsts. The first birthday, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, or an anniversary without your loved one, not to mention the first Christmas, can be difficult.
It’s important to understand that everyone will deal with grief and these significant calendar markers differently and that should be reassuring. There will likely be moments of sadness that will hit you at odd times, perhaps while you are shopping or making dinner or when you hear a Christmas song that brings back a memory. For others, Christmas may be something they’ve looked forward to and that is also okay.
It’s important to be able to feel how you are feeling whatever that emotion is, because we know that trying to suppress feelings is really difficult. In essence, allow yourself to feel sad if you do feel sad and if you are also happy and enjoying yourself, allow this too.
Talk to those you trust and get support from and inform them how you might want to spend the holiday season. That may be doing the usual Christmas things but letting them know it will be tough for you and that you might be sad or emotional.
You could also do something completely different like travel or not celebrate it at all.
There’s nothing worse than feeling you have to bottle emotions up, especially at Christmas. Allow yourself to grieve, cry or be sad, and, at times, be happy and laugh. Surround yourself with people who accept you, whether you are happy or sad.
You may feel that Christmas is too much, and you might want to spend it alone. Tell those important to you that this is your preference.
Remember that this will get easier with time, but it’s difficult and painful. Our counsellors and chaplaincy team at Hospice in the Weald are here to support you and those important to you throughout the year, so consider calling them.
Use your family and friends for that support too – but we know that some people are better at this than others, so reach out to those people whom you know will be able to offer what you need, as others may also be grieving and not have the headspace to support you (and that is okay too).
People can feel guilty about being ‘okay’ or guilty that they are having a good time. As mentioned above, feelings around grief change all the time. While we can think that our loved one would most certainly want us to remember them, they would also want us to enjoy friends and family or laugh again – don’t be hard on yourself.
Of course sharing your loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry, but that doesn’t mean that you need to talk about your loss every time you communicate with friends and family. Comfort can also come from just being around others who care about you.
You may like to put the Christmas tree up as an act of remembrance and celebration of your loved one’s life. It could be filled with meaningful decorations or photos of the person. If you felt that putting up a tree was too much, you could place a photo frame up somewhere with a candle that can be lit again in memory.
The COVID pandemic highlighted how ill-prepared we are to talk about death and dying. Many bereaved people speak about people avoiding them after the death of a loved one as they want to avoid a difficult conversation. Many of these people feel awkward and ‘don’t want to upset’ you.
Being upset and talking about someone who has died is normal, healthy and good for you. But many feel that upsetting someone is a negative thing.
So, if you see people avoiding you, know that it isn’t personal; in a way, they are trying to be kind, but it may appear as something else.
As mentioned earlier, find the people who don’t mind you talking or crying.
The actor Andrew Garfield (whose mother died in late 2019), in a famous interview with the US talk show host Stephen Colbert, eloquently said;
I “love talking about this….” grief is “the unexpressed love” we feel for the person. “We never get enough time…no matter if someone lives until 60, 15, or 99. So I hope this grief stays with me, because it’s all the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her. And I told her every day.”
Grief doesn’t magically end after a certain point in time; grief affects everyone differently and there are many stages to the grieving process. The main thing is to look after yourself, physically and mentally, and seek support when you need it.
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