I remember the first Christmas after my eldest daughter, Jenna, died  … I was dreading it.

Christmas, festivals and holiday times can feel so brutal when you’ve lost someone you love. This is traditionally a time of year when people get together with family and friends to celebrate, and joining in can be extremely difficult. You may be hyper-sensitive to things people say and do, to sounds, to music, to smells or events that bring memories flooding back. Or, you may feel strangely detached and disassociated even when you are surrounded by people who know and love you. You may feel like hiding under your duvet and never coming out. Or you may feel so deeply sad and lost that you literally don’t know where to put yourself. This is a time you usually would have spent with the person you’ve lost … and it’s normal for your grief to be heightened, to feel raw.

2021 will be our 6th Christmas without our beloved Jenna… and 8th Christmas without my niece, our beloved Natalie. As painful as it is, it does get a little easier. Here are some ideas for coping that may just help you:

  • Carve out time to allow yourself to feel sad, to remember and honour the person you love and miss
  • Treat yourself with extra gentleness, care and nurturing – listen to your needs
  • Don’t avoid the subject – talk about your loved one with your friends and family – their physical loss doesn’t mean they are gone from your heart and mind. Share special memories of them with others
  • Do something that you used to do together to honour them, or write them a letter and place it somewhere meaningful
  • Look through your favourite photographs and maybe even put some out on display
  • Burn a candle in their honour, maybe in a favourite spot where you spent time together
  • Speak to the person you have lost, silently or out loud, or journal about how you are feeling
  • Tell your friends and family what you need. Think about whether the familiar (keeping your routine, rituals and traditions the same), or something completely new and different, will work best for you. Then give yourself permission not to do the things you are finding particularly hard
  • Accept that everyone grieves differently, other members of your family may have different needs and responses at this time
  • Allow yourself to grieve and experience a whole range of emotions … and remember, having a good time isn’t a sign that you don’t miss the person you’ve lost. It’s OK to try and enjoy yourself
  • If you feel totally overwhelmed and not coping please reach out for help

And – if you know someone who is grieving this Christmas, please reach out to them. Message them or give them a call, invite them over for quiet time together, speak up and acknowledge their loss, and have the courage to mention the name of their loved one … there are memory triggers everywhere.

Lastly, it is also absolutely fine to take a year off – there is no rule to say you have to celebrate with your family and friends. You could do something completely different like travel, volunteer, go hiking or create your own support group. Go well and take care – you are not alone.