Talking about grief at Christmas time

There seems to be no place for sadness at Christmas time. Irritating Christmas songs are full of happy lyrics like ‘mistletoe and wine’, apart from ‘Last Christmas’ which is about a relationship break up. Grief, though, has no inbuilt seasonal time clock. If it did it would turn itself off at Christmas time.

If you have experienced a recent bereavement, like me, Christmas can seem like a particularly daunting time. A person whom you would spend Christmas day with will not be there and it leaves a feeling of dread as the day approaches.

Rosa spent every Christmas with us for more than a decade. In recent years, I would get her up in the morning and dress her. She loved spending the day with us. We all went to church together and had a big lunch afterwards. I would take her back to her home at night and tuck her up in bed. Last year I stayed over. No doubt there will come a time when I will stop reminiscing quite so much but not this year. Rosa died on 12 November and her funeral was held on 3 December, only three weeks ago.

There will be an empty chair at Christmas lunch.

With only a day left to go till Christmas I have learnt that one needs to do only what one can manage. Recognise your emotional limitations and remember that grief is physically draining too.

With me, it’s been a case of only putting up the tree a few days ago whereas, at one time, it would have gone up in November. I am sticking to a motto of doing only what I feel capable of.

There are far less decorations on the tree. I gave up after a smattering of baubles. Buying a new pack of cheap lights seemed like an easier way of lighting the tree up rather than getting the old ones out of the attic only to find that they aren’t working. It all seemed like too much work.

What helps, I find, is talking to people who are willing to listen. There is a tremendous amount of sympathy and empathy for the bereaved, as I have discovered. By tapping into people’s altruism the world becomes less of a lonely place. Communication and feeling connected to your life is important because you don’t want to end up feeling isolated and dislocated. Throw in a festive period and these negative feelings can be exacerbated.

Losing a loved one is a traumatic experience no matter how old the person was. Rosa was 100 and had lived a good life but, while there is no hierarchy in death, I do realise that her passing was peaceful and timely. There are people who lose young children and partners in tragic and unexpected circumstances by contrast. I feel for them. What my grieving process has taught me is that a sense of context and balance helps in dealing with things.

If you are finding it hard to face Christmas tomorrow because someone close to you has died please remember that you aren’t alone in feeling this way. Be kind to yourself and be honest about what you can and cannot bring yourself to do. Grief is hardest to bear during special days.

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