Helping those who grieve at Christmas
Updated: Dec 20, 2021
Every year we know of friends experiencing Christmas without a loved person for the first time. Unfortunately we know a little about this experience. Here are some of our suggestions. But we're all different, so do what feels right for you.
If you know someone who is grieving
Don't push people to spend Christmas Day with you. If they say no, respect that.
Christmas cards that don't acknowledge the deceased person can feel sad for the recipient. It really highlights the loss. Try writing something like: To A, B, and C, and remembering ................. The deceased person remains a part of a family forever and continues to exist fully for that family.
If you're sending a yearly newsletter that's full of photos of your happy family life, you might consider a personal note rather than a newsletter, especially in the first year.
Don't necessarily send a card just to parents. This might be the year you send a card or loving note to everyone in that family in separate envelopes.
It really is okay to text or phone the person on Christmas Day to say hello. Often it's a mistaken belief that you should not intrude on people in grief which makes Christmas Day feel even lonelier. But don't be surprised if they burst into tears. They will appreciate your care.
Don't be upset if someone suddenly pulls out of plans at the last minute. It might just be too much for them when they actually get ready to attend. The same if they leave early.
If the person wants to tell you about how hard Christmas feels, don't tell them it will get better or that time will help or I'm sure you will still have a great day. Just listen and comfort. Don't try to change the subject if they open up to you.
Don't whinge about how much cooking you have to do or how you have so many people coming to stay. Anyone who has lost a family member would give the world to have that whinge.
Know that time does not heal and that time does not make the Christmas period like it once was. Each year, Christmas will feel different, but never the same. Celebration times can cause a range of emotions to erupt.
Don't beat yourself up if you feel you've said or done the wrong thing. Good friendships have a long life.
Revisit the word 'wistful'. It means full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy. This word helps you understand why Christmas will always feel different for people grieving. They want more than anything for you to have a great Christmas and are interested in your festivities even if they appear non-responsive. It's just that it makes them feel wistful.
If you're the grieving person
It's okay to say no if you don't feel like joining the group that you normally spend Christmas with. At the same time, you might prefer to do what you've always done, especially if you are with people who are understanding. You may choose to only attend part of the day, if a full day feels too much.
Christmas music in shops and the hundreds of Christmas family television ads and schmaltzy movies can amplify what you're missing. Find shops that don't play tinny music, watch Netflix and buy online.
Be prepared for people excited about Christmas to chat on without thinking how it might affect you. They just forget your situation sometimes, so try to understand that people get caught up in the moment.
Do create some new and happy Christmas rituals particularly if you have children (young or adult). The person you have lost would not want any of you to stop living your life to the full. But be prepared for a range of emotions from yourself and others and accept that this is just how it is.
Change the day's proceedings. It might feel painful to continue to spend Christmas Day the same way. Cook different things, go somewhere different. On the other hand, doing things the way you always have might be just what you need. Make things uncomplicated.
If it works for you, introduce a ritual of some sort like a toast to the person you have lost or a particular ornament on the tree. But only if it feels right.
Don't feel guilty if you feel happy on Christmas Day. The normal emotions of a human are important and should be embraced.
Also accept that you may feel pretty flat through the Christmas period and know that this is understandable. But of course, seek professional help if you feel that everything is starting to overwhelm you.
We at Mistover, wish everyone a caring and loving Christmas and send best wishes to all those struggling with the loss of parents, partners, children, extended family or friends at this time.
We welcome your comments which can be added at the bottom of this page.