It can be hard to stay positive when grieving for a loved one. Bereavement counsellor Lianna Champ provides help on how to cope with grief over Christmas
Christmas can feel totally daunting when you are grieving the loss of a loved one.
With the added burden of the pandemic and uncertainty for the future, the sadness can feel overwhelming.
There is no right or wrong way to navigate the hurdles that Christmas brings. We must find what works for us, sometimes even having to force ourselves to function.
We have a duty to those we love and to those still in our lives, to carry on, especially if we have children. But equally we have to communicate when we are struggling so we can have our ‘grief’ time. We all need this.
we have to communicate when we are struggling
As we approach the end of any year, we turn our thoughts to changes we would like to make. Make a resolution to tend to yourself emotionally.
Sharing your feelings with someone you trust and feel safe with is one of the best things you can do. It is a powerful release. Make it your resolution to reach out with love to others.
We are all grievers during this pandemic and need one another now more than ever. A warm smile and a caring word given to others through your own pain is often returned tenfold.
Open your heart and allow life to happen and find your pockets of happiness where you can in your exchanges with all those in your life.
Always do something to remember the person you have lost so you can give their spirit an energy.
Even though in remembering you feel the anguish of their absence, our sadness is part of our grief that we need to respect. Allowing our sadness to surface helps to reduce some of the weight of our grief.
Grieving in Isolation
Grieving in isolation during the pandemic can mean that people may suffer more than they would under normal circumstances. It can make them feel more isolated and unsure of their feelings and they can withdraw into their own private pain.
Their sadness can deepen and if left, overtime can then present as anxiety and depression, complicating their grief even further. This can also make the shackles of grief feel permanent.
Sharing our grief is one of the healthiest things we can do
Grief is not a medical condition and is a natural reaction to any kind of trauma – physical or emotional.
When we are happy we want to share our happiness. It should be the same when we are sad. Both emotions need equal expression. Sharing our grief is one of the healthiest things we can do.
Some tips for coping during the festive season:
- Accept that it may be a challenge for you, so allow yourself a wobble.
- Be with the people you love, even if you want to hide under the covers.
- Make it ok not to be ok and if you feel yourself folding, let it be ok to have some time on your own.
- Be wary of short term relievers such as alcohol and junk food.
- Don’t berate yourself when you have your happy moments – this is healthy and normal.
- Light a special memory candle.
- Use the Christmas tree to hang a special memento, photo or message.
- Buy yourself a special gift in your loved one’s memory to cherish.
- Pour a glass of their tipple and take turns to share favourite memories.
- Factor in FaceTime calls to family and friends.
- Play Christmas music – music is a wonderful way to lift your spirits.
- Plan a family Christmas quiz.
- Share memories and allow the laughter and the tears.
- Swap recipes with family and friends and take photos to send each other.
- Lose yourself in a good Christmas movie.
- If the weather permits, go for a walk. We always feel better after a walk in the fresh air.
- Self care is paramount. Climb into a nice hot bath and relax – a hot bath is really nurturing especially with some aromatherapy bubbles and candles.
Helping children with loss at Christmas
How to talk about death and help them to grieve
During this pandemic, we are each going to be experiencing a different Christmas. Now more than ever our children need to feel secure, especially if they are experiencing their first Christmas after losing someone significant in their lives.
Even though grief and all of the associated feelings are normal and natural, children are often told not to feel the way they feel. And in an attempt to protect them we may try and distract them from their sadness by promising them a treat in the hope of making them feel better.
This can send the message that sad feelings are to be kept inside rather than shared, or they need to express sadness to get a treat. That can be just too confusing for a young mind.
Just as they would try on a new pair of trainers to see how they fit, children need to give their feelings verbal expression in order to connect fully with what is going on inside them.
children need to give their feelings verbal expression
Create a safe space where you won’t be disturbed to talk about how they are feeling. You go first and if you cry, talk through your tears.
Explain that what you are feeling may be different to how they feel. If they get upset, don’t try and change how they feel – being sad is as important as being happy, just let them feel safe about sharing their feelings.
Don’t try and analyse or justify what they feel or why. By feeding back simple words to show that you have heard what they have said to you. When we feel heard, we feel understood. That is huge in itself. Offer a hug when they have finished speaking.
Children are naturally curious so when they ask questions, answer with honesty. Children can have short attention spans and may ask the same questions several times.
Try to be patient and answer them honestly. It’s always easier to work with the truth than to weave a tale.
How to deal with grief on Christmas Day
Talk with your family about how you may each feel on the day so you can all accept whatever feelings come up. You all may want to do something special to show your love.
- Have a chat about things you could all do either together or individually. Look at photographs and share memories, maybe make a decoration together to hang on the tree.
- Build in to your daily routine video calls with relatives and friends to help reduce feelings of isolation.
- Share in prayer or reflection together.
- Make time for laughter – it’s important, especially for children, to know that we do not stay in one state but our emotions fluctuate. We can get caught up in the happiness of the moment and forget our sadness, then we remember and go back to grieving. This is normal.
- Factor in time during the day for memory. Whether taking a walk or listening to a favourite song. Memory is how we hold on to the things we love.
- Choosing photographs together to make a family scrap book evoke the memory of many happy memories and when we start remembering, we bring to the fore more memories.
- Choose a beautiful memory box for special items.
- Plant up a special little memorial area in the garden or a special planter. Find a large, smooth pebble which you could decorate or paint to place there. New pebbles can be added each Christmas or on anniversaries.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief and bereavement counselling and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ, available to buy on Amazon
Lianna was just nine years old when she decided she wanted to be an undertaker.
At fifteen she started work experience at a local funeral home and now, more than thirty years later she runs Champ Funerals, one of the leading funeral homes in the North of England.
Lianna is a qualified civil minister, and grief recovery specialist, offering an 8-week programme to help bereaved individuals.