Facing special occasions and holidays after the death of a beloved family member or friend can be extremely difficult. It’s easy to feel lost and confused about how to ‘celebrate’.
After 20 years, I still miss my dad, especially on Christmas day where he would have been central to the fun, wheeling out all his ‘best’ jokes and having us smiling for photo after photo. In the first years after his death, the Christmas festive season felt like something that needed to be navigated through, a mysterious test in endurance and tolerance. From my own experience, there are ways to make this journey easier.
If you are grieving this Christmas, please know this:
Know that you create your own timelines and the stages of grief are different for every person depending on your relationship to the person who has died and your own personality. While the physical pain of grief may ease within months, the emotional pain takes much longer. Be beautifully patient and nurturing to yourself and to others around you who are also grieving. The last thing you need is added pressure. Snuggle, rest, remember, weep, share, nourish, dream and plan. And as you do it, remember: This too is living.
Know you are not alone. As well as the people who care about you, there will be strangers and new friends with whom you have conversations about grief and recovery. These connections will happen throughout your life. Losing a loved one is a universal experience that connects us to our own humanity and to others on the deepest level.
Know you must look after yourself to help another. Remain aware of your own grief and healing while also helping a bereaved loved one, such as a widowed parent. Know that, like yourself, they are stronger than you imagine.
Know that grief needs solitude to breathe. Find time alone, even a little, to check in on how you are really feeling. Loneliness can be greatest when we’re constantly surrounded by people, but unable to experience what needs to be felt.
Know the tears are necessary and healthy.
Know that “What if?” brings no answers. Ask instead, “How can I cherish my memories?”
Know that while the details of some memories may fade, you will never forget your loved one and how they made you feel. As you move through life, continue to be guided by what you know they would want for you. Feel their infinite love as a protective coat of hope and lightness.
Know that if you can still see things to be thankful for in your life (being safe, having shelter, people who care), you’ll be aware that others may be facing worse circumstances and perhaps you’ll be inspired to help them.
Know the world IS different without this person, but the day will come when you find yourself able to again fully enjoy your companions and to see the world in all its glory. When that time comes, your life will feel exquisitely precious. Until then, focus on your senses to experience feeling ‘alive’. See the beauty in your surroundings and nature, listen to soothing music, give and accept loving hugs, add colour to your clothes and accessories, and breathe in the aromas of food, flowers, the mountains or the sea. And if you’re ‘celebrating’ Christmas, relish every bite of that once-a-year pudding. Little joys accumulate and help to heal.
No life is without grief and no joy is greater than that which has first known the clarity that comes from living through a time of sadness.