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Coping with loss and grief at Christmas

Coping with loss and grief at Christmas (cropped)

Facing the Christmas holidays without a loved one can bring a huge sense of apprehension, and the thought of taking part in any kind of celebration can feel just too much.

Some people feel like they want to try and avoid Christmas altogether, while others will want to keep everything exactly the same as usual. Having thoughts like “I just don’t know how I will cope” is very much part of the uncertainty that grief at this time of year can bring.

Christmas is full of memories - memories that can sometimes trigger overwhelming feelings of sadness. We do not ever envision celebrating Christmas without our loved ones, so understandably feel unprepared for how this may feel, or how to handle these feelings.

We may find ourselves surprised at a sudden surge of emotion triggered by something such as an empty chair or setting one less place at the table. 

Even if you have previously been coping quite well, Christmas may cause difficult thoughts and feelings to return, and it may feel as if the grieving process is slowing down or even going backwards. You might find yourself tearful, more anxious, having no energy or feeling tired, or not wanting to be around family members or other people.

Some of the following ideas may help as Christmas approaches:

  • Have realistic expectations for yourself. Don’t expect Christmas to be the same. It will feel different, and accepting this can help 
  • Rest. Cut down on clutter and get away with minimum amounts of preparation, decoration, cards and so on
  • If it helps, think about rearranging furniture or table plans so you’re not constantly reminded of someone being missing
  • Avoid sugar highs and lows because they naturally induce emotional lows. Eat regularly, and go easy on alcohol
  • Give yourself permission to be sad
  • Accept practical help, whether that’s help with children or help with preparations
  • Spend time with people if you can. If you are going to be on your own, ask someone to call you so you can share a memory, or call a helpline to speak with someone
  • “Shoulds” only bring expectations and pressure. It’s OK to say no
  • Take the days as they come or hour by hour if it helps
  • Maintain a routine. Get up and go to bed at a reasonable time
  • Schedule some time for a small ritual - light a candle, look at some photos or share a memory
  • Remind yourself that you are coping - time may not heal but it does help you to adjust

Getting Help

Grief presents us with many unpredictable twists and turns, and there’s no right or wrong time to seek help. You could try speaking with friends or writing down your thoughts, while your GP may also be able to advise on local support groups or organisations.

If you would like to talk to a professional, LionHeart offers free counselling to RICS professionals and family members. Call 0845 6039057 or email to find out more.

Read our article: What is counselling and how does it work? 

Useful links

CRUSE Bereavement Care 

Dying Matters 

WAY Foundation for widowed and young people 

Compassionate Friends for bereaved parents and siblings 

Childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish 

Joanne Tucker is one of the LionHeart BACP registered counsellors.  

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