Special occasions can be very difficult for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, but there are things that the bereaved can do to make things a little easier, according to Dr Susan Delaney, Clinical Psychologist and Bereavement Services Manager, at the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF).
A recent IHF survey on attitudes to death and dying in Ireland revealed that 53% of the adult population suffered bereavement in the last two years – that is more than one and a half a million people who will be missing a family member or friend this festive season.
“There is something about Christmas that intensifies all our emotions. The hype begins in October and builds up in the weeks before Christmas, often making make it a very difficult time for those of us who are bereaved,” said Dr Delaney.
“The first Christmas without a significant person can be very difficult and simple things like putting up the Christmas tree and setting the table with one less place can lead to upset and loneliness. It is a bittersweet time and it is important that people suffering loss remind themselves they are grieving and are gentle with themselves. Christmas day is only one day and a little planning can help people to get through it.”
Dr Delaney offers some simple suggestions to make Christmas following a bereavement a little easier:
- Plan ahead. Decide what traditions you are comfortable keeping, and let go of others that don’t suit you this year.
- Keep things simple. Think about what is meaningful and realistic for you and discuss this with other family members.
- Begin a new tradition – perhaps lighting a candle at the table in memory of your loved one, or bring some holly to the grave.
- Plan some quiet time for yourself. Grieving is tiring and energy sapping. Have a lie down, or take a short walk. If you accept invitations give yourself the option of changing your mind or leaving early if you need to.
- If there are children in the family ask them for ideas on how to spend the day. Young children may need to be assured that Santa is still coming and that it is ok to enjoy Christmas even if people are sad.
Dr Delaney concluded: “While it may well be a sad Christmas for those who are suffering loss, small, unexpected things may lift spirits briefly: carol singers, the excitement of children in the family, or receiving a thoughtful card from someone who is thinking about you. In the midst of pain and sadness there can be moments of joy to be savoured; try to notice them.”
While the first Christmas is particularly poignant, each Christmas without the person who died will have its own challenge.
Broadcaster and businesswoman Norah Casey, who launched the Irish Hospice Foundation’s Never Forgotten Christmas appeal, spoke of how she and her teenage son, Dara, consciously remember her late husband Richard, and other deceased friends and family, at Christmas time.
“Myself and Dara consciously remember Richard on Christmas day. We visit the tree planted in his memory in the Phoenix Park, we raise a glass to him and we put his favourite ornament on the Christmas tree. We also give a gift in his memory each year.
“There is a lot of hype at Christmas about being together and having a happy time. The advice I would give to people who have experienced loss is to actively remember your loved one rather than trying to live up to society’s ideal. The worst thing to do is suppress your memories and to pretend that person is not on your mind.”
Norah and many others have left personal messages and donated to the IHF in memory of their loved ones on www.neverforgotten.ie
The messages of remembrance will be displayed online and in our special Book of Remembrance in our library throughout 2015.
For more information on coping with bereavement visit www.bereaved.ie