Surviving Christmas

Categories: Care.

From acknowledging that it is OK to accept your mixture of feelings at Christmas, to knowing where one can access support – Lisa Henry, Bereavement Coordinator/Counsellor at Wakefield Hospice, shares some helpful tips around dealing with loss and bereavement at Christmas.

Everywhere we look at the moment we are confronted with messages of Christmas – ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, ‘a time to be merry’, ‘the season to be jolly’.

And yet, for those who have lost a loved one, the pressure of embracing the sense of merriment over the festive period can stir up many challenging and conflicting feelings and emotions. Whilst many around appear to be preparing for ‘the perfect Christmas’, it can further add to a sense of isolation and disconnect for those who are grieving , and who this year perhaps ‘don’t want to do Christmas at all’ but for who it is unavoidable – after all, no one wants to be labelled a Grinch at Christmas.

However, just like in the story of The Grinch, hiding away from the ‘world of Christmas-joy’ isn’t necessary for anyone. There are ways in which those grieving loved ones at Christmas can find support and solace, and likewise ways for all of us to play our part in ensuring that nobody feels alone or lost this festive season. For every person seeking a Christmas of Joy, there is another seeking a Christmas of Comfort.

Lisa Henry is the Bereavement Coordinator/Counsellor at Wakefield Hospice, having held similar roles within hospices for over 17 years. Throughout this time Lisa has supported countless individuals and families with the challenges that losing a loved one brings, including at Christmas time.

Below Lisa shares some of her top tips for anyone worried about the emotional rollercoaster which bereavement can present at Christmas.


Acknowledge that we are all different, including you…

“No two people will experience grief in the same way, even within a family, it is as unique as a snowflake. For some, staying close to traditions can bring great comfort and an opportunity to share memories of Christmas past. In contrast, changing up traditions can help manage some of the more difficult feelings of absent family members, or for some the opportunity to begin new traditions can feel very hopeful and positive. Everyone has their own individual way of coping with loss – and it is important to acknowledge there is no right or wrong way. Acknowledge your feelings – sadness, anger, jealousness – whatever they may be, and accept it is OK to feel this way.

“Likewise, it may sadden us to think of a loved one spending their first Christmas alone, but if they have refused invites to join you, consider that this may be their preferred way of dealing with the situation. That being said, it is also important for those grieving to acknowledge the right invites to accept…perhaps where their presence alone is enough , and holds no expectation of behaviour.”


Accept the right invites and find the right balance…

“For people who are facing their first Christmas at home alone, the long dark winter nights can be a daunting prospect. However, for others, the dark nights present the opportunity to shut their curtains early without any questions from those around them and actually feel like a relief – what is strange to do at 5pm on a summer day is accepted as the norm in the winter.”

“It is however important to recognise the right invites, and not shut ourselves off completely from the outside world– it comes down to finding the right balance. If you can have a Plan A and a Plan B for your Christmas gatherings it may help you to navigate your way through the season, decision making then becomes determined by what you feel you can do at any given time – if on the day you really don’t want to go, that is fine, and there is no need to feel guilty. Be aware of the people who you can turn to and those environments in which you feel most comfortable.”


Tis the season, but Tis also just the one day…

“Christmas seems to arrive earlier and earlier every year, with Christmas decorations and Quality Street tins lining the supermarket aisles from as early as September. But it is important to remember, at the end of the day, Christmas is just one day. Many people dealing with loss can find the months and months of Christmas build up difficult to deal with as it appears to be everywhere – but keep in mind that after the 25th December, those adverts will soon be gone again for another year.

Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid of the response…

“I often get people asking “How do I speak to someone who has lost a loved one”, a conversation people can find extra-challenging at Christmas-time. I would encourage you to ask the question, as long as you are prepared to accept the answer, this might be short, long, happy or sad, but resist the tendency to avoid it through fear of what to say.

“The most important part in the conversation is remaining engaged throughout the reply, it shouldn’t just be a token gesture, ask the question with sincerity and recognise the value of being present for the reply- an individual will remember your warmth more than your words.

“If you live away from a friend/family member who has lost a loved one or can’t dedicate the time for a visit, a text indicating you are thinking of someone can show you have some concept of what a challenge the holiday might bring.”


Five Festive Tips for Christmas…

  1. Christmas Texts not Christmas Cards – Christmas may present the first time you have to write a card, or lots of cards, without signing your spouses or loved ones name. If it doesn’t feel right for you this year, consider swapping to a festive text message instead.
  2. Don’t rely on alcohol – it may seem to help at first, but it is known to reverse its own effect. Try to get outdoors, enjoy fresh air and drink water on a daily basis, it may take an effort to do this, but it will be beneficial on many levels.
  3. Family memory making – whether creating memory boxes as a family or alone, or creating a jar of memories with children, it can really help to focus on reflecting in a positive way. Some items may remind you of a loved one, but it is the love and memories contained within these items which is the really special element.
  4. Don’t hide away – it is OK to want to be alone, but do try to accept invitations from those who you are comfortable and safe with, even if it is for a brief hour or so rather than the pressures of a full day.
  5. Signposting – There are lots of free services which are available to support anyone dealing with bereavement, at Christmas and indeed all year round. Wakefield Hospice is able to offer bereavement support to service users who are known to the hospice, but the below services are just some of the other organisations which may be of help:

Samaritans: / 116 123
Cruse Bereavement Support: / 0808 808 1677
Good Grief Trust:


This article is republished from the Wakefield Hospice with permission. Thank you to Lisa Henry and Wakefield Hospice.

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