Bereaved Parents Christmas Survival Guide
Christmas is approaching, the ads have started, and the pressure is on to buy presents, put up decorations and have a “meaningful Christmas”. For anyone who has had a bereavement this year, Christmas will have a new meaning, the first Christmas without their loved one. For someone who lost a pregnancy, or whose baby or child died, it is the Christmas of what should have been.
The focus is usually on the first Christmas, which is undeniably the most emotionally challenging. My first Christmas after losing Alex was the hardest day of my life. While thankfully each Christmas since then has become easier, I still employ some tactics to make the season pass more gently.
Here are just some tactics to get through Christmas after a bereavement.
- Acknowledge it will be hard
I know this seems obvious, but everyone kept telling me Christmas would give me a ‘boost’, or that it was “a great distraction”. It may well work like that for some people, but, if you are facing your first Christmas without a loved one, mentally prepare for the possibility that it will be a nightmare, and if you’re wrong at least the surprise will be a pleasant one.
- Break from tradition
All occasions have traditions associated with them. They make it feel special, remind us we are part of something bigger, and make the day stand out. That can be really painful when you’re grieving a loss. If it helps, stick to your usual daily routine instead of immersing yourself in festive events. Eating, sleeping, and moving as you normally do can make it easier to care for yourself.
- Address the elephant in the room
Don’t force yourself to put a brave face on all day. Make space to include your love and your grief for the baby or child who won’t be there. Create new traditions that include memories of your lost baby or loved one, or maybe even all the people you have lost in your family. Hang a special decoration on the tree, visit a grave, take a minute to think of them or any other way that feels right to you.
- Avoid too many Christmassy images or media
This may be obvious, but Christmas seems to have become a competition to release the most heart-warming (tear-jerking) TV advert. The images of happy families, the Christmas TV specials, and the films where everyone makes it home in the end can all be kryptonite for the grieving. Try sticking familiar films or series, ad-free streaming services and watch something less likely to trigger longing and loneliness.
- It’s not always the thought that counts
If gift-shopping feels like a huge, daunting task and you can’t face the crowds in the shops, or risk the targeted ads online, gift cards, homemade gifts or cash will all do instead. Heartfelt, thoughtful or personalised gifts can wait a year, or two.
- Embrace the power of no, thanks.
Dreading the work Christmas party with all the prep and postmortems? Fearing that visit to relatives who ask intrusive questions? Anxious that attending a carol service will make you cry?
Say “no thanks”, “not this year” or “maybe” to invitations that don’t appeal to you. Send someone in your place if you can, make up a prior engagement, feign a dry cough and a headache, or be honest and tell people you aren’t up to it.
Whether this is your first or tenth year approaching Christmas after a bereavement,we hope you have a peaceful one.