How to Cope When You’re Spending Christmas Without a Loved One 0

Spending Christmas without a loved one

“’Tis the season to be jolly” – but if you’re grieving, the very idea of Christmas can be daunting. Untangling the Christmas tree lights, filling stockings, pulling crackers together: all the little family rituals of the season can stir up bittersweet memories, while the festive feeling everywhere can be isolating. The whole world is celebrating, and you’d … rather not.

If the prospect of spending Christmas without a loved one is filling you with dread, it can help to make a few plans and resolutions for the day. With the aid of Naomi and Steve Game-Blackmoor of Holding Dear, a service offering professional therapeutic support to the bereaved, we’ve put together some ideas for those coping with loss at Christmas.

 

How to cope with Christmas after a bereavement

Everyone grieves differently, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to coping with grief at Christmas. Take what you need from the tips below, and leave anything that doesn’t speak to you.

 

1) Remember that it’s okay to be sad – or happy

It's natural to feel sad when you're spending Christmas without a loved one.A lot of bereaved people struggle with sad thoughts at Christmas, but feel under pressure to “put on a happy face” for their friends and family. Others find a lot of happiness while celebrating, but discover that the idea of enjoying Christmas without a loved one there fills them with a kind of guilt.

Steve and Naomi say that it’s important to remember that there’s no right or wrong when it comes to how you feel. “Honouring how we feel is very important,” Steve explains. “Pretending we feel differently just to please everyone else is often unhelpful.

“We would want to reassure [someone who is bereaved at Christmas] that what they are feeling is perfectly normal and okay.”

Remind yourself that it’s okay to be happy, or sad – or, as is likely, a strange mixture of the two. You have a right to express those feelings, and not hide them away.

Don’t be afraid to accept or ask for help if you need it, either from friends and family or from a bereavement professional. You don’t have go it alone!

 

2) Make a plan for Christmas day

When you’re struggling with grief at Christmas, it can help to make a plan for the day that will keep you occupied.

Keeping busy doing something like cooking biscuits can help you cope with grief at ChristmasThis plan doesn’t have to be conventional. You could skip the traditional Christmas activities and go for a long walk with a picnic instead, for example, or join a park run or volunteer for a charity. You might spend some time in the evening calling up old friends to catch up, cooking up a storm, or watching films under a big blanket. Don’t be pressured into spending Christmas the way you “ought” to spend it.

If you want to be alone, Steve adds, that’s okay too. “There can be a very substantial pressure on us to be around others at Christmas when we’re not feeling up to it. We encourage people to give themselves permission to be alone if they wish.”

If family and friends are uncomfortable leaving you alone at Christmas, make it clear that this is what you want. Ask them to call you at some point during the day to check in, instead.

 

3) Find ways to remember the person who has died

A lot of bereaved families find it comforting to commemorate their loved one by bringing them into their Christmas celebrations in some way.

As Steve explains: “There need be no grand gestures – just simple gestures, but which never the less, serve to include our loved-ones in the festivities. These gestures could, over time, become a family custom and tradition.”

A lit candle can help you remember a loved one at ChristmasSome ideas for remembering loved ones at Christmas might be:

  • Visiting their grave, or the place their ashes were scattered
  • Lighting a candle for them
  • Raising a glass to them at dinner
  • Playing their favourite music
  • Sharing stories about them with each other
  • Cooking their favourite festive snacks
  • Writing them a letter

Naomi adds that such small, familiar rituals helped after she lost her daughter Katie: “During Christmas dinner, it has become a tradition for us to light a candle on the table and to have a flower arrangement close by.

“We feel that Katie continues to be a very important part of the season, and these traditions have helped us to cope with her loss, particularly at Christmas.”

A lot of funeral directors hold annual gatherings or church services for remembrance at Christmas. Ask the funeral director who arranged your loved one’s send-off if there is an event you can attend.

 

4) Look after yourself

Getting lots of rest is important when you're bereaved at ChristmasWe all over-indulge and over-extend ourselves a little over the Christmas period. Yet the late nights, the odd extra drink (or two, or four) – plus random mealtimes squeezed between shopping, cooking, and wrapping – can all take a heavy toll if you’re already feeling low and run-down with grief.

Guidelines from the charity Cruse Bereavement Care stress that, even if you’re busy, it’s important to look after yourself when you’re grieving. While the odd extra festive tipple can be nice, try not to rely on alcohol to make the day easier. Instead, it can help a lot to establish a good routine with plenty of sleep, regular meals and lots of relaxation. Make time for yourself.

 

5) Share your memories

Sharing memories can help when you're coping with loss at ChristmasWhen you’re bereaved, the person who has died is never far from your thoughts – especially at Christmas. So, why not share your memories of them with the people around you? Rather than “spoiling the mood”, you’re likely to find that it opens up space for friends and family to share their memories, as well. This can be very comforting, Steve and Naomi say.

“When visiting families to make the arrangements for the funeral ceremony, I encourage them to reminisce in all sorts of ways,” Steve explains. “The act of remembering can be incredibly reassuring when we’re grieving.”

Remembering loved ones at Christmas can also be painful, and you may feel sad. But that’s normal. By acknowledging your feelings, and expressing them, you and those close to you can help each other through the day.

You don’t have to talk to friends and family about your loss at Christmas. For a friendly, impartial listener, try Cruse Bereavement Care’s free helpline, which runs from 9.30am to 5pm, on 0808 808 1677. The Samaritans line is also open 24/7 at 116 123.

Spending Christmas without a loved one can be hard. But, over time, the day can take on new meaning, as a way to honour them and celebrate the happiness you shared with them. Just remember to look after yourself, and to go easy on yourself, too: there’s no right or wrong way to get through the day.

 

Steven Game-Blackmoor is an award-winning ceremonial officiant and grief therapist working in Staffordshire, where he works with other professional psychotherapists and counsellors to offer pastoral support to people who are grieving.
Naomi Game-Blackmoor is the author of ‘There’s No Place Like Home,’ a book for parents who have lost their child. A trained psychotherapist, she has worked alongside grief specialists and organisations since losing her daughter Katie, in 2003, and has recently joined the funeral industry.
You can find out more about Steven and Naomi’s work with the bereaved at the Holding Dear website.
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How to Cope with the Sudden Death of a Spouse 0

Coping with the sudden and unexpected death of a husband

In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork. This week, Sarah Keast shares her hard-won wisdom on coping after the sudden and unexpected death of a partner.


Sunlight danced through the cottage. Squeals of joy echoed from the lake as my five-year-old swam with my dad. The baby monitor hummed as my two-year-old napped in a pack and play covered in a mosquito net. Hot, sticky sweat rolled down my leg as I watched my mom answer the phone and quietly whisper, “Okay, I’ll tell her.”

The world continued to turn as mine was about to explode. My mom hung up the phone, walked towards me with tears welling in her eyes, and said: “He’s dead.”

The walls caved in, the floor fell away and the room went dark. Distantly, I heard someone screaming in sorrow. As my mom’s arms wrapped around me, I realised that the person screaming was me.

On August 7th 2016, my husband, my best friend and my partner in life died unexpectedly from an accidental heroin overdose. He had struggled with depression, anxiety and substance use disorder for half of our 16 years together. The life and love we had built was gone in an instant. Like a magician’s trick, he left this earth in a puff of smoke. He was here – and just like that, he was gone.

 

My advice for coping with the sudden death of a spouse

How do you go on when you get a phone call like that? My world ended in a split second. Yet somehow, I was supposed to pick myself (and my young kids) up and carry on? I could barely catch a breath, let alone cope with this sudden and devastating loss.

It wasn’t pretty, and I cried a lot. I screamed a lot. I laughed a lot. But somehow, I got through the early days of this unimaginable nightmare. And as I sit here now, 2.5 years later, I can see that there are a few things that I did that helped me cope and made those days a teeny tiny bit more bearable.

 

1) You will feel ALL the feelings

You are now on a roller-coaster ride called grief. You did not sign up for this ride, but you got thrown on it, so hang on tight.

I would find myself completely frozen and numb, and then five minutes later I would be sobbing. Half an hour later, I would be screaming, “Fuck you for dying” at my husband’s pictures. I’d find myself overwhelmed with relief that my nightmarish life living with and loving someone struggling with substance use disorder was over. Then the guilt over feeling relief at his death would crush me, and I would be frozen and numb again.

Whatever feeling(s) you feel are normal. Feeling them all in the space of five minutes is also normal. Be with whatever feeling comes. Lean into each feeling, let it move through you.

Early on, I’d beat myself up over most of these feelings. I thought I was only ‘supposed’ to be sad. I didn’t know that the other feelings were also normal. In fact, whatever feeling(s) you feel are normal. Feeling them all in the space of five minutes is also normal. Be with whatever feeling comes. Lean into each feeling, let it move through you.

The feelings are all there inside of you, and if you push them away or ignore them or stuff them down, they only *temporarily* go away. They need to come out, so give yourself grace and let them.

 

2) Ask for – and accept – help

I could barely think straight, let alone cope with the demands of daily life in the days, weeks and months after my husband died. I quickly realised I couldn’t do this alone. I had to accept help, as humbling as it was to do so. You simply cannot manage grief and daily life on your own.

Coping with the sudden loss of a partner

My friends and neighbours organised a meal train for me where people signed up to bring my family a meal each night. I accepted these meals every night for months with gratitude – and embarrassment, and shame. Why couldn’t I handle everything? I’d yell at myself.

But as the nights of delicious home cooked meals continued, I could feel the difference it was making in my days. I cried tears of relief after the first snowstorm that winter when I was struggling to get my kids out the door for school and I realised my neighbour had shovelled my driveway. I suddenly understood how much people wanted to help me.

Letting go of those useless feelings of embarrassment and weakness was so helpful. I embraced the help that people wanted to give me. Accepting their help meant that while others dealt with the day-to-day stuff of my life, I could focus on the things that mattered: coping with my grief and parenting my kids through this nightmare. So: let people help you. They want to help. You do not have to do this alone.

 

3) You are in charge of your grief journey

The world, and especially the western world, is terrible with how we approach grief. Everywhere you turn, there is pressure to ‘get over it’, ‘move on’, ‘find closure’. Ignore those messages. You are in charge of this journey. You do not have to get over this when someone else tells you to.

You may well grieve your entire life. The way you grieve and what you feel will change, but in some way, shape or form, your grief will always be with you. This is okay. You will find ways to integrate your grief into your life and to move forward in your life, but this takes time.  

It’s okay to cry, yell, laugh or say nothing. You are the only one who knows what is best for you. There is no right time to do any of these things and there is no wrong time. There is only the time that is best for you. Listen to yourself.

In the meantime, keep your house as is and don’t move a single thing of his/hers, if that’s what you want. Or do as I did, and get rid of everything in a grief fuelled rage and re-decorate immediately – if that’s what you want. Date whenever you want. Say no to invitations to family events or holiday celebrations if they seem too hard or too overwhelming. Or say yes to every invitation, if you want the company and distraction. It’s okay to cry, yell, laugh or say nothing. You are the only one who knows what is best for you.

There is no right time to do any of these things and there is no wrong time. There is only the time that is best for you. Listen to yourself.

 

4) Care for your basic needs

Eat. Drink water. Sleep. Move. Shower. Simple things, yet they can do wonders to help you through this nightmare. I couldn’t figure out why I was so thirsty for the first few weeks…and then it dawned on me: oh yeah – I’ve been crying for days, so I must be dehydrated! Upping my water intake helped immensely.

I also went to a lot of hot yoga classes early on. I felt like I was literally wringing the grief out of my body with every posture. I was sweating so much that no one could see all the crying I was doing! It was so cathartic.

Grief saps all of your energy, and I felt like I was moving through cement most days. Anything you can do to replenish your energy is so helpful. Treat your body and mind with loving kindness as you journey through this nightmare. And yes, that may include cookies and ice cream as needed.

 

5) Find your tribe

Coping with sudden death of spouseLosing your spouse suddenly is a completely life altering and isolating experience. My long-time girlfriends have shown up for me in spades since my husband died, but all of their partners are still alive. They want to understand what I’m going through, but they can’t. The truth is, you can’t truly understand unless you are going through it too.

Find your tribe, so you don’t have to navigate this nightmare alone. There are online groups for widows and widowers on Facebook. You can follow other widows and widowers on Instagram. Find a support group in your area. Use your networks to find others like you.

Once you do, it’s a beautiful thing. I would never wish for my husband to die, but because he did, I’ve met some amazing women who have been instrumental in my grief journey. I am so thankful that I found my tribe. I’m not sure I would still be standing today if I had not.

Losing your spouse suddenly is earth shattering, life altering and indescribably painful. But you will survive this. You will thrive again. I cannot tell you when, as it’s different for everyone. But you will. Until then, just breathe. It’s the only thing you have to do in this moment. Breathe. You can do this.

 


Sarah Keast is a writer and activist, raising awareness around addiction and mental health. You can hear more from Sarah on her TEDx talk here, and on her blog, Adventures in Widowed Parenting.

Laura’s Story: Meditation & Healing from Grief 1

In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork. In this thoughtful piece, Laura Siegel describes how meditation helped her heal after the loss of her husband.

My husband died three years ago, shortly after his 74th birthday. We were together for 57 years. About a year before he died, a social worker recommended a meditation app called Insight Timer and the guided meditations seemed to help him immensely. So, the day he died, I began practicing them too.

The biggest challenge I faced was the ability to focus. My mind was in a constant state of fear and anxiety and thoughts wandered every which way. My heart hurt all the time.

My rabbi recommended that I try grief meditations. These were easier for me to follow. The one that helped the most was Guided Meditation for Grief, Anxiety, and Stress by Heather Stang. Her gentle voice is so soothing, and there’s lots of space in the meditation for silence. Other meditation teachers I’ve enjoyed on Insight Timer are Meg James, Tara Brach, Kristin Neff, and Lisa Machac. Pretty soon, I was meditating five times a day and getting much-needed relief.

After my husband died, the silence of his absence was devastating.

 

After my husband died, the silence of his absence was devastating. Sure, there were friends, movies, and TV, but for the most part there was this great void of human sound and closeness. Listening to guided meditations has helped to fill this void.

Along the same lines, listening to audiobooks also helped. I was no longer able to focus on reading: my grieving brain could not process the words. But I have always loved audiobooks, and I soon realized that they were becoming my companions as well. Simply listening to a vital living voice helped me through my grief and I did not feel as isolated and alone.

I found audiobooks by other widows and widowers to be extremely helpful. We all share the same struggle. Here are a few that have particularly moved me:

  • A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  • A Widows Walk: A Memoir of 9/11 by Marian Fontana
  • The Widower’s Notebook: A Memoir by Jonathan Santlofer
  • A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

I also joined several online widow and widower groups via Facebook, Hope for Widows and Hot Young Widow’s Club (you don’t have to be young or hot). Speaking to the other widows was like having a circle of nurturing support surrounding me. We are even able to laugh with each other – another important component of healing from grief.

Meditation is giving me a foundation for living a calmer, more peaceful life.

I begin each day with a 30-45-minute guided meditation (three years ago I started with shorter ones). I don’t even get out of bed. This is the easiest time for me to follow my breath and nurture myself. I do the same in the late afternoon. Right before bed, I listen to a five-minute guided meditation and then fall asleep to soothing music. My favourites are Gentle Morning by Weston Brown and Devotion by Mary Maddux.

There are other ways that I meditate, like taking walks in nature and swimming. When I am swimming it’s impossible to feel anxious or worried. I am simply moving with my breath.

I am beginning to feel the same way when I do guided meditations. My breath is guiding me. It’s as if there is nothing to fear, nothing to worry about. This is carrying over into my daily life. Things that have caused me stress before no longer have the same power. A sense of calm and contentment that I have never known before sweeps through me. I can also rest more easily. I can more easily accept my difficult feelings. I am less angry. I appreciate silence more. I can be happy with what I have.

Meditation has changed me very gradually. In the beginning I could not follow my breath without a million thoughts encroaching. And yet I’ve learned that it is the nature of the mind to think. Meditation does not mean that you stop thinking. It means that you notice thinking and return to your breath. Meditation is about learning to stay with what is.

Meditation is giving me a foundation for living a calmer, more peaceful life. Meditation gives me a way to take care of myself in every moment.


 

Laura Siegel is a writer supporting other bereaved partners through her blog, Breathing Into Healing.  She is also the co-editor of the anthology Out of the Closet, Into Our Hearts: Celebrating Our Gay Family Members.

If you liked this piece, we’d like to invite you to donate to the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society in memory of Laura’s husband Howard. You can pledge a donation here.

And for more information about meditating for grief, you can check out our beginner’s guide to bereavement meditation with Heather Stang here.