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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5 Things No One Tells You About the Loss of a Spouse 0

In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork.

 

My husband Brad and I used to joke about who would die first. It was a strange thing to joke about when we were in our 20s and had our entire lives ahead of us, but that’s how far from reality death was. It was laughable. Something that happened to other people. Something that, when it did inevitably happen, would happen much later in life. 

We finally compromised and decided that if we couldn’t simultaneously die in our sleep when we were in our 90s as planned, then I could go first. We both knew Brad was much better equipped to handle the aftermath of losing me.

But I didn’t die first. Brad beat me to it. After an unexpected and grueling 100-day battle with kidney cancer, I became a 33-year-old widow.

No one can prepare you for becoming a widow or widower. It is one of the most difficult losses you can endure. However, here are five things I wish I had been better prepared for:

1. The paperwork

 I never realized that with death came a mountain of paperwork. Paperwork that in some cases would linger for years. Medical bills, creditor notices, estate documentation – I was completely naive to the logistics of death that go beyond the memorial service.

At a time when all I wanted to do was grieve my loss, I had to go to court to validate Brad’s will. I had to cancel credit cards and bank accounts. I had to transfer real estate and phone bills and Netflix accounts into my name. I had to argue with the IRS over student loan bills. The contents of my mailbox shifted from travel magazines to daily reminders of my loss. It’s been over two years and I am still dealing with the paperwork and logistics surrounding Brad’s death.

2. The shift in your relationships

This will happen both immediately and slowly, over time. In my experience, people are uncomfortable with grief. They don’t know what to say or how to handle it. Most are unable to sit with you in the pain. It brings up their own grief and they are unable to handle both their grief and yours. So, they avoid the pain and discomfort, and ultimately, you.

You are living most people’s nightmare. You are a reminder that this could happen to them too. That reminder is difficult to handle. Usually, it’s not intentional – often people aren’t even aware they are feeling this way. But it’s real. Especially if you are the first in their life to go through such a loss. Oftentimes, friends and family you expected to show up end up avoiding you in order to continue living in the comfort of blissful ignorance.

But it’s not always the fault of others. When Brad died, I couldn’t handle living in the same home, in the same city, with the same friends, without him. It felt like my world had stopped and everything around me continued as usual. Every person and social situation was another reminder that Brad was dead. So, I ran away. I spent months driving around the country, avoiding the life left behind. And when I came back, people understandably had moved on.

Losing your partner will test not just you, but all the relationships in your life. Your social circle will shrink. And the ones who stick around – who continue to support well after the memorial service – will be share a bond with you for life.

3. The secondary losses

Losing your partner doesn’t mean just losing your spouse. With it comes the loss of the future you planned together. The loss of intimacy. The loss of income. The loss of security. The loss of health. The loss of your social circle. The loss of your breakfast companion. The loss of the recipient of your jokes. The loss of your jar opener. The loss of your dance partner. The loss of your road trip companion. The loss of your best friend.

There isn’t a single part of your life that is untouched by the loss of your spouse.

4. The grief ambush 

Grief is not linear. It doesn’t happen in a neat forward motion. It’s messy and unexpected. You will be triggered without notice, at the most inconvenient times. When you look in your fridge and realize the A1 sauce – and all the other condiments that only he used – will sit there, untouched forever. When a certain song comes on in the grocery store and you break down in the middle of the cereal aisle. When the dentist asks how your husband is doing and tears start streaming down your face with his hands still inside your mouth.

You will think you are doing better, and you will be ambushed again. Eventually the triggers become less frequent and less hysterical. Eventually you will learn to manage them better. But there is no timeline or finish line to cross where the ambushes stop.

5. You will learn to balance joy and grief

It’s hard to see that in the beginning, when the loss feels so dark and heavy. And the initial joy will probably be accompanied by guilt – guilt for laughing or being happy when your person is no longer able to laugh or be happy.

But the joy will come. And that doesn’t mean the grief has disappeared: it just means you’ve learned to balance both. You’ve learned to expand and feel more than you thought possible before. You’ve learned how fragile life is and that creates a sense of urgency to live.

Carrying grief gives you a perspective on life that others who have yet to experience such a loss won’t fully understand. Grief is hard and it constantly tests you, but you will find your strength – and joy –  again.



Dana Frost is a writer and the founder of the Forced Joy Project (http://www.forcedjoyproject.com). She is a big believer in sharing our stories of both grief and joy and an even bigger believer of kitchen dance parties. You can find her on Instagram @ForcedJoyProject.

 

Rachel’s Story: “Your Heart Doesn’t Close Up When Your Person Dies” 3

Rachel Brougham with her husband Colin and son Thom

In our Your Stories series, people who have lost a loved one share their unique perspective through essays, poetry and artwork. One year ago, Rachel Brougham’s husband Colin died in a cycling accident at just 39. Here, she talks about life, love — and dating  — as a young widow.


As I walk down the sidewalk, the sound repeats itself behind me. There’s a stomp, a crunch and then laughter. Sometimes I hear, “Ooh, that was a good one,” or “That’s a big one right there!” Then it starts all over again.

It’s March in Minneapolis, Minnesota — the time of year when all that snow melts during the day then refreezes at night, creating chunks of ice and giant puddles on city sidewalks and streets.

The stomp is my 10-year-old son Thom, and my boyfriend Matt, slamming their feet on chunks of ice. When it crunches and breaks apart, they laugh. I’m walking ahead of them and smiling — not just because the two of them sound like a couple little kids having fun — but because it’s the same thing Thom and my husband Colin would be doing if Colin were still alive. I’m smiling because despite what has happened to Thom and I over the last year, we can still feel happiness. I’m smiling because I know everything is going to be OK, even though there are moments it feels like the grief is overwhelming.

I’m the luckiest unlucky person.

In April 2018, just hours after Colin was killed in a cycling accident on his way home from work, Thom asked me if I was going to get married again. Colin had been dead less than two hours, and out of all the things Thom could ask, he wanted to know when I was going to shack up with some other dude.

I mean, what the heck?

In retrospect, Thom was just grasping for something to make life seem a bit normal in what was now uncertain. Of course any new guy wasn’t going to be a replacement for Colin, but it would offer some sense of normalcy. So, Thom and I started talking about me dating again very early on after our loss. I made it clear to him that I wasn’t going to bring any guy into our lives that didn’t deserve to be there. I knew I was going to be very protective and nobody was going to meet my son unless I knew it was super-duper serious.

A month after Colin died, I felt restless. I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, but I did want to go out and have a meal and conversation with a male who wasn’t my son or one of our friends. So I did what every other normal widowed person would do — I consulted Google. When is it too early to date after losing a partner, I typed in the search bar.

“Widowland and dating is great because if you start dating too soon, people will certainly tell you about it.”

Widowland and dating is great because if you start dating too soon, people will certainly tell you about it. It’s also great because if you don’t start dating within a certain timeframe, people will certainly tell you about it. There’s no winning when it comes to dating in Widowland, because people who have no clue what they are talking about like to put you on this magical timeline for grief.

There is no magical timeline.

I went out on a date a month after Colin died. I was still dead inside, but I enjoyed the conversation. He walked me to my car and tried to kiss me and I turned my face and his wet mouth ended up on my cheek.

I had been out of the dating scene for nearly 17 years and this is what dating is like these days? Gross!

Over the next couple months, I went on a handful of dates with other guys I met through mutual friends or found on a dating app. Dating as a widowed, 40-year-old mom felt like too much work. It was hard to coordinate schedules, find a babysitter, pay for a babysitter. It didn’t help that my responses to these guys were basically, Nope, No way, Next, and Nice, but no thank you.

I did go out a couple of times with a father of three who was going through a nasty divorce. We bonded over music, have the same sense of dark, sarcastic humor and enjoyed telling each other stories about our kids. While I knew he wasn’t the one for me in the long term, the month we were together was exactly what I needed to show me things were going to be OK and that I could feel happiness with someone else.

And that’s when something clicked — I stopped comparing everyone to Colin.

Matt and I began dating four months after Colin died, but the truth is that we’ve known each other for years. We worked together, ate lunches together, traded text messages late at night when we just needed to talk to someone. I got him and he got me. It feels like we’ve been together for years.

One night, several years ago, Colin and I were talking about who we would date if one of us died. Colin would date 90s rocker Liz Phair. I said I’d date John Cusack or Paul Rudd (line Colin, Matt, John and Paul up and you’ll see I clearly have a type). Colin looked at me, and without hesitation said, “What about Matt?”

I’m not saying Matt and I were supposed to end up together, but I’m not not saying that. Life is just really weird sometimes. Nobody knows how the universe works.

“Your heart doesn’t close up when your person dies, it just makes room for someone else. Your love for your dead person isn’t diminished by loving someone else.”

Matt knows he’s not a replacement. Matt knows it’s not a competition. Matt knows he isn’t a consolation prize and he isn’t jealous of the love I still feel for Colin. After all, Colin is dead and Matt is living. I could choose to be with anyone, or no one, and I choose to spend this second chapter with Matt.

A couple months into us dating, Matt said one night, “You know, I love you. I love Thom. And I love Colin.” That’s when I knew Matt was the one — the one I told Thom I would make sure deserved to be in our lives.

Your heart doesn’t close up when your person dies, it just makes room for someone else. Your love for your dead person isn’t diminished by loving someone else. There is no limit on how much love we can have. You can love two people at once. Heck, I have a button on my jacket that says, “I love Colin” and I don’t give a frick if it makes people uncomfortable.

Loving someone else should be a testament to your dead person. It should say that you loved your dead person so much, you want to experience that again. Whether that’s one month out or 10 years out.

Love is not a finite resource. And while I’m extremely unlucky, I’m lucky to get another chance.

Rachel Brougham is a writer and editor who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She enjoys awkward conversations, crying during long walks and tacos. You can find her on Instagram @rachbrougham and Twitter @RachelBrougham.