It’s that time of the year. Again. For some, the lead up to Christmas is the best time of the year. They get excited about it mid July and will tell you in 6 months it will be Christmas Day!
Their joy is real and honest and they truly do love everything and anything about Christmas. Good on them.
Then there is the other group of people – those of us who dread Christmas.
This can be for many reasons. We are just not looking forward to spending time with certain family members, we are tired of the year and don’t feel like celebrating or just don’t want to participate in yet another awkward celebration that seems all a bit too staged. These are all very valid reasons not to make a big deal about Christmas.
For some of us though, the festive season seems like an endless time of horror and despair. Everyone around us seems to be happy and we are stuck in the middle of it – sad, depressed and struggling.
Christmas is no fun when you are grieving.
If we could cancel Christmas, we would. We would gladly skip the cheers and kitschy happiness that often comes with the festive season. Fact is though – we can’t escape Christmas. It will creep up on us eventually.
Therefore, it is best to focus instead on developing a few coping tools to see us through this difficult and emotional time. I have put together a list of five suggestions but of course, there are many other options.
Our grief is as unique as we are so there is no solution fits all approach. This is something you should keep in mind – this is your grief, you are entitled to it and you are encouraged to find YOUR way through it. That applies to your grief journey as a whole but also to the lead up to Christmas and the day itself.
With that in mind, check out my takes on surviving the Christmas craziness and feel free to tweak them to suit yourself and your situation.
- Find your tribe
When we go through a difficult time, we can all do with a little help. The best help is given by those who get you and what you are going through. These people can be, in the best case, family and friends. In many cases, you will have to look further afield though. When it comes to Christmas, friends and family are often caught up in the mood of the season and are busy buying presents, planning family dinners and making Christmas craft. This is nothing bad and just a fact. Your best bet will be to turn to either other friends who have experienced a loss like yours or similar. If they are not in your direct circle of people then that is fine. There are plenty of support groups out there, very often found online as well where you can talk to someone around the clock. Help and understanding from people who get you can be found in ‘traditional’ grief support groups as well as others. Maybe you are part of a mother’s group where you might be comfortable to reach out? If so, give it a try. It might take a bit of time but you will find your kind of people soon enough. Once you do, tap into that source of help and share your concerns, struggles and experiences. This is not necessarily about making lifelong friends (although if that happened – great) but about not being alone in a potentially dark and depressing time.
- Make yourself a priority
Christmas time is often about others. We get presents for others, we worry about what to cook for others, and we clean the house so others can enjoy it. There is again nothing wrong with that – Christmas is a time to come together for many and necessary preparations have to be taken.
If this is not you then that is fine. When we experience grief, Christmas is a nightmare. All it does is to remind us that we are missing someone who is not there and never will be again. The dreams we had about a Christmas together, about seeing your baby’s excitement at unwrapping a present or seeing your loved one laugh happily at an unexpected gift – these dreams will never come true. And that sucks.
It is now more important than ever not to deny these feelings and to take them seriously. Make yourself and your struggle a priority.
Don’t give in and try and pretend that you are fine and happy.
It is ok not to be ok.
Christmas cheer is nice and all but it is not for everyone.
If you want to get through this time, look after yourself. Skip the work Christmas party and go somewhere you feel more at peace. Leave the decorations in the box; let the house and garden go without fairy lights for one year. This is now not about pleasing others but taking care of YOU. If you don’t have the energy to bake cookies or make pudding then don’t do it.
You have been through so much and grief is exhausting and draining. One thing that makes it so much harder is pretending your grief doesn’t exist. This will only make it worse. So go ahead and try and make yourself a priority this Christmas season as much as possible. Look at how you would normally celebrate and what the role is you play in it. Then trim it down and keep it simple.
Remember – it is ok not to be ok and it is necessary and fine to say NO.
- Make up your own rules
If you can’t escape Christmas entirely because you have a large family or find yourself in a position to comply with some degree then so be it. Christmas is a complicated time of year for many families and a gathering can’t always be avoided. If this is your reality this year then know that you still have some control over how things will go down.
A lot of us dread the family get togethers because it means we will be stuck there for hours on end and just have to endure.
Not this year.
You need to put yourself FIRST.
Your grief is real and it has a prominent place in your life and no Christmas celebration will change that. Of course, many of you will have family members who just don’t get that and they never will. How frustrating are they?!
Instead of wasting precious energy on toxic people like that, develop your own set of rules to survive such scenarios. Decide to leave early, keep to yourself, hide in the kitchen and do the dishes if it means you won’t have to talk to anyone and be forced to explain yourself. Occupy yourself with other tasks that people are not keen on doing so you stay busy and distracted.
Think about how these gatherings normally take place and prepare yourself for the awkward moments such as insensitive aunties asking about your baby plans or your drunken father harping on about your childhood. Excuse yourself out of these situations and do it.
There is no rule or law in the world that says you have to endure idiocy and deny your grief. You owe it to yourself to look after yourself. So get up and get away from your aunt and make it a rule not to talk to her for the rest of the time you are trapped at the family gathering. Make up as many or little rules as you like.
Just remember to put yourself first and come up with things that help YOU and not others.
- Stay in the moment
Christmas time is all about planning and preparing for that one day a few weeks away. It is about running to the shops at a certain time to beat the crowds and putting your meat order in early to make sure you will have what you want for your Christmas meal. People probably don’t realise they spend so much time thinking, fretting and stressing about an event in the future. We are programmed to think that way and living in a world of consumerism doesn’t help.
That is why it is even more important than ever for you to stay in the moment. Right here and right now.
Make a conscious effort not to think about what you are supposed to be doing. Don’t think about trying to be happy and fine and cheery.
Instead, take a moment for quiet reflection and establish how you are feeling. What is it that occupies your mind? Is it the Christmas presents you are supposed to get or is it the one you are missing because they died?
This reflection is not about judging what kind of thoughts you have but about acknowledging them. It is fine to be engulfed by your despair and your overpowering wish your precious little baby was still with you or your favourite aunt was still alive. It is FINE.
Stay in the moment and stay with that emotion. Whoever it is you are missing the most has had a profound impact on your life and they deserve to occupy that space in your thoughts.
Don’t feel bad when you don’t think about Christmas presents or dinner or anything cheery. Grief is a complex thing to manage as it changes every day. One day you are more or less fine and the next is just a train wreck and couldn’t be worse.
Take one moment, one hour and one day at a time.
And if you end up with no Christmas presents on the 25th then so be it. This is not about pleasing others, remember?
- Reward yourself
As hard as it might feel like right now, Christmas time will come to an end. Yes! It will.
The month of December can be painfully slow for so many of us and by god, it is exhausting. So when you have made it through it finally and get to the other end, it is time to celebrate.
You have just gotten through an emotionally trying and draining time and you should be very proud of it! This has not been an easy fate. The odds are really against us with all this happiness, eating, drinking and be merry stuff. Yet, you made it through and you are still intact. Now is the time to reward yourself.
Let’s take a moment to analyse this a bit better. You carry the burden of grief and while the load might lessen over time, it won’t go away. You have fought for weeks to just get by and endured too many moments where you were surrounded by people when all you wanted was to be alone.
Now that it is all over, make a final conscious decision to end this difficult time with something meaningful. Get yourself something from the sales, book a little trip away, take that time out of the day for your DIY project you have been thinking about for so long. You deserve it and you sure as hell earned it. This is not about being selfish but about recharging your batteries so you can face your grief journey anew the next day.
One last thing – when children are around…
Before we give Christmas a break, we need to talk about those situations where Christmas cannot be avoided by any means because there are people in your life who take great and sincere joy out of the festive season. I’m talking about anyone who has experienced a horrible, horrible loss such as a baby or a dear and close family member but also has small children who just love Christmas.
What do you then?
This is a very difficult situation to be in. We don’t feel like Christmas and would prefer we could just ignore. What is the point of celebrating it when a permanent part of your heart and soul is missing?
There is no way around it really, you will have to get into the spirit of Christmas a little bit for them even when it is the last thing on your mind. It will be a very fine balance between taking care of yourself and your aching heart and making sure the little ones don’t miss out on too much.
But it can be done.
It might take some preparations on your part so you can make sure everyone gets through the Christmas season and won’t end up too disappointed. Depending on your traditions, is there one that you can skip this year? Would it be possible to get the help of a friend who might be up for baking with the kids? Can your partner decorate the tree with the kids?
Think about what needs to be done so the kids can have a merry time and establish what you have energy for. Cut out or down on certain activities and outsource them to other family members and friends whenever possible.
Never underestimate the power of communication though.
It will depend a bit on how old the children involved are but make a point and talk to them. Tell them that mummy is sad and doesn’t feel like all this Christmas stuff. Say that you will still make sure they will have a lovely time.
Maybe come up with a family strategy for the holiday season. This can be a set of rules such as always telling each other how we feel. Are we sad that we don’t do something? Are we ok if we skip an activity? How is everyone feeling? Check in on each other so you can make it through the season day by day and week by week.
Tell the little ones that it is ok for them to be happy and excited and that you will try, too. But remember, it is still about you as well. It is ok for children to see mum and dad upset at times. Just take the time and explain to them what is going on. Kids need to be taken seriously and they might surprise you and react more understanding than you think. Things might not go smoothly every day but you can make it through as a family when you try your best one day at a time.