Bereavement at Christmas

With Christmas just around the corner, for many the festive season is a time of joy and excitement. But for people living with bereavement, Christmas can be a difficult time.

Just ‘B’, the bereavement support service run by Saint Michael’s, exists to help children, young people and adults understand and express their grief in a safe and confidential environment, and is reaching out to offer information to local people living with bereavement this Christmas.

Saint Michael’s Chief Executive, Tony Collins, explains why the festive season may be so difficult after the death of friend or family member: “The memories we have of those who have died are always with us – they remain a strong and real part of our daily lives, and this can be both comforting and painful, especially at times of intense feelings, such as Christmas.”

After a bereavement there are many ‘firsts’ people experience – birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. For those spending their first Christmas without that important person, Tony says: “Don’t bottle up your grief; embrace the memories of the person who has died, talk about them and give yourself permission to cry as and when you need to.

“Don’t feel under pressure to ‘cope’. Let others know how you are feeling and how you would like to be comforted – whether that means giving you space to be alone with time to reflect, or being there to give you a hug or simply listen.”

Even when someone has been living with their bereavement for a number of years, Tony explains how the festive period can cause complex emotions: “People often feel that by having fun they are in some way being disloyal to the person who died, but learning to laugh again is part of the grief journey.”

If you are living with bereavement this Christmas, the information from Just ‘B’ could help you to manage your feelings and support you in your grief journey. If you know someone who is bereaved, Just ‘B’ is offering information which can help you to support them this Christmas.

If you are bereaved at Christmas

  • Do what feels right for you: whether you want to be alone, or surrounded by people, don’t feel under pressure to fit in with others’ expectations of how you should spend your Christmas.
  • Some people find it helpful to create new traditions or new customs to pay tribute to the people who have died. Try not to feel guilty about changing your routine, or about keeping routines that are important to you – whether you spend Christmas somewhere new, or lay their place at the dinner table, do what makes you feel comfortable.
  • Tears are a normal part of the grief journey, and so is laughter – moments of happiness or humour don’t mean that you have forgotten the person that has died, but that you are learning to live with your grief.
  • People express grief in different ways, and for children this is particularly true. Some children mask their feelings or find it difficult to explain their emotions – this can mean they express their grief through changes in behaviour, such as getting angry, or spending time alone. Christmas can intensify such emotions, or result in children feeling guilty about feeling excited. Try to share your feelings and be open, which may invite your child to do the same.
  • Christmas can be a particularly busy time. Accepting offers of help – from practical support with shopping, or a listening ear can ease the pressure of the festive period and give you time out to recharge your emotional energy.
  • If you feel you may experience loneliness over the Christmas period, pick up the phone to friends or family, or an established support line. Many online forums also offer you the chance to connect with others in a similar position to you.
  • Many services are still open and there to support you, such as church or community groups offering social lunches and events where you can meet new people.

Remember it’s ok not to feel ok – if you would like support from our Just ‘B’ bereavement support team, get in touch to discuss your referral.

Just ‘B’: (01423) 856 790 / info@justb.org.uk

If someone you know is bereaved at Christmas

  • Remember that everyone copes in different ways when it comes to grieving, – people might want space to be alone, or may appreciate the offer of company or comfort.
  • It can be hard to find the right words when someone we know and love is affected by death, but it is important not to ignore the grieving person or pretend that their important person hasn’t died.

Phrases which may be helpful include

  • “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know I care.”
  • “I’m just popping to the shop, can I get you any essentials?” or “Shall I pick up the kids on Tuesday?” – specific offers of help can make it easier for someone having a difficult time to accept support.
  • “My favourite memory of … is” – talking about the person who has died is an important part of supporting someone who is bereaved. Be ready to listen to memories or feelings shared in return.
  • Be there to offer a hug, make a cup of tea and simply listen.

Phrases to avoid

  • “Time is a healer” – while we often want to help people feel better and fix their pain, this can trivialise someone’s grief and make them feel that there is a timescale in which they need to ‘get over it’. Instead let them know you are there for them, for however long they need your support.
  • “I know how you feel” – everyone’s loss is unique, and everyone experiences grief differently. Instead ask them how they are feeling, and let them know you are prepared to listen, offer a helping hand or give them space.
  • “Be strong” – this can make people feel pressured to bottle up their emotions. Instead, let them know it’s ok to cry, and that you are there to listen and comfort them.
  • “Don’t cry, this should be a happy occasion” – it’s important to allow people to express their grief in their own way and not suppress normal and natural feelings of sadness.
  • Let them know about Just ‘B’, which offers bereavement support to children, young people and adults, completely free of charge.

Avoid avoidance – whether you are living with bereavement, or a friend or family member is bereaved, don’t avoid the elephant in the room – talk about the person who has died, and accept that tears – as well as laughter – are a natural part of the grief journey.

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