Laura is a Clinical Psychologist in our Hospice psychology and counselling team. She’s put together some tips to help those who’ve had a bereavement to cope with grief over the festive season. 

Everyone grieves in different ways, so we hope these ideas will help you and your family find your own ways to support each other and celebrate.

Choose whether to keep old traditions or make new ones 

We all have our own cultural and family traditions around Christmas time. When you’ve lost somebody close, those traditions may make you feel upset, because you’re not able to celebrate in the same way you used to. Think about planning in advance how you want to spend your time –whatever that looks like. Talk to your family about what they’d prefer too, as you may have different views. You might decide you want to stick to your usual traditions, or think of new ones that help you remember your loved one. Some people choose to pay tribute to their loved one at Christmas time, perhaps by visiting their grave, lighting a candle in their memory, adding a special decoration to the tree for them, speaking to the person, or laying a place for them at the dinner table.  

Don’t put pressure on yourself 

Be kind to yourself and don’t put too much pressure on the festive period, particularly if it’s your first Christmas without a loved one. You might also experience lots of different emotions, regardless of how long it’s been since your loved one died. Take each day as it comes, set small targets and don’t be afraid to put yourself first. 

Acknowledge your feelings as they come 

Loss and grief can impact on people in different ways and there is no right or wrong way to feel. Some people experiencing grief think that if they start crying, they will never stop. But you will stop, and it can be an important part of the process and help you to not bottle up your feelings. Focus on trying to acknowledge and experience those feelings as they come, whatever they may be.

Look after your body 

No matter what’s happening in your life, looking after yourself by sleeping and eating well and maintaining your routine is generally really helpful for people and can support your mental health. At this time of year there can often be lots of parties or events to attend that disrupt your usual routine, so it’s important to be mindful of how you look after yourself and particularly your alcohol use, if you drink alcohol. Some people use alcohol to try to numb their feelings or pain, and cope with what they’re going through, but this may lead to poorer mental health in the short and long term. Be aware of when and how much you’re drinking. If you enjoy going out regularly, there’s no reason to stop this, but make sure you take time to care for yourself.  

Be mindful that everybody grieves differently 

It’s important to understand that other people might be grieving in different ways to you. When you’re having conversations, be mindful and sensitive in how you talk about things like memories of your loved one, processing their estate and any plans you might have for the future. With friends and family, it might be useful to talk about how you’re each grieving and how you can support each other best. 

Know when to take a step back  

It can be upsetting at Christmas if you feel bombarded with images of happy families celebrating together when you’re coping with grief. If you feel this way, consider taking a break from social media and television, and finding entertainment in other ways, such as listening to podcasts, audiobooks or the radio, or doing puzzles.  

Reach out for support 

Over the festive period people tend to catch up with friends and family to celebrate, but that might not be the type of interaction you want right now. Do reach out to others for support if you need it though. If you’d prefer a one-to-one chat with someone close, let them know that’s what you’d like. You could go for a walk or a coffee, or meet at one of your homes – whatever you feel most comfortable with.