The empty chair at Christmas
The first Christmas without a loved one, can for many, be a difficult time. It can re-enforce the feelings of loss as we notice the empty space in our family traditions and the empty chair at our family table. Often the space will re-ignite the grief and we feel that we will be unable to enjoy the holiday or that perhaps we are just getting through it for someone else, maybe for our children. Yet through noticing what we had, and what we have, we can still enjoy the festive period and make it possible to cope with Christmas.
Christmas (or indeed any family celebration) can intensify the grief as it throws you into confusion once more about your feelings about the person who is missing. Perhaps they told terrible jokes, or it was always their Christmas cake you ate. The loss of the joy, the anger and the sadness can rise to the top again and we might even feel guilty at enjoying ourselves without them.
It’s perhaps not surprising that people feel guilty about enjoying themselves when they have lost someone. But people have questions that they are scared to ask: is it silly I still want to buy mum a Christmas present although she is gone? Do you think it would be okay to have a party in the house - after all, it’s only been three months? Is it okay that I don’t want to celebrate Christmas this year? In reality, you should not stop yourself from doing something that helps you grieve the way that you need too. A big part of getting through Christmas will be taking care of yourself and that is getting enough to sleep and eat, but it might be buying a present for your mum who has passed, because at this first Christmas, that brings you comfort.
But even at Christmas, you need to allow yourself the space for your grief. That might mean not going to some events, or only staying for a short time. It might mean dropping old traditions that are too painful. It's normal to take the time to come to terms with a very different way of celebrating and accepting that you do that without your loved one.
Planning can make a big difference, so if you feel you want to leave early can you book a taxi? Perhaps you still want the family to get together, but let someone else be the host this year. All of these very practical steps help to reduce the stress and increase your ability to cope. Similarly changing family traditions slightly can help relieve the loss of a loved one at Christmas.
Christmas can be a difficult time if you are missing a loved one, but it need not be joyless. Find ways to honour their memory in the way that you celebrate and take comfort from the support of those around you.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.