Christmas and the Recently Bereaved
I received a Christmas card today from a mother and child whom we know very well. There was a name missing on the card. It was of her Husband Chris, and the father of the child.
Chris died during October this year of bowel cancer – he was 41.
The Christmas season is here. Families reunite and friends gather. But for many there will be a name missing when they write their Christmas cards. This will be one of many ‘firsts’ for the recently bereaved.
For friends and family members of the bereaved, there is also the first writing of the Christmas card with a name removed.
The receipt of this card left me thinking of how difficult it must be to face traditions that used to bring joy and happiness when they may now offer painful reminders of what is no longer. The presence of someone's absence can be overwhelming.
For those who experienced the death of a loved one this year, simply surviving Christmas may be your goal. Finding even one person you can talk to about your loss may help in relieving pressure. It is all right not to have all your traditional activities this year if it is too painful. You can adjust your activities year to year. There are no rules.
There is also no right or wrong way to grieve. Some people may embrace past Christmas traditions and keep a loved one's memory present as part of those activities. Others may want to start new rituals.
Conflict can arise when people disagree about how to face Christmas after a death in the family.
During this difficult season (and beyond) consider taking the pressure off yourself and others when it comes to the misleading notion of a grieving ‘process’. Give yourself permission to grieve. You do not need to rush through any ‘stages of grief’ in order to experience joy this season. In addition, be patient with other family members as you all find your own path with your own grief. It will not be the same for each of you.
Alongside of your grieving emotions, you may feel positive emotions. There is nothing wrong with you if you enjoy the children or grandchildren opening presents, or if you help family or friends make a celebratory meal of which you are proud.
Do not be ashamed of these feelings. You are entitled to feel the entire spectrum of emotions. You may be laughing one minute and crying the next. That is perfectly acceptable. After all, there is an instinctive need for the living to go on living, even as we mourn our dead. Even at Christmas – life truly does go on.
The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain centre stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief. Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning. You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.
Bereavement Counselling can help you adjust to your new life with all of its changes, good and bad. Keeping things bottled up, or denying the sadness can prolong the pain.