The first Christmas after the death of a loved one can be a very tough time for the family and friends left behind.
There’s a flatness to the joy that once surrounded the event and a hollowness to the celebrations as you look at the empty chair they used to occupy.
Everyone knows that life goes on but it doesn’t seem fair and for those few weeks in December, it can feel like the whole world is happy and loved while you’re trying to navigate the harsh new reality of life without the person you loved most in it.
There’s no magic formula. As Churchill once said, ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’ The pain never goes away completely but with time, it becomes easier to manage.
In the meantime, here are some ways to help you get through that first difficult Christmas without them:
Do something different this year
Your loved one will be on your mind at all times but even more so as you go through the traditions you created with them and enjoyed every year together.
To keep things from becoming too melancholy, try doing something different to break up the day. Maybe you could visit a neighbour or family relative. Or take a walk in the park or on the beach on Christmas morning instead of after dinner.
Stay in as much as you need to
Christmas may be a time for socialising, parties, meeting up with friends and connecting with family you haven’t seen in months but that doesn’t mean you have to go this year.
While it’s important not to isolate yourself completely, it’s perfectly understandable to want to skip certain events that will only exacerbate your loneliness.
Allow yourself to grieve in your own way
It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be by yourself, it’s okay to want to sit and do nothing but watch Netflix for hours on end. There is no manual for grieving. Do what you have to do to get through the week.
Of course, if you have a young family, it will be difficult to put a brave face on things but it’s alright to let them know that you’re sad. Take time for yourself when you need it.
Honour their memory
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person that has died. Relive happy memories that you made of Christmases past, share what they meant to you.
It’s a lovely way of honouring their memory and it gives others permission to talk and release any pent-up emotions in a safe place.
Be gentle with yourself
If you start to feel overwhelmed by everything that has to be done over Christmas, take a step back. Acknowledge that this year is not an ordinary year and you are not expected to carry on as if it was.
Life has changed and this first Christmas is a harsh reminder of that. Make sure you speak to yourself as you would a beloved friend or child who was in pain.
Tell your family how you’re feeling
Tensions can run high at Christmas, particularly if you are a family in mourning. If you don’t talk to each other about how you’re feeling, a simple conversation about something as inane as what time to put on the turkey can escalate into an explosive row about something completely different.
Your family members are not mind-readers. They may realise you’re struggling but you need to tell them when you need support and let them help you.
Don’t feel guilty for moments of happiness
It’s okay to feel moments of joy and happiness with your family, even in the midst of your grief. And instead of feeling guilty about them, try to feel grateful that you have people around you who understand how you’re feeling and will do anything they can to make you feel better.
It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten the loved one who’s passed. It means you know that you have to continue living as they would have wanted you to after they’ve gone.