Ten tips for coping with Christmas after loss

Anne Thorn, who lost both her son and her father in the last few years, shares her advice on how to get through the holiday period without the ones you love

by Psychologies

light a Christmas candle in remembrance
  1. DO talk to your friends and family. They will be grateful if you tell them what you need as they care about you and will be conscious of your loss. Just because they don’t mention it, it doesn’t mean they don’t care – it just means they don’t know what to say and are afraid of upsetting you.
  2. DO schedule time in the day to perform a small ritual in memory of your loved one. Light a candle, look at some happy photos, and tell others of a happy memory that you shared. Shed a tear, but be grateful for the time you had them with them and focus on this rather than their absence in your future.
  3. DO plan at least one thing during the day just for YOU. Be selfish. If you want to watch your favourite TV programme with a glass of wine, or go for a walk to a favourite spot, or indulge in your favourite treat, make sure you are able to plan this into your day and visualise it and look forward to it. Your loved one wouldn’t want you to feel miserable all day.
  4. DO ask for support from friends. If you must be alone, ask a friend to call you at a set time so you can share a favourite memory of your absent loved one.
  5. DON’T be a martyr. Tell people how you feel, and how difficult this Christmas will be for you. Don’t expect people to read your mind or intuitively know what you need. If you haven’t had an invitation somewhere, try asking someone if you can pop in during the day. Your true friends will be more than happy to help and support you through this difficult time.
  6. DON’T beat yourself up if you feel sad and depressed or cry; know that this is completely normal and that the first Christmas will be the worst. Look into the future, and believe that it will get easier. If you feel really desperate don’t forget you can always call The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 if you just want an ear at the end of the phone. It is not weak to reach out for help. You are grieving and you are in pain.
  7. DO try and find an inspirational reading or poem that you can read during the day if you feel down. Choose this in advance and know that it will lift your spirits if things get too bad; this is your back-up plan. I love the poem 'He is Gone' by David Harkins.
  8. DO enjoy a Christmas drink, but avoid numbing your pain with alcohol. This will just make you feel worse in the long run. Have a glass or two, but know your limit.
  9. DO try to have fun. I know this is the last thing you want to hear but all the clichés are true, ‘Life goes on’ and ‘life is for the living’. Above all, think about if your loved one would want you to have fun. I don’t feel it is disrespectful to laugh during your darkest times; sometimes it is the only way to survive.
  10. DO celebrate when you get to the end of the day; you took control and not only survived, you found some pleasure in the day, and you will enjoy many more Christmas days and create new special memories as well as always remembering the special times you shared with your loved one.

Anne Thorn writes a blog and has created a support group for parents who have lost a child to suicide. You can find it at http://losingachildtosuicide.org.uk

Photograph: iStock