Christmas can bring lots of joy and pleasure. And it can also be quite a difficult time. Some people may have experienced loss, possibly the death of a spouse, a parent or a child and be facing the thought of Christmas without them. Some may have gone through the breakdown of their relationship and be facing the possibility of spending Christmas without the company of their family. Others may be experiencing health challenges and be feeling the impact of the loss of good health. To name but a few!
There is no escaping the pain of loss. Grieving takes time! It takes time to accommodate to loss and all its ramifications. Certain points in time are particularly difficult. For many the holidays are the toughest. And Christmas can be toughest of all.
Our feelings of grief and isolation in grief – difficult to cope with at the best of times – are exacerbated when it seems that all around us people are enjoying themselves, surrounded by people they love. It’s hard to ignore the empty chair, the empty place at the table, the lack of the present given or received. We miss their company, having someone to share our experience of the gathering with. Going to social events alone can be challenging for the most confident of people, let alone someone who is feeling vulnerable and in need of support.
This is just as true for those experiencing the loss of separation. Some may say it is even more difficult because of the emotional distress caused by relationship breakdown. Social networks and personal allegiances change and one member of the old partnership may feel excluded. It can be excruciating deciding who the children should spend Christmas Day with. Will both parents be there for Santa Claus? Will one parent be on their own? Very distressing questions indeed!
The first Christmas after loss can be a time of very acute sadness and recognition of change. Whatever protective mechanism was in place beforehand can be torn away by the frenzy and socialising of Christmas.
So, if you have experienced loss this year, amidst the festivities it is a time to be kind to yourself; to realise that you grieve and heal in your own way and in your own time. Be compassionate with yourself and try to work out what you need to do to get through. Don’t dwell on what you “should” do – follow your own instincts. Remember it’s OK to reach out and ask for what you need.
Acknowledge the one who is no longer present, but also see if you can let yourself notice and spend time with those who are here – who are also dear to you and who love you.
A peaceful Christmas to everyone!
Evelyn Burke, Psychotherapist & Counsellor