When Christmas hurts


jungle & river trails

I find myself feeling very much like the Christmas Grinch this year.  It’s been three years since my mother died – just a few short weeks before Christmas –  followed by a devastating miscarriage on Christmas Eve. I cancelled Christmas that year.  In the intervening three years, I haven’t been able to find my Christmas spirit. Too many sad memories; too much pain. This year my father is ill and I don’t feel much like celebrating the Season.

There is something about Christmas that intensifies all our emotions. The hype begins in October and builds up in the weeks before Christmas, often making make it a very difficult time for those of us who are bereaved. If you are ready to fully embrace the holidays, then today’s not the post for you; but if, like me, you find Christmas is a difficult time, then let’s see if we can figure out a better way of coping together.

Grief is about more than death

Many people think of grief only as a reaction to a death; but we can feel grief after any kind of loss. When you step back and look at the cancer journey, you realize that loss and grief are very much a part of the experience. Some of those losses are tangible – breast tissue, ovaries, hair;  some losses are intangible such as a loss of trust in your body, a diminished sense of security, an altered self-image, loss of old familiar routines and roles.   All these losses need to be acknowledged.

When I asked my Twitter friends what advice they would give someone who is coping with grief at Christmastime, I got some wonderful answers.

There are no rules

Remember the good times. Cry, laugh, sing. Be around people who care. There are no rules.They would want you to be happy – Sue Harcombe

It’s okay to be angry, to cry,  or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and not to feel guilty about it.  Experiencing joy and laughter does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.

Reach out to others for help

Communicate your needs to those around you and lean on their support. Friends want to help, but sometimes they don’t know how to. Let them know what practical ways they can help you; for example, by shopping, cooking, cleaning, gift wrapping, or decorating.

And some sage advice from Jennifer Jackson:

Know that not everyone will say or do the right thing. Identify your true sources of support, and tap into them often.

Don’t isolate yourself

It’s ok to say no to situations you don’t feel ready to handle, but don’t isolate yourself completely. Surround yourself with people who love and support you.

As Jo Taylor says:

It’s ok to be sad/grieve but try to be around those you love & especially round friends who make you smile & cheer you up x

Set realistic expectations for yourself

Decide how much of your usual holiday responsibilities you can realistically handle this year. Let family and friends know if you intend to change any traditional routines and ask them to help you shoulder more of the responsibility. Avoid the hustle and bustle of crowded shopping malls and do your shopping online.

Be gentle with yourself. Don’t approach the holidays as though you can do everything you did previously. Scale back, take care of you. Jennifer Jackson

Modify existing traditions or create new ones

Just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it always has to be done the same way always. While some people find comfort in the old traditions, others find them too painful to continue after the death of a loved one.

Hilda Wheeler suggested trying something different from other years.

Depending on circumstances it’s sometimes an idea to do something different to other Xmas maybe go away with friend.

Do something for others

Teresa Levitch suggested

Try random acts of kindness. Buy a balloon for a child at the dollar store. Let someone get ahead of you in line.

Honor the memory of your loved one

Gather as many family members together for the Holidays as possible. Celebrate the memories rather than mourn – Dr Sunny Chan

You do not have to “let go” completely of the person who died; share your memories of Christmas spent with your loved one by telling stories and looking at photos of special times.  Toast their memory at dinner. Hang an ornament or light a candle in memory of the person who died.

Don’t lose hope

Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope – Elizabeth Gilbert

When you are in the midst of deep pain and grief, it’s hard to imagine that the pain will ever subside. Look to others who have been through the same thing and have faith that you too will come through this. The Good Samaritan Society sent me this advice from written by their vice president of mission effectiveness Greg Wilcox:  How to deal with loss without losing hope.

Finally, a poem. So often poetry reaches the places that mere words can’t. Audrey Birt wrote this poem  for a young family who have lost a husband and a Dad this week.

It’s my way of trying to bring comfort, as much as anyone can just now. I share it in case it helps anyone else struggling with loss just now. Am thinking of you all.

Seasons of Grief

Seasons of grief
Cold and frost define
Your loss
Christmas cheer
Jars with the
Devastation of grief

Your heart shattered
By love and loss
A future changed
Scarily unknown
Far too soon for goodbye

In the dark shadows
Hold on to
Your love, your memories
The gifts of joy
Celebrated, precious

Your greatest gift
Of your love and care
Leaving this world
At home with those he loves
And always will

Be warmed by this love
And those around you
Kindness and love will cause
The frost to thaw
Hold it close

There will be happier times
Again for you all
Spring will follow in time
As will summer
Till then keep
Warmed by those who love you.