Coping with Loss Around Christmas Is Like Being Mugged

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“It’s like being mugged” a client once said to me. What a word – “mugged.” She was talking about how grief sneaks up on you. You might be laughing with a friend, or at the TV and suddenly you find yourself weeping uncontrollably, missing your loved one so much that it physically hurts. It’s like an assault.

grief and coping with loss

Christmas has a way of jerking those tears out of us. It’s a time where the pressure to be happy is really on – HO HO HO!

The ads are yelling at us to ‘buy, buy, BUY!’, films are showing us shiny happy families with reunion filled endings and all that music… jeepers. It’s a cheer fest, that’s for sure.  One that would make the calmest people want to gouge their own eyes out if they are also trying to cope with feeling of loss and loneliness. Feelings that are seemingly at odds with how we are ‘supposed’ to feel during the Holidays.

Here’s the thing though: Grief doesn’t take time off.

A person I care very deeply about recently suffered a significant loss. Apart from trying to save her own sense of sanity, she is also struggling with how to bring her kids through Christmas.

Apart from the trauma that can come with loss (through death or separation) there are also the practical issues to contend with at a time where Santa is on his way. Gifts need buying (with probably less money than before), visitors need welcoming, relatives need caring – the list, as you well know, is as long as you make it.

As you make it.

There’s the thing – we make our own traditions, and when we are suffering , tired and lonely we are in no position to function at our previous normal levels. This year, if you’ve had a loss, it’s going to be different. It just is. And next year will be too. Eventually, you might be comfortable with the new different, but not yet.

10 Ways to Cope with Loss

And so please …

1: Give yourself space to grieve, to cry, to shout, to hit something – even a pillow. Get in your car and roar at the injustice of it all. You are allowed to be angry, to be devastated, to feel vulnerable. Because you are human. These feelings are a part of you, they are not you. And they will not break you, even though you feel broken.

2: Talk to someone. A friend, a therapist, a helpline. You deserve support and need not prove your strength by managing this alone. None of us are built for that. None of us. You are surviving – there’s your strength right there.

3: Ask your kids if they need to talk to someone other than you. They might be glad of it. They might  have private thoughts and grief of their own that they don’t want to share with you. That’s normal and healthy – simply giving them permission to have those feelings will be a wonderful gift for them. They too need to know that feeling awful, despite Santa’s impending arrival, is normal.

helping child cope with loss during the holidays

4: Reassure your kids that their grief is not a burden to you. And, (you probably know where I’m headed with this) remind yourself that your grief is not a burden to those who care about you. If you are the “listener” usually, try a new “talker” sweater on for size and see how it fits. You’re not used to wearing it, I know. But it’s better than suffering the cold. And Christmas sure can be cold!

5: Set aside a time to remember. Grief, be it a death or a separation, deserves attention. Plan a time when you sit with your memories, and allow your brain to do its thing – it will flit from good to bad, painful to funny and you might cry. Because you are in pain, and that’s just what we do.

6: Make a new ritual. Christmas is all about ritual and tradition. These are things we create – habits. And that means we can make new ones. Your life may have changed forever because of this loss, and so it’s OK to make a new tradition. It might be visiting a grave, or a favourite place, and eating a favourite meal (not everyone likes turkey!!). You get to decide.

7: Make a memory box. This can be a great thing to do with kids at this time of year. Each of them can add something that holds significance for them – be it a piece of a toy, or clothing, a photo or a ticket stub. This box can be something each of you can go to to feel close to the missing person if that’s what you need. It can be tiny or huge. Again, it doesn’t matter, it’s the meaning attached to it and the doing together that will make it special.

8: Write your person a card or a letter. Depending on your kids age, they might want to do the same. It’s just for you. Writing is a time honoured addition to good therapy. And we often find that once we start writing we come out with things that we would never have said to ourselves, let alone to another person. And with that can come comfort and clarity. You might then decide to burn it, read it to a friend or a therapist, or keep it in a memory box. It’s your choice. There is no right or wrong way to do any of this.

9: Don’t feel guilty if you find yourself having fun in the middle of all the pain. You are not doing anything wrong, and your missing person, if they cared about you, would want you to be able to feel joy.

10: Avoid the temptation to medicate it all away. It’s a short term solution that you already know won’t really help. Take care of yourself, and know that this, like everything else we face, will pass.

loss being there for someone going through grief

My warmest wishes to you all and I look forward to being back in 2017!