Living with the loss of a loved one at Christmas – by Naomi Martin
Living with the loss of a loved one is always hard, but grief can be overwhelming at certain times of the year. Christmas can be an especially difficult time for people if they have experienced a loss.
For me, Christmas is a time when people come together to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company, but I profoundly feel the absence of my husband, Craig.
Two Christmas’ ago, I spent my Christmas at home with Craig, newly married only 3 days before, and his family. It was important to us that we were together, as we knew this would be our last Christmas with Craig as he was on the end-of-life pathway after a terminal diagnosis of astrocytoma (brain tumour). There were presents, stories and laughter alongside the visits from the Severn Hospice Hospice at Home team, GP home visits, and phone calls with a mental health nurse.
Fast forward to today, I’m days away from what would have been our second wedding anniversary, my second Christmas without him and the two-year anniversary of his death. This year, my grief and loneliness has hit me more intensely and I’ve been triggered by things that I didn’t think twice about last year. But with the support and advice I’ve had from professionals, the voluntary sector, family and friends, I know I can get through.
Plan ahead: There are some activities and traditions that I’m comfortable taking part in, others I really don’t, and some which are too painful to even consider. It’s fine to turn down offers and invites that you know you won’t cope with well. Join in with some activities, but also allow yourself space.
Honour your loved one: Say their name, visit a special place, tell stories. Whilst it may feel painful doing a past tradition or routine, or creating a small dedication to them, it can be a comforting way to celebrate their life. Starting different traditions and making room for new, joy-filled memories is also as important.
Ask for help: It’s always okay to ask for help if and when you need it. I’ve found support through the Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin Staff Psychological Wellbeing Hub, the mental health nurses at my GP practice, my local council services, charities such as Mind and Severn Hospice, as well as speaking to friends and family. It’s very easy to isolate yourself and allow the loneliness to consume you but try to reach out if you need to.
Look after yourself: Be kind to yourself and allow some time to relax where you can. Practice self-care where you can, such as getting some exercise, a hot bath, and eating healthily.
Allow yourself some happy moments: Allow yourself to treasure any unexpected moments of joy and happiness, and don’t feel guilty about them. Your loved ones would want you to be happy as well as strong.
It’s important to remember that missing loved ones is normal but that it doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Everyone expresses their grief differently; both mentally as well as physically.
I wish you moments of peace during this festive season,
Where to find help:
- The Samaritans: This is a UK-wide charity providing a free listening service for anyone in need of someone to talk to, 24/7, by calling 116 123. They receive around 10,000 calls on Christmas Day alone, with one of the main issues raised being bereavement.
- Cruse Bereavement Care: Specialist care on coping with grief 0808 808 1677.
- Griefcast: Award-winning podcast on grief featuring celebrities and comedians.
- Mind: Offers support on all kinds of mental health issues 0300 123 3393.
- Sue Ryder: They provide a range of online bereavement support, including free video counselling, an online community forum offering 24-hour peer to peer support and a wide range of advice and resources for people who are grieving or supporting someone through bereavement. You can also seek support via their Online Bereavement Community.
- Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin Staff Psychological Wellbeing Hub: Open to all NHS and Social Care workforce in Shropshire Telford and Wrekin providing support, advice and signposting if needed.
- Severn Hospice: Local hospice service in Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin who provide practical and emotional support, and bereavement support.