Losing someone over Christmas or coping with grief following the recent death of a loved one is always going to present challenges. Christmas is typically a very emotional time, and one that is laden with logistical questions: where will you and visiting family members sleep, who will buy the presents, who will cook the meals? Add to this the need for liaising with funeral directors and probate solicitors and it is easy to see how a bereavement over Christmas can quickly become overwhelming.
And the truth is that grief can make the usual challenges of Christmas both more difficult to get through and more heart-rending; it's not as if the magic of Christmas can just anaesthetise or dissipate your hurt. In fact, for many the happy associations and familial intersections of Christmas can actually compound emotional turmoil and vulnerability, particularly for those who feel the pressure to "perform" happily during the Christmas season through fear of upsetting others.
Firstly, those experiencing grief during Christmas should remember that what they are going through is completely normal and natural. There is nothing wrong with you if you find yourself weepy, maudlin, depressed, distant, dissociated, moody or volatile during Christmas. There is perhaps no greater personal trauma than the death of a loved one and even the stiffest of upper lips can be forgiven, at the very least, for the odd wobble.
It is also normal to experience a whole unpredictable range of emotions. Just because you feel relatively happy and unencumbered by grief one minute doesn't mean you will feel the same way the next. As most people know, grief goes through many phases and that these stages do not always follow a linear or logical course. One moment you may be sad, the next ecstatic and then numb, resigned or even angry. This kaleidoscopic experience of emotions can of course feel overwhelming and it is vital that you, and those around you, understand this; we all need time and space to come to terms with the emotions of grief, not only grief for the loss of the past and the loss of the here and now, but also for the loss of the possibilities in the future.
And although it's always a good idea for the recently bereaved to be in the company of a caring and sympathetic group of friends and family over Christmas, it does not follow that this will always feel like a welcome experience. For example, other people's happiness and intimacy can trigger intense feelings of loss and leave you unable to participate with your usual ease and gusto. It's all very well listening to Christmas carols and laughing at dorky Christmas jumpers, but if you're grieving and perhaps even dealing with the very practical concerns of arranging probate at Christmas, you're unlikely to be in the mood for such festive frivolity.
It is also worth remembering that for many people Christmas is already the most emotionally trying time of the year. As large family groups come together, often the only time they do so, complex family dynamics can come squarely to the fore, leaving people at their wit's end, even at the best of times.
But it is not just the day itself or the coming together of family that can be difficult. For example, if you have lost a partner or parent, even things as straightforward as going to the shops and seeing the aisles lined with the mince pies and Christmas crackers that you used to share together can be enough to send you into intense grief or all-consuming nostalgia for times past.
This, sometimes painful, reverie can pose other challenges. Reliving memories may mean that you are unable to engage as much with the here and now as you would like. Try not to beat yourself up about this. You cannot reasonably expect to be as present as you usually are and obtaining your usual level of focus during Christmas is simply not a realistic target. Those who love you and are close to you will, or at least should, understand this. It's okay to tell those around you that you are struggling; in the vast majority of cases they will understand.
It may be that you are not always feeling grief. Sometimes you may fell like you are coping okay, that you are happy even. But such happiness can stimulate intense feelings of guilt and grief. It can feel like a betrayal of your loved one that you are able to enjoy yourself at this festive time and then this can lead to intense feelings of inner conflict.
Above all else, don't put pressure on yourself when grieving during Christmas. Be patient with yourself, be patient with those around you and accept that your emotions are not going to be predictable. Try not to guilty about enjoying yourself at any point or, conversely, about any festivities you might need to withdraw from. The way you choose to mourn your loved one is entirely your decision, even at Christmas.
If you need someone to talk to, help, advice and counselling is available from Cruse Bereavement Care, https://www.cruse.org.uk. And for practical solutions to the pressing issues of probate, Oratto can help you find the right solicitor who will be able to guide you through the practicalities of estate administration.
Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with an adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.