It’s difficult to know how to honour where we’re at with loss during Christmas – as well as figure out what we need. Whether your loss is still feeling fresh or it’s been some time ago, facing this festive period can still be a challenge. I’ve gathered some tips over the years since my own loss. Different things work for different people.
On the 12 days of Christmas, this is what I gave to me…
Take the suggestions which resonate the most.
DAY 1: Make a list of all the self-care things you enjoy. Commit to doing at least one per week by popping them in your diary. They don’t need to involve spending money. For example, taking a walk in nature can help you to feel calm.
DAY 2: Allow yourself some time out to feel your emotions and think about your loss. If you have a journal, write about where you’re at and progress so far. You can make it into a letter if you prefer. Christmas is everywhere and who knows what may trigger you. We’ve all been there and it’s okay to cry (even if you’re in the supermarket).
DAY 3: If it feels right to do so, share some of your favourite memories with others or revisit some old photos / keepsakes. You might consider creating a memory stocking, box, or other special place where you and others can write down memories you treasure. Pick a time to read them together.
DAY 4: Acknowledge that things will be different – maybe even tough. There’s no need to do things for the sake of it. Consider which traditions you want to keep and which you want to change. You can even create a new tradition which helps to honour your loss.
DAY 5: Decide where and how you want to spend the holidays – you may want to switch up the location, or it may be of comfort to keep it the same. Either way, make a conscious decision about what you want (but don’t overthink it). If you’re stressed at the thought of cooking the Christmas dinner, ask someone else to cook or buy dinner this year. If you’re stressed about the crowds, cut back on gifts or do your shopping online.
DAY 6: Plan ahead (loosely) and communicate with the people in advance to manage expectations. Remember the way others will want to spend Christmas may not match how you want to spend it, so be honest about what you need.
DAY 7: If you’ve decided to include an act of remembrance during Christmas, make a list of all the things you’d like to do. For example, you may want to light a candle in your home or make a loved one’s favourite food. If you enjoy being creative then include this to make a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration in honour of your loved one.
DAY 8: Consider how you would like to give gifts. Maybe you don’t feel like doing gifts at all – that’s ok. You could adapt your gift giving to make a donation to a charity (or buy a gift and donate it to charity). Decide what gift you’d like to give yourself. It doesn’t have to involve spending money – think outside the box.
DAY 9: Think about any support you might need – professional or otherwise. Maybe you’ve been putting off the professional option. Christmas is especially tough, so this may be the time to talk to someone. Say yes to help. There will be people who want to help and may offer their support. If you trust them, take them up on their offer. Send a card or message to friends you may regret having lost touch with. Go to a support group or join one online.
Day 10: Prioritise and don’t overcommit. When the season is filled with so many parties and social engagements, save your energy for those that are most important and will bring you joy. Look at everything you ‘have’ to do and rank them in order of importance. Plan for the most important and skip the rest.
Day 11: Let any ideas of perfectionism go (especially if you have an inner Monica like me). If you like to have the perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and a perfect decorated house and table, accept that this year may not be perfect and darn it, that’s ok! Skip (or minimise) the decorations if they’re too much this year. You’ll see plenty of decorations outside your house.
Day 12: Make a list and check it twice. Loss makes it harder for us to concentrate and remember things. When you have a lot going on at this time of year, make a list (even if you aren’t usually a list-maker), and write things on the calendar.
#BONUS DAY: Seek gratitude. I know this is tough. But try to find ways to lean into gratitude throughout Christmas. Just look for the little things. Here are some tips if you’re struggling with it.
Skip it. Yes, really.
If you just can’t face it this time, it’s okay to have a year off. Before you get to this extreme, consider what you can do and if the ultimate answer is to skip it, then still make a plan. Decide if you will still see friends or family, go see a new movie, or something else.
Lighten the load. This is a tough time but there will also be love and joy if you’re open to it.