Christmas is a time when we think about family. We spend time with those we are close to and spend time thinking about them, whether it’s planning the perfect family meal, writing cards, buying gifts or just enjoying time spent together. This can make it the hardest time of year for those grappling with grief. Most of us have lost loved ones in the past, some at Christmas time, some recently, others further in the past. I lost my grandmother a few days after Christmas and for a great many years after I had trouble being happy, forcing myself to join in the festivities for the sake of other family members, but not feeling it in my heart. How do you remember your loved ones over the festive period, to be positive and celebrate their lives, and not to drown in grief?
Recently I lost my uncle and this Christmas I will be spending it in his house, which was also my grandmothers house, which we are making our permanent home. There will be reminders everywhere of him. Some of my fondest memories are of Christmas time in this house. Every single year without fail my mother and I would come out to my grandmothers house just after breakfast. We would exchange gifts and then we’d all sit around a table together and eat Christmas dinner – she was an amazing cook! It would be my mother and I, my grandmother and grandfather, and my aunt and uncle. Just my mother and I remain from that intimate family group and I miss them all every day, but never so much as at Christmas.
As I look around the table this Christmas it will be a different family, a new family. My mother will still be there, but now I have my husband and son. Christmas is all about children and I hope that we’re creating many happy memories for William. This is his third Christmas, and now he can really start to get into the excitement of the day. It’s hard to remain positive when you’re grieving, but by calling on those positive memories of growing up, of knowing I was so loved and loved them in return, I can put a smile on my face and look forward to the future.
I want to talk about different ways that you can remember your loved ones over the Christmas period. To honour and cherish their lives and your memories of them.
How to remember your loved ones who have passed on over the festive period, and how to grapple with grief at Christmas time.
It might make you cry – I’m crying right now writing this, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to talk about my loved ones passing without a few tears – but talking about the people who we’ve loved and lost is important. Just like having a family photograph book, it keeps their memory alive, for you and for future generations. For example my grandmother taught me to bake and left me several family recipes. I plan to bake with my son and to tell him about my grandmothers favourite foods and the things she taught me. My uncle introduced me to video games, which have gone on to continue to be a major passion of mine my whole life. I was so looking forward to seeing him and my son play video games together, but unfortunately and unexpectedly, it wasn’t to be. That doesn’t mean I can’t take his place and share that moment with my son, talking about my memories of my uncle as I do. He’ll be there with us, in memory.
Memory Christmas Ornaments
Having a Christmas Ornament in memory is a very special thing as I find the act of hanging a Christmas decoration in memory on the tree very cathartic. It’s a physical act of taking something precious in memory and putting it in a place where it will be seen, a place with a lot of tradition. A beautiful example is this Memories Christmas Decoration from DaisyDaisySpecialDay on Etsy – hand crafted and personalised for you.
Have a Family Photo Book
One of the things that really upsets me about the passing of my grandparents, aunt and uncle is that my son won’t have any memories of them. I’m grateful that my uncle got to meet and spend time with my son and I saw the love that he had for him, but it can be hard not to think about all the things that they’ll never get to experience together. You could get a family photo book printed that includes many generations of loved ones. These days it’s very easy to get photobooks online where you can choose the photos and text to, sort of like digital scrapbooking. Of course you can also do it the old fashioned way as well! By keeping photos of them with some information next to it, each you can go through it and share it with new members of the family as a way of remembering your loved ones at Christmas and throughout the year.
Visit your loved ones grave or a memorial site
All of my loved ones are actually buried next to each other, having purchased their plot together long ago. If you have a grave that you can visit, spend some time with them at Christmas, just as you would if they were still alive. You can still talk to them, tell them about your year and about any new members of the family. Leave flowers or mementos for them. You may not believe in an afterlife, but this can still offer comfort and a connection to our loved ones who have passed on. If you don’t have a grave site to visit, this can still be done with a special place that has a meaningful connection to them.
Say Grace or have a Toast at Christmas Dinner, dedicated to your loved ones
I am an atheist – you will see a lack of religion in my writing. I do not believe in saying Grace by thanking God at the dinner table. That being said, there is something important about being thankful for sitting together at the dinner table as family, and saying Grace doesn’t have to be thanking a higher power. On Christmas day I think it’s especially important to be thankful for those we are spending time with and this is a good opportunity to remember those who are no longer with us. So for a few minutes before tucking in to that delicious meal that’s been lovingly prepared, why not close your eyes together, hold hands to feel connected to each other, and go around in a circle, each being thankful for something, and say a few words for those who are no longer with us. Another option is simply to have a toast to loved ones before you take a drink.
Write Christmas Cards
Write a Christmas card to your loved one and display it. You don’t need to buy a new Christmas card every year – each year you could write a new message in this Christmas card. This way it feels like you are still dedicating time to your loved one and sending them a message and by having the card on display, they are joining in the festivities with you.
In memoriam charitable acts are a great way of letting your loved one have a larger impact. Dedicating a gift or donation in their name spreads their memory and associates their passing with positive acts. You can buy charity gifts that have an impact all around the world, or you could just donate something to a food bank, charity shop or local charity in their name, so that their name and their memory lives on and is associated with positive change.
Go for a walk somewhere that was special to them
Going for a walk ticks lots of wellness boxes. Fresh air and exercise are great over the Christmas period, when you might be eating more than usual and spending some time in a different routine to your normal one. Going somewhere you know your loved one went will help connect you to them and to build that connection into one with the entire world around you. I always find walking the paths I’ve walked with my loved ones very cathartic. My grandmothers favourite walk for example was around Roath Park Lake in Cardiff, followed by Cosmeston Lakes in Penarth, and I always think of her now when I feed the swans and ducks, something we used to do together weekly.
Make a Holiday Play List
When you think about Christmas music there are probably quite a few songs that pop into your head (Mariah Carey anyone?) but undoubtedly there’s some music you associate with your loved one. Create a Christmas playlist and make sure you incorporate a few songs that remind you of all the people who are no longer with you and have a new tradition of listening to that playlist and remembering them over the holidays.
Finally, when it comes to dealing with grief over the Christmas holidays I just want to say…
Be open with yourself and others about your grief
Remember to focus on self-care over the Christmas period. It can be a very harrowing time for those who are struggling with grief and it is a peak time for family fights, for stress and also for depression and anxiety. Talk to the people you still have, your friends and family – and if necessary, be open and honest with your doctor if you feel like you’re struggling. Therapy and grief counselling can really help in a time of need as can simply talking through your feelings, and not feeling like you have to hide things or always put on a smile when you want to cry.
You’re not alone
You’re not alone if you’re struggling with your memories and with your emotion this Christmas. You want to be positive, but you miss your loved ones. I do too. If you need to talk, reach out.
Please visit this List of Suicide Crisis Lines around the world to find help if you’re struggling with your thoughts.