Here are a few reasons I have trouble with annual events, and most especially Christmas. Naturally, not everyone will feel or respond in the same ways. Here’s my penny’s worth. I hope it’s helpful.
All ‘special occasions’ can have the same problematic elements. I feel – the more we understand it, the more we can moderate our language or behaviour to support others. While this is particularly true for people we know, it’s also be worth remembering that the person dithering over a product in the supermarket could also be grieving. A little compassion can go a long way.
- You have to deal with stuff you may ‘ignore’ on ordinary days.
- Items appear that you have forgotten about for a whole year. Many of these will be emotional, triggering or (please no) broken.
- Firstly, it feels as if every Christmas family film will have a bereavement element. Then people will get their Christmas Wish or Christmas Miracle. Bereaved people have to manage the feelings of knowing their wish is not going to come true. There will be no Disney ending.
- Other people want to celebrate and be happy, and bereaved people really don’t want to rain on their parade. Feeling awkward at social gatherings is totally a thing.
- TV adverts will tell you that this year has to be the BEST Christmas Ever! Well, it won’t be and knowing that is a bit sad. The competition at this time of year to create something magical is fierce. Therefore, you can feel enormous pressure to ‘put on a show’.
- It’s likely you are also managing the grief of others around you. Trying not to set each other off, or to spoil things in a moment they may be coping better, is a minefield.
- Just the passing of time, so very much part of the season and New Year, is a painful reminder of moving further away from your person.
- Sending and receiving cards, where you have to list your family names (or they may be written to you) can hurt like hell.
- Using busy-ness to avoid grief may be more difficult when off work or out of routine. Equally, if you manage your grief while others are at work or school, everyone being at home can be a challenge.
- Feeling moments of deep joy and deep grief in a single minute is exhausting. This extended period of extremities can be physically (as well as the more obvious, emotionally) draining.
So, what to do?
- Build in regular time to be alone, even half an hour, to breathe and reset.
- Be honest with yourself and others about what you can/can’t do.
- Space out social things as much as possible.
- Have a list or two, brain fog is a real thing, you won’t remember it all.
- Say ‘no’ more.
- Make sure you are part of the ‘treats’, include a favourite food, film, activity.
- Each year may be very different, and that’s OK. Don’t feel held to decisions of the past, or obligated to the future.
- Be sensitive around traditions. Some you will keep, some you will start, some will be beyond you.
- Cry. It’s normal, natural and healthy. You might laugh too. Bottling up emotions doesn’t work.
- Have a few people you trust on speed dial. Friends in different time zones are particularly useful…
My 2022 Christmas
I broke down in that supermarket with the intriguing middle aisles. I walked passed some Lego Ninjago boxes and immediately wanted to buy them for Issac. The first wave of grief was powerful, but more so was the second realisation. As a teenager, he may not have liked Ninjago anymore. I don’t know what my son would want for Christmas.
The trouble with annual events, is they bring the time frame of loss into a sharp focus. They offer a distorted mirror of what used to be. In fact, the further I move in time, the deeper the grief becomes. Moving through shock, numbness and towards reality is not the kind of ‘forward’ many people imagine.
However, we have done pretty well with our traditions and plans. We’ve been honest about our needs this year and have changed the ‘usual’ to accommodate those needs. We have been too busy, but now looking forward to some down time. The trouble with annual events is more known this year and we’ve been able to plan with them in mind.
Of course, it depends on each individual situation and circumstances. I can only offer personal insights and professional understanding. There is inevitably a huge morass of grey in between.
If you need support, please do reach out to someone. There are so many specialist services and choices there is sure to be one that fits you. Our Sources of Support sheet is a good place to start, or go direct to The Good Grief Trust.