How to deal with bereavement at Christmas

If you've recently lost someone close to you, Christmas can be an especially difficult time. Here's how to cope.

Two young people are sitting on a wall talking about coping with bereavement at Christmas

Whether you’ve recently lost someone close to you or you lost someone a few years ago, Christmas can be really tough. It’s painful to remember the people we love, especially when they were a big part of making Christmas feel like Christmas. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We hope our suggestions below can help you find what feels right for you.

Should I celebrate Christmas this year? 

When the person you lost was a massive part of your traditional Christmas it can feel pointless celebrating. Some people find the routine of spending Christmas in a familiar way comforting. Others need a distraction, and to do something different altogether. Here are some ideas for an alternative Christmas.

  • Consider going away. If you can afford it, a holiday away over Christmas could be just what you need to distract yourself from your loss. It doesn’t have to be exotic!
  • Book a restaurant for Christmas lunch. Getting out the house and relieving yourself of cooking should help to minimise the pressures of Christmas day.
  • Go on a retreat. If you want to spend Christmas away from home but in the company of others, a retreat is a nice option.
  • If you have the energy, spending the day volunteering for a homeless charity such as Shelter can be incredibly rewarding.

Make a plan in advance

There will be shocks over Christmas that you can’t prepare yourself for. For instance, you could receive a card from someone who doesn’t know yet, or unexpectedly find something that belonged to your loved one. In order to limit these shocks, it can be helpful to plan your Christmas in advance.

  • Talk to your family about how you want to spend Christmas this year and discuss whether you want to spend specific time remembering your loved one.
  • Talk openly about what is best for you but also be sensitive to other people’s wishes. People grieve in different ways, so try not impose your ideas on them. If a family member doesn’t feel ready to talk openly about the person lost, don’t force them. Equally if you feel uncomfortable by plans someone else has arranged, let them know.
  • Make sure one person doesn’t get lumped with the majority of Christmas organising – if you decide to stick to your traditional Christmas, make sure everyone has a job. Having a task to focus on could be a nice distraction.

How to remember your loved one at Christmas

For some people it will feel too soon to do anything specific to remember the person who died. In this case, respect how you feel and leave it this year. Bereavement is about baby steps and doing what makes you feel most comfortable. But if you do feel like you want to do something specific, have a think about the following options:

  • Visit the place where they are buried or where their ashes were scattered. Take them a card or try saying a few words.
  • Visit a place you enjoyed together – maybe there’s an old walk you used to enjoy, or a pub you both liked.
  • Light a candle either in church, or at home for them.
  • Keep their Christmas traditions alive – raise a toast with their favourite tipple, sing their favourite song or play their favourite game.
  • Make time to look through old photos or watch old home videos.
  • Make a Christmas playlist including some of their favourite music.

Look after yourself

When you have been bereaved it is so important to do what feels right for you. You might not know what ‘right’ is just yet but over time this should become clear. Some people feel guilty for carrying on with normal life or doing the things they enjoy but please try not to. In these cases, think about what your loved one would want for you – would they want you to find happiness and a sense or peace or would they want you walking around forever in a cloak of doom? You deserve to feel good and happy so welcome those feelings when they come. Here are a few other things to try over Christmas:

  • Get lots of sleep, eat good food, get fresh air, go on walks, take long baths and listen to your favourite music
  • Ask for help if you need it. Whether it’s from a friend, a family member, a counsellor or your GP, always ask for help if you need it.
  • Don’t stop doing the things you love. Hanging out with friends, going to football, singing in choir – whatever you love, keep doing it!
  • Don’t feel like you have to talk if you don’t want to. The people around you may ask difficult questions but will understand if you tell them you’re not ready to open up just yet.
  • Try talking to someone you know who has also been bereaved. Or hear from other young people struggling with bereavement on websites such as The Good Grief Trust.

Next Steps

  • Cruse offers grief and bereavement support via phone, email, and face-to-face. You can call their free helpline on 0808 808 1677 (Monday - Friday, 9.30 - 5pm, extended to 8pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays) or visit their website for more support.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Olivia Capadose

Updated on 30-Nov-2018