Christmas after a loss

Celebrating Christmas after the death of a loved one

Christmas music was playing when Alma pushed her cart towards the register. Not the cashier who handed her a chocolate Santa nor anyone in the jolly crowd picked up on her sadness. Alma’s father died on December 14th. 

For many of us, Christmas, the happiest time of the year. An event we’re excited about all year.

However, some people are afraid.

Because they have lost a loved one or a family member is gravely ill.

Because their best friend has recently experienced loss, and they have no idea how to comfort them.

Because they feel a jolly celebration would be inappropriate.

Because everyone used to come together in the family home that now belongs to someone else.

Even if you made steps toward coping with grief, the first Christmas after a loss tears up old wounds. When grandma’s chair stays empty. When Papa doesn’t dress up as Santa. When the partner you celebrated with is gone.

Often, it’s not just a matter of grief, but also unresolved conflicts. Not all surviving dependents treat each other respectfully and lovingly.

Escaping Christmas and pretending it doesn’t happen

Many try to ignore Christmas altogether or travel as far away as they can. However, avoiding grief and sadness by going on a vacation doesn’t work. Sorrow and loneliness can track you anywhere.

It’s better to face the situation and your feelings in familiar surroundings, ideally, with people who can comfort you when you cry.

Simplified, facing your emotions allows you to move on and heal. 

How can you help others coping with grief?

So, what can you do to help someone in grief? If the person is alone, friends and family could reconcile and invite the person. Even if the invitation is not accepted, it represents valuable support.

If you knew the person who passed well AND you sense they might appreciate it, you could put memories and pictures into a collage. That way, the person doesn’t feel as alone in their sorrow.

What’s the “best” way of celebrating Christmas after a loss?

There’s no one-size-fits-all recipe.

However, one thing is crucial: Give your grief a place. The sad feelings are there anyway. Therefore, you might as well “invite” them consciously and give them room. You could place the picture of the loved one on the Christmas table. Or perhaps light a unique candle. If you’re with family or friends, you could hold a “story hour” where everyone shares a story about the person who passed.

Season’s Greetings for people who suffered a loss

If you have no idea how to convey your sympathy, just say that. In some situations, there are no “right” words.

You could choose a wording that expresses that you can't find words to show how much you care. Maybe you want to share that Christmas is a celebration of happiness and love, and that you get that the person in grief doesn’t feel happy at this time. You could then wish them strengths to commemorate the loss and stillness to cope with their grief.

However, it depends on your relationship to the person and their temperament. Just sending condolences and ignoring Christmas altogether is another option.

Knowing that they’re cared about will help a person in grief, no matter if they're able to show it at that time.

While Alma is on her way back from the store, her phone rings. It’s her mother who tells her that she decided to celebrate Christmas like every other year with the rest of the family and a few friends. Her mom is afraid of the first Christmas without her husband, too, but she’s convinced that spending the evening with friends and family in a familiar setting will be helpful for everyone. 

Alma cries when she lights a red candle, but her heart feels a little bit lighter, and she even manages to look forward to Christmas the tiniest little bit.

I am in no way trivializing pain.

However, I learned in dark times that more than one feeling can be present at the same time. Therefore, I want to write about love once more.

Grief is a form of love, perhaps with a selfish component. I miss them. With my pain, I express my appreciation for the person I lost and look for new ways to live it.

The grief seems unbearably intense because the love for the beloved person is that strong. This love doesn’t end. Love changes, but it doesn’t stop.

Maybe you can use Christmastime to listen into yourself and experience the love consciously. How does it feel, how do you feel about the loved one?

Perhaps Christmas is the ideal time to celebrate love. For the ones that are with us and for the ones who have gone.

You might be at a place right now where this article doesn’t cut it, and any words you read might sound shallow, stale, and even cynical.

Most importantly: If you feel that the burden is too much for you to carry, reach out for help! Google for the crisis helpline in your country if you’re all alone. Call a friend, accept help.

As at any other time of the year, there are people out there who will support you.