A very different 12 days of Christmas

sad woman in christmas sweater sitting in front of christmas tree

Christmas after a loss can be truly difficult. The holiday season is usually a time of joy – a chance to come together with loved ones and celebrate. But it can be bittersweet for those who are coping with grief, with an empty chair at the Christmas table. 

And this year has been exceptionally tough, as COVID restrictions prevented many of us from spending time with families and friends.

Coping with grief at this time may be especially difficult. You may secretly wish the so-called ‘festive season’ would pass you by this year – but that’s not going to happen. However, with a little effort, Christmas can become a time of reflection, renewal and growth. 

If you’re experiencing grief, or supporting someone who is grieving, there are things you can do to get through the season.

The team at Bare Cremation has put together a 12 Days of Christmas Guide to coping with grief, as a way of looking after yourself, creating new traditions and bringing your missed loved one into your new Christmas journey.

Day 1, 14 December: Let go of expectations
Recognise that Christmas will be different this year. Make a promise to yourself that you’re not going to worry about what you’re expected to do. Instead, concentrate on those things that are most important for yourself. Today, consciously think about this.

Read: The five stages of grief

You may even want to make a ‘must-do’ list of things that are most important. Make an ‘optional’ list of things that you’d like done only if you have time and feel like it. Also make a ‘let go’ list of things that you will consciously not do this year.

Simplify. Be in the present, enjoy the people around you.

Day 2, 15 December: Display a photo or a collection of photos
Include in your holiday decorations a special photo or group of photos of your loved one. Photos of them at Christmas time would be a special touch.

Place the photos in a central place in your home. You may also use this time to pull out old photo albums and have them visible for yourself or others to look through over the Christmas season. 

Day 3, 16 December: A special ornament
Buy a new ornament this year that reminds you of your loved one. Place this on the tree or in a central place in your home.

If children are a part of your family, invite them to help you select the ornament or allow them the opportunity to make the ornament themselves.

Day 4, 17 December: Visit a special place
Today, visit or spend time in a place where you feel close to your loved one. Visit their grave or memorial place. Freshen it with new flowers or a Christmas decoration. Or go to a place that holds special meaning. 

You might also like to watch your loved one’s favourite Christmas movie or listen to their favourite Christmas music.

Slow down, ignore the world for a moment and be present with yourself in a special place where you feel close to your loved one.

Day 5, 18 December: Consider the challenges you face at Christmas
Take some quiet time to consider the moments when you’ll miss your loved one the most. If you think of these special moments in private, you’ll likely be better prepared when they happen.

Read: What to do to lessen your sorrow

Also, think about how you will talk to and answer your friends and family when they ask, “How are you going?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” Thinking about how you will answer will prepare you for questions and will help you avoid having to just say, “I’m fine.”

This day may be difficult, but giving yourself time and space to think through the Christmas season will better prepare you for it. 

Day 6, 19 December: Create a Christmas memory box or stocking
Leave a box or stocking, slips of paper, and pens out in the house. Ask those who visit you during the holidays to write down their favourite memories of loved ones who are no longer with us, to be placed inside. You do the same. Then on Christmas day, you can read them together.

Bringing good memories to mind helps replace the sadness caused by not having your loved one with you physically.

Read: The empty chair at Christmas

Allow the happy memories to come, flood over you and do not allow sadness to drown out the memories. By doing this, eventually you’ll find yourself thinking about the good times more often than dwelling on your loss.

Day 7, 20 December: Count your blessings
Christmas is when we naturally take stock of the many blessings we have in life. Although you are grieving, this year should be no different.

Take time today to find joy in the things you’re grateful for. You may even want to write a list of those things or, in conversation with someone, express the blessings you have in life.

Feeling happy does not mean you don’t miss your loved one. The person you miss would actually prefer you to be happy rather than spend Christmas in constant grief. So take a moment for gratitude and joy.

Day 8, 21 December: Buy a gift  
While doing your holiday shopping, buy a gift for the loved one you’re missing. Find something that they would have liked or something that reflects their personality or interests. Then donate the gift to someone in need.

You will be achieving two things through this gift. First, you will be continuing your relationship with your loved one as you think about them at Christmas. And second, you are giving to someone who will appreciate the gift. 

Day 9, 22 December: Give to others
Think of a way to brighten someone else’s Christmas. One of the best things you can do when approaching the holidays and feeling so low is to reach out and help somebody else.

No matter your situation, there are others who need help more. Find them, help them. You will find that by lifting someone else’s spirits, you will definitely lift your own.

Day 10, 23 December: Record Christmas memories
We all recognise that over time memories fade. Also, your memories may not be known by your children or grandchildren.

Take a quiet moment today to sit down and let your memories flood over you. Think about past Christmases: places you went, gifts given and received, traditions you shared, things you did. Then take the important step to write these memories down.

Once written, you and others have a permanent record to read and reflect on for years to come.

Day 11, 24 December: Accept that it’s okay to show emotion
Grief carries with it a lot of emotions, and the Christmas season is an especially emotional time of year. It’s okay to cry and you won’t ruin Christmas if you do. Give other people permission to cry also.

Oftentimes, the best support you can give a crying person is a listening ear, a hug and a few words, and to let them know that it is okay to cry. But you can also use other ways to show emotion. You can get a lot of support through a pat on the shoulder or holding hands. Be open to receiving and giving a hug today.

Day 12, 25 December: Enjoy Christmas Day
Make today your day. Even if you don’t feel like it, get up. Get dressed. Step outside into the sunshine and fresh air. Take a walk. Be around the people you want to spend time with.

Allow yourself to grieve, but for every minute you spend in grief, equal that time with memories of Christmas with your loved one. Let this bring a smile to your face.

Allow yourself to be happy today. Know that you’ll make it through and tomorrow you will look back and say, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be”.

Final thoughts about coping with grief over the Christmas holidays
We hope this 12 Days of Christmas Grief guide will help you to take time for self-care during the holiday season. Most importantly, remember to be kind to yourself and others through this journey. Grief is a process that teaches you how to live and love in a new way, holding onto the memories you have of the person you love.

Also remember that you’re not alone. If you’re struggling to cope after the loss of a loved one, you can reach out to friends or family, or consult your GP.

Emotional support is also available from the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement on 1800 642 066. For more immediate help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Daphney Adams is customer experience manager at Bare Cremation.

Are you or someone you know struggling to cope with a loss? Is there a plan to get through the holiday season? Why not share your views in the comments section below?

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Written by Daphney Adams

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