In the run up to Christmas, we’re sharing a series of articles from our mental health professionals, with advice on how to mind your mental wellbeing during the holidays.
The first article from MyMind psychotherapist Sinead Fahy looks at coping with bereavement at Christmas time.
After a bereavement the many ‘firsts’ that we have to go through can be extremely difficult. First birthdays, anniversary, holidays and of course, Christmas.
It is important to remember that everyone grieves in a unique way and that having mixed emotions after being bereaved is quite normal, it is all part of the grieving process. These emotions may range from feeling angry, irritable, bitter, relieved, or guilty as well as feeling sad and lonely. Taking care of day to day tasks may seem like a struggle due to poor eating and sleeping, low energy levels and poor concentration and memory. At times, you may feel you are on an emotional roller-coaster, some days you feel you are coping and doing quite well and others times you may feel overwhelmed. Again this is quite normal even though it may feel completely alien to you at the time.
The first Christmas after being bereaved can be quite difficult and overwhelming. There may be expectations of you that you just can’t face at this time, such as attending social events, dining, shopping for Christmas gifts etc. Christmas as we know brings with it a high level of activity such as busy shops and streets. People can almost seem pre-occupied with getting organised for Christmas. In general, at times it may seem like that the world has forgotten that you have been bereaved in particular if your loss was at the earlier part of the year. This can add to your sense of loneliness and isolation.
What might be helpful is to accept that Christmas will now be different. Reflecting on this might give us the chance to think about what traditions we may change and which ones will we be able to cope with this year. You may decide that visiting the graveside is consoling and perhaps this could become a new practice for you at Christmas, or you might choose to remember the person in a special toast at dinner. You may decide against traditional Christmas dining or putting up decorations. These decisions are very unique to each person/ family.
Also it is important to remember to be gentle with yourself, sometimes we feel guilty about socialising or having fun after a bereavement. If you feel like having a bit of fun then go ahead, knowing that at a later stage you will allow some time later to reflect and remember the person. Allowing yourself some time and space alone, time to cry and to sit with whatever emotions you are feeling is important. Sometimes just sitting quietly on your own can help.
Accept practical help when offered, such as with shopping, housework, childcare or whatever it may be over the holiday period. Even though it may seems easier to be on our own it is important for our mental well being that we connect with family and friends even if it is just a telephone call or meeting for a friendly chat. This will help to ease the sense of loneliness some bit.
Bereavement is a period of mourning after a loss, the emphasis being on the word ‘period’. It is not something that we can bounce back from almost immediately. It is a process that we have to work our way through. It is important to remember that there is no precise or incorrect way to experience bereavement.