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Facing Christmas after the Loss of a Loved One

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Facing Christmas after the Loss of a Loved One


The Christmas season is the best of times to be in a festive, good mood. On the other hand, it can also be a painful time if you lose someone close to you, whether it is just recent, or you were bereaved long ago. The unbearable pain of being alone with the thoughts and memories of your lost loved one can be totally in contrast with the celebratory spirit that permeates in the air.

For most adults, Christmas involves lots of activities: shopping, gift giving, partying, socializing, or vacationing. For those in grief, however, the holiday season is an enormous hurdle and far from being jolly. All the aspects that you love about Christmas – family, get-togethers, celebration – can become sources of pain that can be more intense than the usual hurting felt during other holidays of the entire year. Christmas becomes a pretty package filled with grief triggers that may haunt the holidays: empty chairs, missing faces, forced laughter, familiar carols, and silent voices.

To Celebrate or Not

Death takes a parent, a spouse, a child, a sibling, a friend, or a beloved pet. Whomever you have lost, it is always difficult to navigate the holidays when you know that a loved one cannot be physically present with you. That is why some bereaved people do not have any interest to celebrate Christmas at all. What for? The family is no longer the family that it used to be last Christmas. The absence of a loved one casts a large and painful sorrow on this particular family-oriented occasion. What used to be joy turns to sadness, there is nothing to expect, and life generally seems lonely and dark. The idea of a celebration is simply a non-starter.

Last Christmas is now a bittersweet memory. You may hold onto and reminisce about the past, but they now stand in stark contrast to what you feel today, when everything is not well. Relatives and friends may not see through your pain, and want you to cheer up just like everyone, to try and heal from your loss, and enjoy the revelry. For you, the idea of a jolly Christmas is like rubbing salt in the wound when a significant person is not there.

Whether you are experiencing anger, sadness, denial, resentment, numbness, sleep and eating problems, anxiety, hopelessness, disbelief, and more, the question remains to be: How do you celebrate holidays after losing a loved one? Holidays mean being with the people you love the most. How do you expect to survive the most wonderful time of the year when you are in grief? Christmas, it seems, is the most difficult time to grieve, when you miss a loved one even more than usual.

Grieving during the Holidays

As you hear people wishing each and everyone happy holidays, the season will be anything but happy if you are grieving. Special occasions, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and other holidays, are always challenging as they serve to remind you of the time shared with your lost loved one. The waves of memories can drown you and you wonder how you can manage or survive.

When you have lost someone significant, any holiday loses its celebratory qualities. In fact, the cheery events only magnify the loss that it can be difficult to remember why you should be merry. Holidays are clearly one of the toughest days to navigate after a loss.

Whatever holiday you are celebrating, your grief process can be complex and without a timetable. Grief can come in brief upsurges even if your loss happened in the distant past, but it can be more intense during the holidays when there are certain stimuli to trigger it. Grief is not what you want to avoid, but the pain. Going through the grief process is the way out of the pain. Pretending you are not hurting is not the truth for you. Trying to suppress the sadness can be emotionally draining.

Signs that Call for Help

The array of painful feelings and emotions are a natural part and reaction of the grief process. They can, however, become dangerous, destructive and unhealthy. Because of the sadness you feel during the Christmas period, it can be easier for you to forget self-care. These intensely emotional times can be difficult for you to look after yourself and other loved ones. Bereavement can also arouse a horrible tendency for self-criticism, guilt and anger. Other danger signals of grief which can be toxic at Christmas include:

  • Using too much alcohol or drugs as an excuse to escape or anaesthetize the pain
  • Surrendering to the belief that it is impossible to function, such as withdrawing from the world, staying incommunicado, and being out of touch with reality
  • Experiencing extreme fatigue
  • Frequent bouts of tears
  • Cognitive disorientation
  • Feeling guilt or self-blame, believing you have done wrong or failed to help prevent death
  • Obsessive thoughts about death
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of desire to live after the death of loved one
  • Problems accepting the death
  • Powerful pining for the deceased loved one

In any of these circumstances, it is important to seek professional help to bring grief to a close. You may be reluctant to ask for help during this time when people seem to be having a good time. It would be selfish to ask them to lend a shoulder to cry on at this juncture. This only serves to exacerbate your sense of isolation and validate the feeling that you are alone in your mourning. Your sadness feels sadder and your loneliness becomes deeper. You may go through it in your own individual process. The need for support may be at its peak during the holidays.

Honoring the Memories of Time Passed

Some days are more special, personal and calling for a celebration, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas. While grief is tiring and challenging, it can tap into you more intensely during special days and holidays. It is important to know that recovering from a painful loss is a journey, and these holidays are part of the journey.

You may catch yourself smiling or even be back into the swing of life, but it does not mean you are done with grief. Over time, the pain may lessen, but you may still be sad and hit by small or big waves of longing for your departed loved one. Keep in mind that sadness is allowed because death does not have holidays. How can you face Christmas or bring grief to a close? How can you make it through the holidays? How can you help other family members in the light of your own grief? Is this Christmas going to be as painful as last year?

If you are contemplating on these questions or experiencing the symptoms of grief-laden holidays, let Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office – Fayetteville, NC be of help. An independently contracted therapist may be the right fit professional who can be at your side at this time when others are unable to recognize or understand your grief. With help, you can move on and live with your sorrow so that, as time passes, you can focus on happier memories of good times, especially on special occasions like Christmas. Call today!

Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services – Fayetteville, NC (North)

Counties: Cumberland, Bladen and Sampson Counties, NC

Areas: Fayetteville NC, Ft Bragg NC, Pope Field NC, Silver City NC, Linden NC, Bunnlevel NC, Erwin NC, Dundarrach NC, Rex NC, and Wade, NC

Zip Codes: 28311, 28395, 28390, 28356

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Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office, Fayetteville, NC

422 McArthur Road, Suite 2
FayettevilleNC 28311

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Fayetteville, NC 28311

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  • Becky Clark, MSW, LCSW

    Specializes in: (Ages 18+) Anxiety, Depression, Individuals, Couples, Geriatrics, Criminal Justice, Stress Management, Loss and Grief related to death, disability, divorce, deployment, “empty nest”, retirement and other major life transitions
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