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Losing a loved one: how to handle Christmas after the death of a child

Christmas is one of the most important events of the year. There is so much tradition, preparation and union of families that it becomes a really important event in the family calendar. Christmas is planned weeks and sometimes months in advance and when children are around, then the focus on creating a beautiful Christmas for them is huge: bring the tree, decorate the tree and the living room (or the whole! the house!), writing letters to Santa, Christmas gift lists, Christmas shopping, menu planning, grocery shopping, making cookies, baking and decorating the cake, steaming Christmas puddings, baking special tree hanging cookies … the list is endless. So what about Christmas after the loss of a child? How does the family manage?

For those who suffer the loss of a child, Christmas can be a time of intense sadness and loneliness. Whether you are with others or alone in this moment, the sense of separation and loneliness is enormous because the sense of loss is almost unbearable.

This time of year is likely to be one of the hardest you will have to endure. And because you are reuniting with a family that you may not have seen in a while, it can be difficult for both sides to know where the boundaries are and whether it is okay to talk about the missing child. As you think ahead, there are some strategies you can put into practice to help you get through Christmas. This is what I suggest:

  1. Decide as a family (your everyday household) how you would like to spend Christmas this year. Don’t feel obligated to join the festivities and act like nothing happened. You may feel that it would be more supportive for you to spend a peaceful Christmas together. Similarly, you can enjoy being surrounded by a loving family right now and the opportunity to reunite with more distant family members. The important thing is to talk about this together and make the decision together.
  2. Don’t offer to host Christmas this year.. Be nice to yourself and your family by keeping Christmas manageable. Adding the stress of having a couple of other families to feed for 1 day or more is not advisable at this stage. Either make Christmas small and in your own home or allow someone else to host your family.
  3. Keep in mind that you may not have the ability to do everything you regularly do in preparation for Christmas., consider preparing a shortened version in terms of things to do. You may find that you can’t cope with crowded stores because it’s too stressful, so consider buying gifts or food online and having it shipped to you.
  4. Decide as a family how you want to include the lost child at Christmas this year.. You may find it helpful to create a special place in your home that is dedicated to the lost child; Lighting a candle every day will provide a focus in this place and anyone can use it to sit quietly and remember the loved one.
  5. Take some time to be outside. Whether you’re with your extended family or alone, take some time for a gentle walk outside. This will help you free yourself from the festivities that you may feel are happening without you being fully present or engaged, and it will help you relax so that you can find yourself where you are. Of course, it’s always good to breathe fresh air after you eat your fill, but this year it’s especially important that you do so.
  6. If you spend time with your extended family, let them know what your needs are.. Your family can only know how to support you if you tell them. For example, explaining to them that sometimes you may need to spend some time alone and that if this happens you will quietly slip away will help them know that you are okay, but that you need to be alone. Let your family know if you want to talk about your lost child or not; this is an area that they may not know how to tackle.
  7. Do the right thing for you and your family. You won’t know exactly what is and isn’t manageable until the time is right, so keep this in mind and be prepared to drop all plans if your needs change. Christmas is a challenging time and the most important thing is that everyone receives the support they need. If that means disappointing other people, that’s fine. Avoid this by explaining that all the plans you are making are tentative.
  8. Take one step at a time. No hurry. There are no expectations. You know what really matters: follow your heart.

My thoughts are with you right now.

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