Managing Christmas Without a Loved One

Grief expert Lianna shares her experience and tips on how to navigate this time of year, be it your first (or indeed second, third or fourth) Christmas without a special loved one.

You want to press the stop button, but you can't. There are others who depend on you and have expectations of you and maybe they have no idea how much emotional pain you are feeling in the run up to Christmas.

Wherever you turn there are reminders that this is a time for celebration and family gatherings. You couldn't feel any further from that and it leaves a gaping hole right in the middle of your sadness. We get really good at telling people that we're fine, when inside we are in bits.

The first time you do anything after the death of a loved one always feels like an impossible hurdle, so Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries must be planned for. Don't let yourself be railroaded into doing things you don't enjoy by family and friends, no matter how well-meaning their suggestions may be.

Everything has changed yet the world just carries on as normal. But for you and others living with grief, there is no 'normal'. Your life has changed irrevocably. So, you must make changes. You have to force yourself to think about things that will help you cope, even though the pain may be more than you can bear.

As hard as it might be, you need to carry on.

Trying to do things the same and keep the traditions shared with your loved one can make you feel even lonelier, therefore it can often be beneficial to try something new and think of some new traditions you can incorporate. By doing things differently, you’re making yourself feel differently and therefore you won't have the same memory joggers or triggers.

It's like being a bicycle that's trying to balance after the stabilisers have come off. You have to think about and concentrate on new things, so that you begin to create a positive energy.

Old rituals can be hard to let go of and maybe you can feel this will take you further away from your loved one. But like the seasons change, so must we, when change occurs.

Here are Some Things to Think About:

  • Use the Christmas tree to hang a special memento, photo, or memory.
  • Cook their favourite meal and take turns to share your favourite memory whilst eating.
  • Go for a long walk - we don't just work through our grief emotionally but physically too.
  • Think of a gift your loved one would give you and buy that special gift for yourself to cherish.
  • Pour their favourite drink and place it by a photo and light a memory candle.

Here are Some Self-Care Tips for You:

  • Be with the people you love, even if you want to hide under the covers.
  • Let it be ok not to be ok and if you feel yourself sinking, let it be ok to have some time on your own but try not to withdraw into yourself.
  • Be wary of short-term relievers such as alcohol and junk food.
  • There will be times when you will get caught up in the act of living and let go of the memory. Then you will remember again and you will return to grieving. This is normal. This is living after loss. The intensity will ebb and flow and you will shift and change along the way.
  • Don't berate yourself when you have your happy moments (which you will) - this is perfectly healthy and normal.

As the end of any year approaches, you may start to think about changes you would like to make. Try and make it less about little things and make a commitment to yourself, to tend to yourself emotionally and treat yourself kindly.

Sharing feelings is one of the best things we can do. It is a powerful release and can unravel much emotional confusion. Make it your resolution to find someone you trust who will just listen to your words without jumping in with their own experiences. Someone who will just listen with open ears and an open heart. This can help to stop you isolating yourself with your pain and accept your experience as a part of your life's journey.


Lianna Champ has over 40 years' experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ