Christmas: Not a happy time for everyone.

Grieving the loss of family and friends is a challenge at any time of year, but the holiday season can magnify your loss and mourning. Gatherings and events can be reminders of loss; an empty chair is a chilling reminder. As children you look forward to happy times, Santa coming, grandma’s cooking and spending time with family and friends. Adulthood, however, brings with it a dose of reality and responsibilities that can seem unbearable for many.

There are times when you can feel comforted by your grief and the rituals of the festive season could be one of those occasions. Memories keep your loved ones alive in your presence; they’re the things that maintain the connection to them. Do songs, smells or meals ignite those memories for you?

Here are a few tips we feel may help this Christmas.

– Do what feels right. Sometimes activities, gatherings and events that you participate in can be challenging. Don’t feel obligated. Grieving takes time and often getting through the day, can be incredibly difficult.

– However you feel, accept it. Whether it’s sadness, tears, laughter or joy, or a combination of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s normal for the ups and downs, especially the first year and possibly every year after. Loving someone doesn’t change after they have died and talking about them is OK too!

Memories keep your loved ones alive in your presence; they’re the things that maintain the connection to them.

– Plan ahead. Often your anticipation can be far worse than reality. Arrange ‘safe’ activities, looking forward to an event can allay your fears. Remember, it’s OK to excuse yourself when you reach your limit.

– Be honest. Talking with family and friends about what you’re feeling and might need on Christmas day can explain and set expectations about what you can cope with. Withdrawing from family gatherings can be misunderstood, and you need the support of our loved ones. Not angst in return.

– Do something different. Acknowledging that things have changed, especially if the usual routine is too painful can help. The holiday will never be the same as it was, plan something new to introduce new traditions.

– Remember those who have passed. It can be as simple as lighting a candle at the table or sharing a prayer or poem. Gifts and donations in their memory both honour and ensure their memory stays alive too.

In the end, do what you feel is best for you. It could mean scaling back or skipping the holiday altogether. Feeling safe and comfortable requires creating realistic expectations for yourself and others. Let them know of your plans and perhaps get them to check in with you during the day.

However you plan to spend this Christmas, let it be a safe and peaceful one.