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Getting through Christmas

What used to be the highlight of the year can easily become the most frightening and difficult time when we are without our loved one(s). Whether it is the loss of a partner, relative or pet due to death or separation, Christmas can feel like a very dark and lonely place. This is especially so as the media and society around us emphasize Christmas as a family time full of happiness and love - a time for sharing, forgiveness and expressing one's feelings. But what if there are things that cannot be unsaid or undone? What if there are relationships that seem forever broken?

Already in the months prior, the thought of Christmas can become terrifying. Moving closer towards it, there is no shopping trip without songs of coming home for Christmas and an array of gifts to choose from. There may be things you know your loved one(s) would like that you won't be able to give them this year. There may be conversations with friends about your plans for Christmas that make you feel like crying or running away.

So what can you do to help yourself face this difficult time of year? Here are my top tips.

1. Preparing for what it might feel like

This involves thinking about the unique meaning of Christmas for you. What rituals and routines are part of your Christmas tradition? How did it feel in the past, and how is it likely to be different this year? What in particular are you afraid of? By exploring your fears and imagining what Christmas will be like without your loved one(s), the actual experience will become more bearable and manageable.

2. Seeing the full picture

Different to how Christmas is often portrayed in songs, television or advertising, it leads to tension and disappointments in many families. Especially since there are so many hopes and expectations bound up with this time of year, reality often cannot deliver. Yet this isn't necessarily discussed among friends. Rather than comparing your own difficult situation to an idealized version of Christmas, it may be useful to also consider its stresses and strains.

3. Talking with others

Even if it may seem difficult to open up to friends and relatives when it feels like spoiling their festive spirit, it can be beneficial to think of how to tell others about your situation. Although you may think they should be aware, people are often unable to imagine what it’s like to be in your shoes. And they may not want to ask for fear of upsetting you. Talking with others can thus help to avoid any misunderstandings and can create a support network.

4. Scheduling your days

Planning different activities throughout the festive period can bring some structure into your days and give you something to look forward to. There might be things you enjoy about

Christmas that you can do without your loved one(s), such as singing Christmas carols at church, helping others in need or accepting an invitation for a Christmas lunch. Even if you feel like hiding at home, being around others may offer a different perspective on things.

5. Keeping a connection with your loved one(s)

While you may want to enjoy certain Christmas activities, you may feel guilty for seemingly forgetting your loved one(s). To find the right balance between remembering and looking after yourself, you may want to consider specific activities for commemorating or getting in touch with your loved one(s). This may involve a particular Christmas ritual that used to be meaningful for both of you or some dedicated time for thinking of and talking to them.

If these ideas make sense to you but you are struggling to put them into practice, you may want to discuss them in counselling. A counsellor can help you to explore your fears, think of how you might want to talk to others about your situation and plan this time of year so that it can be a good Christmas after all.


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