Christmas can be a difficult time of year for those who’ve suffered a bereavement – or are newly alone for another reason.
And for those around someone who’s grieving, it can be hard to know what to say or do – so it can be tempting to say nothing at all for fear of getting it wrong.
I’ve found that if both the bereaved and their friends and family are able to think ahead as much as possible – and communicate plans and emotions – it can help everyone cope much better.
Here are my practical tips for coping with grief* and loneliness at Christmas:
Think about what you want to do
If you’ve lost someone you may not feel able to plan ahead yet, and that’s fine – everyone experiences grief differently.
In fact, you may not feel like doing anything at all for Christmas this year.
But if you feel that celebrating in some way might be a comfort to you, have a think about what you’d really like to do and who you want to spend time with.
Plan for a Christmas you feel comfortable with and give yourself permission to do what you want to do.
Let others know your plans
Some people around you may feel awkward about asking you about your Christmas plans or offering support.
So if you have an idea of what you’d like to do and what you might need from family and friends, it might help to let them know.
Having said that, there’s no way of predicting exactly how you’ll feel when Christmas arrives – you might not feel up to socialising.
It’s okay to let people know this and also give yourself permission to change your plans on the day if you need to.
You might find some comfort in talking about your loved one at Christmas or doing something that you used to do together.
You may not, but if you find yourself having a moment or two of enjoyment at Christmas, try not to feel guilty about it – you’re allowed some respite.
Be there for your grieving friend
The most important way you can support someone who’s grieving is to keep in regular contact.
Be willing to listen to them and share memories about the person who’s died – and be in it for the long haul.
It might be hard to see them upset, but there are no quick fixes for grief – and your support will mean the world to them.
Don’t avoid sending a Christmas card
While sending the usual cheery festive message might not feel appropriate, a sensitively written card is another way of letting your bereaved friend know that you’re there for them.
A blank card with your own message that acknowledges what the recipient is going through and mentions a happy memory of the person who has died is a good way to do this.
You can also write that you don’t expect a reply or a card in return to avoid adding unintentional pressure.
You can order a pack of free ‘Grief Kind’ cards from the Sue Ryder charity, which includes prompts with advice on what to write and other tips.
Give a thoughtful Christmas gift
If you’d like to give your friend or family member a gift it can help them feel that you’re thinking of them – but don’t feel you have to as, for many, just being there will mean so much.
A donation to a charity that’s relevant to your loved one is a lovely way of honouring them and their loss or a day out or experience together might make particularly thoughtful presents.
Self-care gifts such as a new book, journal or a snuggly blanket or a subscription might also be appreciated.
Offer practical help
This could be shopping, cooking, DIY tasks, or – if your bereaved friend has children – you could babysit or take the kids out for the day.
You could ask your friend what they really want to do at Christmas, be supportive of whatever they say – and if they’d like you to – help put any plans in action.
Every person will experience grief differently, so it’s important to listen and be sensitive to their wishes.
I hope these tips help you support others and cope with your own grief.
Take good care of yourselves.
*Please note I am not a grief counsellor and urge you to seek expert advice from your GP or relevant charity if you’re struggling with grief.
Some of the many organisations who can provide support are listed on the Mind website.