Tips for your family’s first Christmas without a loved one
Christmas is just around the corner and many of us will be looking forward to this time of relaxation, indulgence and festive films. However, for some of us, the oncoming festivities serve as a reminder of those loved ones that are missing from around the table. For those of us approaching our first Christmas after losing a loved one, the thought of spending the festive period without them can feel daunting and even unbearable at times.
Recognising and dealing with these feelings can be challenging, particularly for children. We would like to offer some advice for helping your family to cope and even try to enjoy this Christmas.
Surround yourself with those closest to you
Your friends and family will understand how hard Christmas Day might be for you, and may even be experiencing the same grief. Try to take some time to share happy memories about your loved one, and acknowledge your feelings instead of hiding them away.
As your child’s most important role model, they will learn best from what they see you do. For example, seeing you seek support from friends and family means they will know it’s okay to talk about feelings surrounding their grief.
Understanding how grief affects children at different ages
There are many factors that can affect how your child grieves. Was it an expected or unexpected death? How close was their relationship to their loved one? These are all things to consider, however one of the biggest parts of how your child responds to grief will be their age:
Depending on your child’s maturity level, they may feel various emotions but be unable to understand or communicate them:
- Babies and toddlers haven’t yet learned about the permanence of death, so they are unlikely to understand what is happening.
- Four to five year olds typically understand that death is not reversible, so may be more aware that their loved one is not coming back. You might find they experience a wide range of emotions, but don’t yet have the language skills to communicate how they are feeling and why.
- Children over six may be learning or already be aware that death is universal, in other words, everything dies eventually. This can be a really scary concept that even as adults, we can struggle with. This might mean that as well as grieving for a lost loved one, your child may become more fearful of other family members dying, or even start worrying about their own death.
Christmas Day can bring up some painful experiences. Your child may write to Santa asking for their loved one to come back, or wonder why they aren’t sharing Christmas dinner with them. While knowing how to answer some of these questions might be difficult, the main thing is providing comfort and continuing to reassure your child that talking about grief is important as they learn to understand the difficult concept of death.
Don’t feel guilty about enjoying yourself on Christmas Day
Whether you feel like taking some time for yourself, or embracing Christmas Day and all it’s fun to the fullest, don’t feel guilty. There is no shame in enjoying the day with your friends and family, and remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. For some people, making new, happy memories can offer some comfort in honouring their loved one.
Preparing for your first Christmas without a loved one can bring about lots of difficult feelings and this may be a time for years to come when you and your family feel the loss of that important person most deeply.
Moving through grief is never linear and there may be days that feel positive and days you really struggle with your loss. Children are much the same, and although they can be very resilient, there will always be days that are harder than others.
The most important thing is trying to talk about and share these feelings with those closest to you and encouraging your children to do the same.
It is also important to remember that however you and your family choose to enjoy Christmas will be right for you. We’ve provided some links below that offer further advice to help with talking to and supporting children who are experiencing grief and loss.
YoungMinds – A guide to grief and loss, and where to get help
NHS – Links to further support
Child Bereavement UK – How your child might react, and useful resources