Coping with grief at Christmas

Whether it’s your first Christmas without someone, or they died many years ago, you might find that your grief is more intense throughout the holiday season. If you’re struggling to cope with the sadness, anger or any other emotion brought up during this time, we’re here to help.

Coping with grief over Christmas

Many people tend to come together with family and friends throughout December and early January, whether that’s to celebrate Christmas or another holiday special to them. 

Despite the festivities, we know this can be a particularly hard time of the year when you’re missing someone. Maybe you’re bursting into tears when you least expect it, perhaps you feel angry at the people around you, or maybe you’re feeling anxious, worrying about how you’ll feel or how you’ll get through. 

Know that these feelings are all normal, and that you’re not on your own this Christmas. We’re here to help you face the festive period, with tips and expert advice from Felicity Ward, Counsellor for our Online Bereavement Counselling Service, so that you can find new ways to cope this year.

Plan ahead

If you have been bereaved and are feeling worried about the Christmas period, it can behelpful to think about what your plans are for the weeks ahead and who you’d like to spend time with.

You shouldn’t feel pressured to have Christmas as usual if it doesn’t feel right, although celebrating as you normally would might be a comfort to you.

This will be different for each person after a bereavement, so plan for a Christmas you feel comfortable with and give yourself permission to do what you want to do.

If you are finding things difficult, you have the right to step away from the usual traditions and rituals until you feel ready to pick them up again. 

Remember that all emotions, whether they are ones of sadness, joy or any other, take up energy. You might not know how you’ll be feeling from one day to the next, so be kind to yourself and try not to “over-do” things. Take a break and, if you’ve got a hectic couple of days ahead of you, schedule in some quiet time - whether that’s going for a walk if you need to, setting aside a few minutes to yourself with a cup of tea, or spending some time writing in a journal.

Don’t feel guilty about the things you think you “should” be doing, and know that it’s okay to not be okay. Christmas can be a difficult time for anyone grieving and it can be tricky to escape with festive songs playing in every shop, cards coming in the post and re-runs of old favourites on TV.

Tears are an important and, for some, necessary part of grief. As much as you may fear that you won't stop crying once you start - you will, and you may even feel a little better for doing so.

Be open about your decisions

Once you’ve had a think about how you want to approach the holiday season, you may find it helpful to be open with those close to you. 

Having conversations with friends and family about how you feel and what your plans are can help everyone support you in ways which are sensitive to your grief. 

Consider old and new traditions

For many people, Christmas comes hand in hand with a number of traditions that can be linked to memories of the person you are grieving. This can leave you feeling upset, especially when you aren’t able to do these traditions in the same way.

To help you get through this difficult time, consider the traditions and what they mean for you and those around you.

Maybe you want to keep to them, but don’t be afraid to change old ones or create new ones. Starting a new tradition may also help the children in your family, particularly if they’re struggling too. It can be difficult for them to know how to act when the people they love are grieving, but finding new ways to remember the person you’re missing during this time can bring you together as a family. Examples of this include: 

  • Buying or making your own Christmas ornament or bauble to remember those who have died. If a photograph feels too much, then perhaps use a ribbon of their favourite colour or a sentimental object.
  • Bringing out the person’s stocking, or make one for them, so that you, your friends and family can fill it with cards, messages or letters. You can decide as a family whether you then would like to share these out-loud or keep them private.     
  • Having a small Christmas tree or memory wreath set up somewhere within your home in honour of the person who has gone. You could decorate this tree or wreath with their favourite colours, photographs, any meaningful objects or messages.
  • Making a paper chain with a message or memory of the person you’re grieving for written on to each “link”.
  • Buying a big candle in honour of them and lighting it for periods of reflection and remembrance.
  • Making an object or cash donation to a charity you know the person you are grieving would have supported in their honour. 
  • Setting a place at the dinner table for the person who is not there or making a toast to them at the Christmas meal.
  • Decorating their headstone or plaque on Christmas Day.  
  • Representing the person who has died through an object or symbol in your annual family Christmas photograph, if that’s something you do.

Coping with your first Christmas after a bereavement

I think in my mind I will just treat it like another day, if that’s possible, that way I might get through.

Online Community member

The festive period might be the one of the first milestones you have to face after your bereavement. Or it might come after a year of many firsts already. Either way, it can often bring about unpredictable feelings as you try to navigate through old memories and a new future for the first time. 

It’s important to try not to put too much pressure on yourself and those around you, particularly as how you’re feeling might change from day-to-day. And while the advice we’ve already shared might help you to consider what approach you might want to take when it comes to marking the festive period, you might also not know what feels right for you yet. 

Remember that that’s OK. You’re still processing and understanding your grief, and going through your first Christmas or holiday after a bereavement can bring up a whole range of emotions. Try to take each day as they come, and don’t be afraid to put yourself first this year. 

Video: Coping with other important dates

Christmas is just one of many important dates that people often find difficult after someone has died. 

In this video our Head of Bereavement talks about how you might feel on other important dates, such as religious holidays, death anniversaries or birthdays.  You can read the full information on Grief Guide, our site dedicated to expert support, advice and tools. 

Where to find more support

Visit our Online Bereavement Community

Our Online Bereavement Community is a safe place for people who are dealing with the death of someone close to them. It’s free to use, open to anyone over the age of 18 and available at any time of the day or night. You don’t have to sign up to read what others are saying, but you will need an account if you’d like to share your own experience.

Try our Online Bereavement Counselling Service

If you’re struggling with your grief, you might want to try speaking to one of our professional bereavement counsellors. The Online Bereavement Counselling service is free to use, and the sessions are held over secure video chat, meaning that you can access support from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Access expert information and tools on Grief Guide

Find the information and advice that's right for you using Grief Guide, our site dedicated to helping you learn about the grieving process and find new ways to understand and cope with your bereavement.

Advice for family and friends

If you’re also supporting someone else through their grief, or if you want to share some advice with family and friends about how to best support you through this period,  you may find our information about how to support a loved one through grief at Christmas useful.

A black woman sits on a double bed next to a younger black male whilst they both look thoughtfully at a laptop. The son leans his head against his mother's.

Online Bereavement Support

Access a range of support including free video counselling, an online community, plus advice and resources.

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