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Coping with Christmas after a bereavement

Christmas, once a time of joy with a loved one, can become day of pain and grief, a stark reminder of one’s loss. We asked our Nelson Tasman Hospice bereavement team, Erika Olsen, Spiritual & Pastoral Care Coordinator & Sharon Beuke, Bereavement Support Co-ordinator, for some advice on coping with Christmas.

The big question that often arises is whether to “do” Christmas differently, or whether to continue in the traditional fashion, with maybe a candle lit in honour of your loved one.  This may be a decision you don’t have to make, because of personal or family reasons, but, if you do, it is helpful to observe your gut feeling: What is going to be best for you? What will help you most to get through the day?

Below are some of the ways that bereaved people have “managed” Christmas day: they are not right or wrong per se; they are simply choices that people have made that have suited them best.

  • spend time with family or friends – but take your own car so you can slip away if you need to and/or stay for a limited period of time. Let people know that you might need to pop out and spend some time on your own
  • acknowledge your loved one, for example with a toast, through sharing memories, or lighting a candle. You could surround the candle with anything that reminds you of them e.g. photos, flowers or even a small piece of jewellery. Throughout the day, every time you look at the candle you will remember them, and they will be with you
  • help at a community luncheon for people on their own at Christmas
  • make the day different to previous years. For example, you could have a picnic at the beach
  • keep it simple but meaningful – simple meals that remind you of your loved one, simple arrangements where you can get rest and sharing the tasks they used to do

And yes, tears may and probably will fall and that is ok too.  Sharon shares “My mother died a few days before Christmas around ten years ago.  I found myself weeping copiously during a church service on Christmas morning, but I was aware that these tears came from a place of love and sadness at the death of a wonderful mum, and that they were what I needed to do at that moment.”

Your Nelson Tasman Hospice Bereavement Team acknowledges your loss and the pain that Christmas can bring. Look after yourselves, and each other.


Remember Me

I cannot speak, but I can listen.

I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.

So as you stand upon a shore gazing at a beautiful sea,

As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity,

Remember me.

Remember me in your heart:

Your thoughts, and your memories,

Of the times we loved,

The times we cried,

The times we fought,

The times we laughed.

For if you always think of me, I will never have gone.

Margaret Mead

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