• Dr. Paul D'Alton

How to live with loss during Christmas time

At Christmas time, the losses we experience in our lives are felt with much greater intensity. The volume is turned up on everything; the good, the bad, and the ugly of our lives.


The good things can feel even better and the bad things can feel even worse: it's like our emotions are experienced through a magnifying glass, emotions are louder and, we feel them more deeply.


For many people, this will be the first Christmas without their loved one. It’s been said that the first year is the worst year, and I think that’s generally true. The days that punctuate our year – birthdays, Easter, mother's day, fathers day – are so poignant when we’ve lost someone we love but Christmas is probably the most poignant and the most difficult.


At Christmas time, people can feel they are going backward in their grief – we can feel right back in the throes of grief again, almost like it’s just happened. We can be blindsided by our grief at this time of year, the rug taken out from under us.


It can also be a bittersweet time, as we remember the person who always made the Christmas cakes, or decorated the tree, or the annual row about peeling the Brussels sprouts.


Heading into the festive season as one of the 300,000 people affected by the loss of a loved one there are things we can do and way to approach that will make it a little bit easier.


Remembering that our grief, the loss of a loved one can be complex: there is no straight line when it comes to grief. We can feel anger and irritation amid the sadness and tears. We can feel relief and sadness, sometimes at the same time.


It's important to take control of the day itself. If you’ve been invited to meet with family or friends maybe agree to go for an hour and take it from there. It’s really important to remember that it’s one day, and it will pass.


Think about creating new traditions as ways to remember the loved one. Perhaps visiting the cemetery together, maybe framing your favourite photograph of your loved one and placing it somewhere prominent, maybe gathering your family for a walk together and naming that as your loved one's remembrance walk.


Most importantly, break the silence. We can end up walking on eggshells where, out of love, people are afraid to mention the person who is no longer with us because it will upset us. The great silence can be so lonely and isolating, so break the silence if you can.


Remember that the heartbreak we experience is the expression of a brave life, a life fully lived. Grief is not a failure, there is nothing wrong with it. It is a completely normal response to living a life where we’ve been brave enough to love. Grief is, as someone said, the terrible price we pay for love.


Originally published on RTE.ie 13/11/20.

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