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Coping with bereavement at Christmas time

Coping with the death of someone close can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to deal with, and the Christmas period can be especially challenging for those who are bereaved. That’s why we have put together some information on coping with the death of a loved one at Christmas time.

Grieving is often talked about as a process or journey, but this journey is unique to you. Whatever you feel is normal, it’s how you are coping with your loss. Certain times of year like Christmas can be particularly difficult if you are grieving for someone. Feeling unsure of how to spend the festive season without that person or feeling isolated by other people’s happiness and excitement, are all emotions that you may experience around this time. Below is information taken from our bereavement resources that can help to support you through this difficult time if you have been affected by the death of someone.

Taking care of yourself

As well as affecting you emotionally, grief can have a huge impact on your physical health. Many people find that they lose their appetites and find it difficult to sleep. Try to look after yourself; eat and drink regularly even if you don’t feel hungry, rest even if it’s hard to sleep and try to get outside for fresh air. If there are people around you that could help with practical jobs such as cooking or childcare, don’t be afraid to ask, it could help ease some pressure for you.

Finding distractions

It can be really hard to see normal life going on around you when your own world has been so drastically altered, especially during typically happy, family-focussed times of year like Christmas and New Year. Some distraction from this pain might help; going out for a walk with a friend or member of your family, or meeting for a coffee. It won’t fix your pain, but it may offer you some respite. Equally, do not feel obliged to take part in activities or act ‘normally’. Your friends and family are likely to understand if you find it challenging to take part in group activities or if you need to take some time out.

Dealing with other people

It’s likely that others in your family or friendship groups are also grieving for the loss of your loved one. You will all cope in different ways and at different speeds. Families sometimes struggle with these dynamics, feeling that certain individuals are grieving too little or too much. The intensity of emotion for everyone, especially at a time like Christmas when families may gather,  can affect family dynamics and cause tension. Keeping communication open by sharing how you all feel and what support you need can help the family to come together and cope with their shared loss.

People sometimes find it hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving, and sometimes they avoid the subject or say nothing at all. If this happens to you, it’s likely that they are uncomfortable and don’t know what to say rather than deliberately setting out to hurt your feelings. You may wish to deal with people directly and make it clear whether you want to speak about your loss or not, or you might feel more comfortable just letting those around you offer support in their own way.

Honouring their memory

While Christmas can be a challenging time for family and friends, it can also provide a focus to come together and remember the person who has died. Memory boxes can be created by a person before death or by their family and friends after they have died, and can contain anything that is meaningful to you and your family; photos, children’s drawings or personal belongings (perfume for example). The process of creating the box can, for some people, feel positive, and the box can be a lasting keepsake for family and friends, giving a physical focus to their memories. Our Tribute pages and Online Book of Remembrance can also provide a focus at this time of year to share memories and remember happy times.

Looking through a memory box or doing other things such as lighting candles or visiting a special place, are all ways to remember someone special at Christmas time. Equally, you might prefer not to draw attention to this time of year at all, and this is also completely normal. Grief is as individual as the person who has died and your relationship to them.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust sends condolences to those bereaved due to cystic fibrosis at what can be a painful time of year, whether it is your first Christmas without someone, or you were bereaved long ago.

This material is an extract from our booklets on bereavement. There are three booklets available to download or order, one for people who have lost someone to cystic fibrosis, one for children who have been bereaved and finally one for those who have lost a child of any age to cystic fibrosis.

Further support

  • Cruse is a well-known and respected charity providing bereavement support through their network of volunteers.
  • The Compassionate Friends supports bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents through the loss of a child of any age.
  • Widowed and Young (WAY) is a national charity providing peer to peer support for men and women age 50 and under, who have been bereaved.
  • Child Bereavement UK supports families when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.
  • Winston’s Wish is a charity dedicated to supporting children through the loss of a parent or sibling.
  • The Samaritans offers a 24-hour helpline and can be contacted on 116 123. They are there for anyone needing emotional support.
  • Mind provides advice to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Their helpline offers information about support available for mental health problems, including bereavement and addiction issues - 0300 123 3393.