When your child has died, Christmas can be unbearably
difficult. The whole world seems to celebrating, everybody appears to be
obsessed with preparations, which seem to go on for weeks. These confront us at
every turn –in shops and streets, on TV, radio, in magazines and on the web and
social media. We often feel alienated, isolated by our grief.
As we contemplate Christmas –especially in the early years
of our bereavement - we wonder how we will survive. It is normal for parents to
feel they just want to ’cancel’ Christmas. It is a time to be with family, and
the enormous gap left by the death of our child is intensified. Christmas
cannot be the same as it was because our family is not the same – not complete.
If this is the first year, it will be painfully different from previous years.
We may find the anticipation and stress of what we ‘should’ be doing very hard
to deal with. Do we decorate the tree, send cards, give presents, attend a
place of worship, join in the festive meal, go to a family party? For younger
children especially, do we continue with important traditions of trips to the
shops, the decorations, a pantomime, and a visit to see Father Christmas? Many
bereaved parents find the run up to Christmas – with all the accompanying
anticipation– can be more difficult to cope with than the actual day itself.
We hope that some of the ideas below might help and support
you as you prepare for the holiday season…
allow other people to dictate to you how you should get through this
extremely difficult time of year. Don’t feel you have to go to
the office party or festivities with friends/extended family if you can’t
cope with them.
we don’t know what we will feel like doing until the last minute. Don’t
feel you have to have a plan. Tell people you will decide on the day and
you will come if you feel up to it, but may well not be able to.
close friends/family know that you are struggling and need to be able to
talk about your child at this important family time.
people that you need to have your child acknowledged by others at
Christmas - to see their name in a Christmas card or to remember them with
a toast during the Christmas meal means so much, but many people would be
scared of doing this unless you tell them.
the family try to talk to each other, about how you are feeling, or what
you all might want to do. Thinking and talking together can help us to
prepare ourselves for Christmas, and sometimes when these plans do go
right, the day can bring surprising comfort to us.
you have young children in the family be aware that they might wish for
Christmas to carry on as before – although this can be enormously painful
for you, for surviving children the normality of Christmas celebrations
can be a comfort
parents who have lost their only child or all of their children, Christmas
can be an especially painful, particularly so if there are no
grandchildren. Christmas is generally recognised as a family time
and for parents without surviving children this can be extremely hard to
bear. For such parents it can be difficult being with other families at
Christmas and yet the alternative - being alone - can be equally hard to
bear. Whatever these parents choose to do, it is vital that their child or
children are remembered.
people don’t send cards at Christmas any more. Others like to include
their child’s name – for example - “Love from X x and x and always
remembering xx”. You can also ask others to include a similar
sentiment on any cards they send you. A small gesture which can
really lift our hearts.
put too much stress on yourself. If there are difficult relations who
expect to visit or for you to visit them, just say you can’t do it
this year if it’s going to make you feel worse. Or introduce a time
limit - “We’ll come over for a quick drink but will only stay an hour.”
a Christmas ritual involving your child – attend a candle lighting service
with other bereaved parents; spend time at a special memorial place on
your own or with others; make or buy a special card or decoration
for your child.
time with people who understand. Avoid those who don’t.
the day itself, make time for yourself to escape if things are too much.
A walk outside can really help ease tensions. Or take yourself
off for a long warm bath.
you can’t cope with the idea of Christmas at all, go away and do something
completely different. (Be aware, though, that sometimes being away from
supportive friends or family can be more difficult and the jollity of
strangers may be painful)
for a charity helping the homeless or elderly over Christmas. This
can be some small distraction and you are doing good too.
to take some gentle exercise every day - really helps boost those
much needed endorphins.
aware that the New Year celebrations can also be difficult. The coming of
a new year can feel like we are moving ‘further away’ from our child and
the celebrations of others, wishing us a ‘Happy New Year’, can intensify
our yearning and grief. We can feel isolated from the celebrations and
happiness of others. Acknowledge these feelings to yourself and others close to you, and perhaps plan the evening of December 31st –
whether that is to be alone, or with close, understanding friends who will
allow you to be yourself and remember your child at this poignant time of
After the death of our child, the Christmas holidays will
have shadow, a yearning for what might have been, an added poignancy. However,
we do survive these days, difficult as they are. What matters is that, as far
as possible, you are able to do whatever feels right for you, and eventually be
able to carry the loving memory of your child with you into future
The Compassionate Friends National
will be open during the Christmas period
0345 123 2304
(10 am – 4 pm, 7 pm- 10 pm every day).
The booklet 'Coping With Christmas' (with the information above) is available to download and print.
Some useful links are also below:
First Christmas without my son: 'I just couldn't have that day without Joe' by Susan Hughes
for Christmas by Mary Hartley, TCF Librarian
Ways To Celebrate The Holidays Without Your Child
Handling The Holidays by Darcie Sims
Surviving The Holidays After the Death of Someone We Love
With Special Occasions
The following Helplines are also open:
Child Death Helpline: 0800 282 986
Child Bereavement UK Support and Information Line:
0800 02 888 40
Samaritans: 116 123