Coping with Christmas after the death of your child

I’m aware I’ve not written since Abi’s birthday, and there’s a reason.

Like last year, I’ve found myself lost in a blur of grief and unable to write at all. It’s almost like there is so much to say that it’s impossible to write clearly. Sometimes I find that life is back in focus and I’m getting on with things, but then I’m reminded – constantly, what with the coming of Christmas and my duty as mum to make sure my other children feel able to ‘get excited’ – that my darling Abi is dead. That she’ll never open another present. That her Christmases are memories to me now.

It slaps me in the face again and again, and sometimes, other people’s words and attitudes slap me too.

I’m not over it.

I don’t feel better.

It’s not about you, it’s about me.

And, yes, Abi’s death has given me every right to act the way I do. I will not feel guilty if that means I can’t do what you want me to. It’s taking all my energy right now just to stay afloat so I don’t need added pressure, thanks.

I want to write blog posts to support other parents, like so many of my blogging friends are doing, but I can’t. I feel the stress building of facing Christmas and equally worse New Year without my daughter. I feel sick. I cry. I see her all the time. I hear her voice more than ever. I sense her near me. I feel panicked and suffocated by my own family, people I love. I crave her like never before…

I find it hard to see the happiness and light on social media, as much as I don’t begrudge anybody that happiness. I’m not sat here wishing it was me or feeling bitter, but it just adds to the mountain of Christmas cheer that is already on my shoulders. In many ways, I learn from my blogging friends about how to make new memories and when I have a good day I put up an extra decoration or eat a mince pie, but I don’t feel up to engaging right now, my grief is too intense.

So I won’t write until I’m ready, which may be a while, although if you’re reading this and you want to contact me, please do so through my Comfort Zone, it’s so good to know I’m not alone.

Instead, I’ll share what I read on other websites, and this post from The Compassionate Friends really caught my eye. It says what I probably would have said in a post about Christmas so I’m sharing the entire thing below, but please link out to their website and take a look.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has read my posts this year and has commented with support or shared their own stories. It’s been immensely helpful to me to know I’m not alone.

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…

  • Don’t 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.
  • Sometimes 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.
  • Let close friends/family know that you are struggling and need to be able to talk about your child at this important family time.
  • Tell 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.
  • Within 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.
  • If 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.
  • For 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.
  • Some 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.
  • Don’t 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.”
  • Develop 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.
  • Spend time with people who understand. Avoid those who don’t.
  • On 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.
  • If 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).
  • Volunteer for a charity helping the homeless or elderly over Christmas.  This can be some small distraction and you are doing good too.
  • Try to take some gentle exercise every day  – really helps boost those much needed endorphins.
  • Be 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 year.

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 Christmas-times.

 The Compassionate Friends National Helpline will be open during the Christmas period

0845 123 2304

(10 am – 4 pm, 7 pm- 10 pm every day).

The following Helplines are also open:

Child Death Helpline: 0800 282 986

Child Bereavement UK Support and Information Line:
0800 02 888 40

Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90

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22 thoughts on “Coping with Christmas after the death of your child

  1. So sorry to read this. I had noticed your absence on social media and guessed you must be having a tough time right now. I know it’s almost pointless to say it, but I really do hope that things ease a bit for you soon. x

  2. “I’m not over it.

    I don’t feel better.

    It’s not about you, it’s about me.

    And, yes, Abi’s death has given me every right to act the way I do. I will not feel guilty if that means I can’t do what you want me to. It’s taking all my energy right now just to stay afloat so I don’t need added pressure, thanks.”

    A gazillion times yes. Replace your Abi’s name with Hugo’s, and that is me.

    Thank you for writing this post, it is so helpful to outline how bloody difficult the time we’re supposed to be all happy and jolly is for those of us who are missing a child.
    Really can’t wait for Christmas to be over, but then it will be hurtling towards Hugo’s first birthday…

    I’m exhausted. I’m writing to stop myself thinking, but I am absolutely shattered.

    Wish we lived closer to each other. Love xxxxx

    1. Love to you Leigh. Even with my grief, I look at my baby son and feel your loss too. Our boys are the same age and we should be sharing stages of life, not grief.
      I get so much from your posts, so will always read them. I’m just finding it too hard to write. Only today another grieving mum says she finds it hard to connect with other grieving parents at the moment and I understood that, it’s almost too much at times and our grief needs to be isolated again, not just put in this pool of bereaved parents. We need space as well as community. I could relate to that.
      Sending you a hug x

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They remind me that even though I feel alone I’m not. This is our first Christmas without our Aidan, but also our last with our oldest living at home as he will be leaving for college next year. It is so hard to know what is the right thing to do. I will include Abi and your family in my prayers. My wish is that we all find some peace at Christmas and everyday.

  4. I cannot imagine how awful Christmas time must be for you all. I am so sad for you and your family.Sending you lots of love and take all the time in the world. I think this post will be very helpful for people. I have read a similar one this morning. x x

    1. Thank you Suzanne. I’ve been comforted too by the other posts written about this. It’s good not to feel alone when, seemingly, everyone else is happy. It’s harder for grieving mums of children as much of the hype is for their benefit… so hard to make new memories when you’re craving the old ones. Peace to you and yours xxx

  5. Thinking of you at this difficult time. Thank you for finding the strength to write this post and share it with all of us x

  6. Thank you for your post. I have read all of these before but they bring new light reading them again tonight. It’s been 3 1/2 years since my 5 year-old son died from brain cancer. It’s seems harder this year for some reason and I am trying to make sense of it. I want it to all go away but I have two other blessings the holidays impossible to avoid. I think people’s expectations that we need to be merry & feel joyful (even grateful) is hard to stomach now that time marched on. The biggest lesson after 3 1/2 years is that grief is NOT linear. There is no timeline & we never heal from this kind of loss.

  7. I didn’t do very much reading before Christmas, so I didn’t see this post then, but it’s perfect. We left our diaries blank and pleased ourselves on an hour by hour basis, and I think that’s why it worked. We ate our big meal when we were all together on Christmas Eve night, and Christmas Day tea for me was beans on toast, but that was exactly what I needed. I hope your Christmas was as good as it could be, and you did make some memories and find some smiles xxx

  8. Have just read your post about your precious Abi and understand your relentless grief. My beautiful son died of cancer aged 44 on April 30th 2016. Every day is unbearably painful and the thought of Christmas impossible to contemplate. So I won’t upset myself anymore by thinking about it.
    This devastating year has brought me to my knees,. So much of me died with my son, that I wonder how it is possible to survive such a tragedy.

    1. Linda, I’m so sorry you are living this life too. A life where your son should be here. Christmas is unbearable especially so the first year. I wrote this post which might help you https://chasingdragonfliesblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/coping-with-christmas-after-the-death-of-your-child/ also see my section on special days and occasions you’ll see how I have adapted to these days a little over the years. I realise our stories are quite different but I hope it brings you some comfort. Xx

      1. Thank you so much for replying, I will read all you have written over time. Yes, our stories are different and yet the same-we grieve for our child. A shattering grief that only a mother can possibly know. Thank you again. xx

  9. Nothing getting any easier this Christmas, my grief as deep and cutting as it was the day my son died in April. My beautiful little 3 1/2 yr old grand-daughter is missing her daddy so much, although we are told she is grieving healthily and she is happy most of the time. I still cannot make sense of all that has happened to us this year and my heart breaks that I will never hold my son again. Sending love to all who are grieving this Christmas.xx

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