How do I manage my grief?

Q:This will be my first Christmas without my husband of 40 years. He passed away not quite a year ago and my grief is strong leading up to the festive season. How do I put on a brave face for my children and grandchildren as they would worry if they see me so sad?

A: Your husband will always be a part of your family and it is understandable that special occasions during the year such as birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas will be more difficult. These times are family oriented and strong reminders of our loved ones that are no longer with us.

It sounds like you have a caring family as they would be concerned about you if they saw you sad. If you can, talk to your family before Christmas and be honest about how you are feeling. This may not be easy but if you will be attending a family gathering at Christmas time, they will at least understand if you need some time out for yourself.

You may also take this opportunity to let them know what may help or not help you. Many people do not know how to respond to grief and although intentions may be kind, some people may try to cheer you up. Have a think about if this is what you actually want. In trying to cheer you up, family and friends may try to distract you from the precious memories that have caused your heartache. Of course, this is not deliberate; they may just want to see you smile.

Think about making room for all of it: your grief, sadness, loss, as well as the happy, funny and frustrating memories you may have about your husband. All of these memories and emotions can find a balanced place in your life, alongside all of your current experiences involving family and friends.

All of these past memories can live together with new memories and milestones in your life such as your own new experiences, the birth of a grandchild, a grandchild’s success in school and life, a wedding and so much more.

In making room for both life and death experiences, this means you don’t need to pretend to be happy all the time. There is no right or wrong way to move forward from the death of a loved one but here are some tips that may help you live life and cherish your memories:

  • include your husband in discussions at the Christmas celebrations. Talk about your sadness but also fun times with him. Encourage your family to share the experiences they had with your husband, and their father and grandfather; there may be tears as well as laughter. As different as each person’s experience of grief is, sharing memories with family is a common thread that will keep you connected to your husband’s memory
  • create new rituals at Christmas time in memory of your husband? Look through photo albums by yourself or share them with your family. Light a candle in his memory or play a song on Christmas day that has meaning to your relationship with him
  • be kind to yourself and if you don’t feel like doing too much, then don’t. Decide how much you want to contribute to the family feast and don’t put yourself under pressure to “perform”.
  • take some time for yourself when you need it but also try to stay connected with people who care. Christmas may not be the same ever again but it can still be special.



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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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