Coping with the loss of a parent at Christmas

With the festive season fast approaching, it can be difficult to cope with loss and the grief that follows, especially if it’s your first Christmas without a parent. We know that this may change your approach to the holidays and your annual traditions, but no matter how you choose to celebrate (or not), it’s important that you feel comfortable with your decision. That’s why our own Francesca Coles, head of communications at Coles Funeral Directors was recently speaking with Stylist magazine on this subject, sharing some helpful advice. Here’s what she had to say…Do you have any tips for effective communication at this difficult time?


For anyone dealing with grief, more specifically that which involves the loss of a parent, it can become more intense and apparent around the festive period when loved ones gather together. That’s why we always encourage people to be open with and to explore their feelings, talking to family members or loved ones about what they’re going through. After all, people around you can’t help you if they don’t know how you’re feeling, and they’ll likely be grateful for the honesty – they care about you, will be conscious of your loss and won’t want to upset you.


If you are starting that conversation, remember to stay true to your emotions and be brave, especially if you want to change family traditions surrounding the festive period. You’ll always treasure the memories you have with your parents, but you also have the opportunity to create new memories too, so take the time to consider if and what changes you would like to try out. The first time you break with tradition is likely to be especially tough, but in time, your new traditions and memories will become just as treasured. But be mindful to acknowledge that not everyone will want to celebrate and/or remember your lost loved one in the same way – it’s all about finding your own way of coping.

What support is available specifically over the festive season?


Facing Christmas while you’re grieving can be incredibly daunting and can leave you feeling very lonely or uneasy, but it’s important to know that there are support services available all year round, day and night. Often, there will be community specific groups available to you in your area, whether it’s hosted through a church, youth group or specific charities like Cruse Bereavement Care and The Samaritans. These organisations will always be available to you when you need them the most offering telephone, online, or even face-to-face support. And you are always very welcome at our Bereavement Hub in Birchgrove, where we have delicious tea and coffee, a great library of books on coping with your loss, as well as a resident counsellor who can provide you with free support. Just remember to reach out – don’t feel as though you have to do this alone.Would you say there’s any benefit to engaging with social media in this period, or would you tend to advise avoiding it? 


Social media can be a minefield around the festive period, with people posting pictures and updates with their loved ones. But I believe that when it comes to social media, it’s all about identifying the right places to engage. For example, there are groups available that talk directly about grief, with people sharing their own experiences and emotions – we tend to see this a lot on our own Coles Facebook page. I’ve also spoken with individuals who choose to share their feelings and photographs of loved ones in the wider social media sphere, getting a response from others who share the same emotions, thoughts or experiences. This has really transformed the way we share our grief and I believe that starting that conversation can only be a good thing. So yes, I would say there’s a great benefit, and it can be a great comfort, engaging with others during the festive period. But don’t get lost into the social media black hole – if it starts to feel uncomfortable or ‘all consuming’, it’s time to log off.


Of course, with social media like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp you can share memories and photographs with your friends and family in a closed and personal message chat which can be just as comforting when keeping your loved one’s memory front of mind throughout the festive period.How can we avoid comparison to what has come before – any practical tips/ways to think differently?


I think this all comes down to the pressure we put on ourselves. During the festive period, we’re encouraged to do more, to have fun, regardless of how we’re feeling deep down and often this is tied to memories of the Christmases that have come before. But go easy on yourself, take your foot off the gas and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you don’t want to do certain things, don’t feel comfortable seeing certain family members or generally don’t want to put yourself in a vulnerable position, don’t do it. I would always encourage people to look to start new traditions too. We become so accustomed to celebrating Christmas in a certain way with our parents, but their traditions don’t always have to be your own. You can carry forward certain elements and start new traditions too, taking a blended approach to include both the old and the new should you choose. Really, it all comes down to your own personal preference and how you choose to deal with your grief. Even siblings might not share the same ideas – that’s absolutely fine. It’s very personal, so never forget that.


However, if you don’t have any family members close by or if you’re looking for a completely new approach to the holidays but still want to feel close to your loved ones, consider attending memorial events. Here you can often plant memorial trees, write messages, light a candle or more, taking on small rituals to remember the life of your lost loved one. At Coles Funeral Directors, we create our own memory trees, asking our community to leave messages on social media that we will then decorate the trees with at our funeral homes. We believe it’s a chance to bring together the local Cardiff community who have experienced loss, whether that’s recently or decades ago. It helps to ease feelings of loneliness and isolation and keeps the memories of treasured members of the community alive.Any practical tips on letting go of guilt in the short (or even in the longer) term?


It’s easy to feel the festive guilt, especially when family members are encouraging you to come to events with them. The holidays will be different, and they’ll inevitably be tough, but you shouldn’t put added pressure on yourself or feel guilty for not wanting to go along to events as you usually would. If you let your family members know how you’re feeling, this often goes a long way and can allow you some added flexibility. Remember, it really is ok to put yourself first – don’t feel as though you have to put on a face and pretend it’s all ok just because it’s Christmas. Those who care about you will understand. The best advice I can offer would be to plan ahead – let others know how you plan to spend the holidays and what you’re comfortable with and be very transparent about this.


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