I’ve just returned from the third Friends Together meeting I have attended this week.
Friends Together is a charity devoted to supporting people who have suffered a significant bereavement and, through its network of lunch clubs and social activities, Friends Together, strives to tackle the loneliness and isolation which often follows.
During these last few days many of the attendees have expressed how much they dread Christmas. Many of them will be entertained by family and friends on the day itself, but, all too often, that serves to highlight their loss. Returning home on Christmas night to an empty house, with nobody to discuss the day with; nobody to chuckle with over the antics of grandchildren or the joy a gift has brought. Somebody, much wiser than I am, said “I can find plenty of people to do something with, but I no longer have anybody to do nothing with”
Recognising this, Friends Together has decided to hold a social meeting on Boxing Day afternoon at the Age UK centre in Bradford Street, Tonbridge. Starting at 2pm there will be people to chat to, over tea and mince pies.
So why is Christmas such a hard time for grieving people, surely every day is painful for them? The simple answer is comparisons. Comparing this Christmas with previous ones when that special person was there, remembering happy times sharing the joy of children and grandchildren, and memories evoked by a Christmas carol or a Christmas song.
There are some things that you, the grieving person, can do which may help.
Christmas shopping with your partner is something many couples will do, even if they don’t share the shopping chore for the rest of the year. For those people, bereaved of a partner, this is a painful reminder of their loss. If you can, shop with a friend or another bereaved person who will also be experiencing that same feeling.
Missing buying a gift for that person? Make a donation to a charity in their name.
Family traditions may also be a cause of difficult memories. If your loved one always dressed the tree, what will happen this year? You could start a new tradition and ask a friend or relative to come and do it with you, or get your relatives to do it for you. A great job for grandchildren, but it may not be colour co-ordinated. Sometimes just changing that old routine helps.
Don’t commit to parties and celebrations. Do what you want to do, not what others expect you to do. Thank people for their invitation and explain that you may not feel up to attending but you will go if you can face it. If they care about you, they won’t press you to accept and will allow you to know what you are able to do. That way you are in control.
If you are feeling up to spending time with friends and family let them know that it’s ok to mention THAT name. They may all skirt around it in case you get upset, but you are upset and nothing will change that. You may have to be the one to start the conversation as they could be uncomfortable about doing so.
There are ways in which you can help your grieving friend.
For many grieving people that missing name on a card is so hard to bear. Let them know that their loved one is not forgotten. I like to send a card which says “thinking about you this Christmas and remembering our dear friend ……“
Accept that this person is sad and nothing will stop them being sad. grief is the price we pay for love. Talk openly and let people know that the person who died should be mentioned. Tell stories and share memories. “Do you remember the Christmas when Dad…………….?” And if there are tears and emotions, that is OK.
Don’t push a grieving person into doing something they would rather not do. If they want to spend the day alone, let them, but also let them know that they can change their mind at any time. If they prefer to stay at home call in for a short visit or make a phone call. Let them know that you understand and support their decision.
Whatever you do this Christmas, may it be a peaceful one, filled with love.