Coping with grief at Christmas.

Grief Rituals.

By Ruth (That Autistic Fit Chick).

I was eleven years old when my first grandparent died. Nanny had been ill with secondary cancer of the liver, and she died within days of the summer holidays beginning. Although I could recite her diagnosis, and I had attended the funeral and cremation; I didn’t actually understand what dead meant. This was possibly down to my strict Christain upbringing, wherein there was a strong emphasis on the resurrection and everlasting life in Christ.

When Christmas rolled around, I couldn’t understand why Grandad had visited without Nanny. Nor did I understand why my sister helped me make a new gift tag that just read “To Grandad” instead of “To Nanny and Grandad”. Even when Grandad gave me Nanny’s ‘Church Purse‘ to remember her by, I was still oblivious as to the reasoning behind it.

I was puzzled and confused, but looking back, that was an almost permanent state for me at that age.

“Grief didn’t start to colour my Christmas experience until I was 20.”

During the Summer my Grandma had died suddenly. It was shortly before I was due to travel across the country to visit her, and although I predicted at her funeral that Grandpa would pass within six months of a broken heart, it was still a shock when I learned of his death.

It was a time before I had home internet. The library where I accessed my emails had been closed for a couple of days already, so I’d missed the family email of Grandpa’s deteriorating health within the hospital. The last update I’d seen gave news of space being found in a nursing home for him. I’d felt relieved that my prediction wasn’t coming to pass.

On Christmas Eve my brother Jon drove me up to visit my sister and her children for Christmas. We were stopping at another brother’s home on the way for lunch. On our arrival, he broke the news that Grandpa had died in the early hours of the morning.

“Although this was the third death of a Grandparent, this one hit me differently.”

I wanted to go for a smoke, but Andy’s wife was sensitive to smoke meaning I wouldn’t have been allowed back into the flat. So, I sat in the lobby and I rang my friend from work. Even with two of my brothers there, I still didn’t feel able to talk about any of the dead family that we were missing with them. I had somehow internalized that we shouldn’t talk about people after their death.

My sister shared with me that evening that she was glad that she hadn’t been the one who had had to inform me. She had made the decision to keep the news from her young children until after Christmas because she didn’t want them to think that Christmas was a sad time.

I’d long since left the Christian faith behind me. Yet a Christmas tradition that I picked up from my spiritualist foster mother was attending Midnight service to enjoy the sheer beauty of the season. My sister was and is still a practicing Christian, and that year she came with me to her local village church to the midnight service.

“We spent time together, we allowed ourselves that time to cry and to process the initial grief.”

I don’t take Communion but I still go up for a blessing. That night I asked the Vicar to pray that God watched over my Grandpa’s soul and that he was reunited with my Grandma in Heaven.

My sister and I walked home together, made Christmas stockings for the children, and left a note from the Elves. We were ready to pour the magic of Christmas into her children the following day, despite our loss.

“Grief hits you in the strangest of ways.”

The following year, I was surprised to find that I was hit with waves of grief again. I thought that I’d dealt with the grief during the funeral and the clearance of the house.

Grief hits you in the strangest ways.

  • Remembering to cross the address out of your address book and not send a Christmas card.
  • Not receiving a Christmas card with the photocopied round-robin letter of the news from the year.
  • Listening to all the Christmas songs being piped through the radio and “driving home for Christmas”.
  • The adverts on the TV talking about Christmas being for family. The snoozing grandfather or the grandmother sitting on the rickety chair for Christmas dinner.

All of it got to me, and for the first time, I became a proper Grinch in the run-up to Christmas.

I gave myself permission to feel this way and to grieve again. Christmas or no Christmas, we all need the privilege of grieving.

I planned which Church to visit for midnight, and my brother and I went together. My ball of grief came with me and cried throughout the sermon. That evening, I left it at the Church, and simply went home to bed. The next day I woke up ready to celebrate Christmas and enjoy being with my siblings, niece, and nephew.

“This became my new routine and tradition. I allow myself to feel sad. To feel angry.”

I’m still not a Christian. I’ve no faith in God and have lots of issues with the Church in general. It works for me though; to go to the Midnight Service and use that as my deadline for my “Midwinter Grief Party“.

Over the years I’ve added to my routine. When I was twenty-four my other Grandad died on the last day of the school term (I was working as a TA at the time). We had exchanged gifts at a family gathering the weekend before and hadn’t yet opened them.

I added Grandad to my thoughts and memories at the Christmas service. In particular, when the organ was playing I would remember that he had been the Church organist and that was how he met Nanny. I remembered the story he told me about my mother as a young child. She would want to sit on his lap as he played, and as any adoring father would, he allowed it. It was told that she would pull out all the stops, and he would frantically try to pop them back in while still playing.

I still write a Christmas card and letter to Grandad each year. It stays with me for a while before I send it up the chimney. Sometimes I see a gift that I know Grandad would appreciate and I pop it into the box for Foodbank so that somebody else has a gift to give to their Grandad this year.

“It’s not much, but it’s something in memory of him.”

After the neonatal death of my nephew, E, I spent a lot of the run-up to Christmas heartbroken with grief every time I saw something that was marked “Baby’s First Christmas”. I bought him his tree ornament but have kept it wrapped and hidden under my bed. In part, because I’m unsure if his parents would want it, and also I wanted to keep a little part of my love for him.

The Sands Lights of Love has a Christmas service every year, and although I was unable to attend last year, I hope to make it this Christmas. There’s also the local organization near my brother and sister-in-law which arranges for gifts to be taken to hospitals and those in need in remembrance. I’ve since added that to my rituals but in my own way. Instead of leaving gifts into hospitals, I simply leave a gift for a baby in the Foodbank for whoever needs it. This year I’ll pick out what I would have given E as an eighteen-month child, and so it’ll continue for as long as I need the ritual to manage the grief.

Grief is okay, even at Christmas.

One. It’s okay for your grief rituals to change over time. What I do is comforting to me, and should it ever become distressing then I’ll know it’s time to let that part of the ritual go.

Two. It’s okay to still buy gifts and write cards to your loved ones. It’s also okay if you want to hold onto the gifts in a safe space, or if you want to donate them to others in need.

Three. It’s okay to go to a service (even if you don’t have faith) if you take comfort in it.

Four. It’s okay if you want to visit the grave and spend time talking to your loved one on Christmas day. How you grieve is up to you.

Five. It’s okay to cry. Even though it’s Christmas, and all the adverts say you should be happy and grateful. It’s okay to cry for what you have lost.

About the author:

Ruth is the author of the blog That Autistic Fit Chick. It’s packed full of healthy recipes, mental health and autism awareness, wellness, and information about various workouts. 

Ruth is a Yoga enthusiast and works alongside a personal training to keep her at her fittest! She’s an inspiration and has been a big supporter of Nyxie’s Nook since day one.  

Check out her blog!

Check out her other guest post here.

47 thoughts on “Coping with grief at Christmas.

  1. This will be a tough Christmas for us since Nana Jo passed away. I know it’ll be particularly hard on my mom, who lost HER mom, so I am working hard to be sure I’m there for sure.

    1. I’m in the same boat. I lost my grandfather and grandmother this year so it’s going to be very hard. Sending much love to you and your family.

  2. Wow, thank you for sharing. It is true. I havent had big grief around Christmas, but being alone for it, away from family, it is really hard. O cant imagine what it will be later….

  3. The loss of a loved one is horrible, but more so during the holiday season. I lost my brother unexpectedly 4 years ago, and although time passes so quickly, it still feels like it was yesterday. Grief is something everyone has to go through, whether its a young child loosing their pet goldfish or anyone leaving a loved one. To me, the greatest comfort is, I know my loved ones are still with me, not only in my heart but in spirit as well.

  4. Christmas is a very nostalgic time for me and unfortunately that means remember times when my grandparents were alive, making me miss them terribly. My grandma was one of my best friends and my grandpa was one of the kindest men I’ve ever known. This year in particular has been a struggle even though they’ve been gone for several years.

    When I feel this way I like to surround myself with family, especially my nephew, who I see my grandparents in so much.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear this. I feel the same and I beat myself up for years when they may not have been handled well. I fear Christmas will never have a positive association for me.
      Thank you for stopping in and reading.

  5. Grief is such a difficult thing to deal with, but pair it with the Holidays, and it goes to a whole new level. It’s important to be mindful of those who are struggling with grief, especially this time of the year

  6. It’s hard to deal with grief, especially during the holidays. The cards for an example are a great ways to cope ❤️❤️❤️

    1. I still bring out the cards my grandmother has gotten me in years gone by. They serve as a constant reminder that she is with me always.
      Sending you lots of love.

  7. My grandpa passed away 28 years ago. I miss him all the time, but the grief has turned to fond memories now. He was one of the most kind people I have ever met.
    I said a prayer for all of you above that are experiencing grief this season. May you find some peace!
    I love the ideas in this post about ways to minister to others that are dealing with grief. I would like to do something, but maybe not just for Christmas.

  8. The holidays are very lonely without loved ones. I’ve lost family as well and miss them to this day, especially around the holidays. Having help coping with grief is needed.

    1. Thank you so much for reading. It can be so hard for those of us with no one or with toxic families that only serve to make things worse.
      Sending you lots of peace this season.

    1. I HATE new years with a passion. It hits me so, so hard and I just hate it.
      I hope you have an okay festive season regardless. Sending you peace and love. x

  9. Unfortunately, I have experienced a lot of loss in my life so I can definitely relate to the different stages and levels of grief and one thing I’ve learned is that everyone mourns differently so it’s important to recognize this.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping in and reading. It’s so important to remember the grieving this year at Christmas, and there appears to be so, so many of us.

  10. I’m not a fan of the societal expectation to be happy at Christmas, no matter what. We all deserve to be able to grieve, no matter what time of year it is!

    1. I’m the same. I hate this whole “cheer up, it’s Christmas” mentality. Even before the death of my grandparents, I hated Christmas. I worked in retail for years. It’s NOT happy for everyone.

  11. Wow, this hit me hard! My grandmother died About 10 years ago, two days after my birthday, on Nov. 5th. My grandpa died a little more than a month later on Dec. 24th. Needless to say I can totally relate, although it really didn’t occur to me Until I read this, that I was still grieving. Thanks for this post, it made me feel better somehow

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss. 2019 has been one full of death for me and therefore this will be a very, very difficult year for me. I’m grateful that Ruth took the time to write this article because I don’t think I could have held myself together long enough to get it done.

      I hope Christmas this year isn’t too bad for you, despite everything. Thank you for stopping in and reading. x

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this intimate story and I truly appreciate it as this time of year can her very hard when ur love ones are no longer with us. This is our first Christmas without my grandmother so it is super hard for my mom.

  13. We all grief in different ways… mine comes in different way depending on how close i am with the person i lost. The first time i witnessed the death of someone was my cousin but i never know what it meant for someone to be dead, i was 4 year old then, another was when i was 8 years old but them i knew what death was and the fact that i couldn’t see how again, i have lost two of my best friend which up till now i haven’t gotten over it but i have come to the realization that death is the price we all have to pay one day and that how i cop with my own grief even though it doesn’t make it hurt less.

    1. My aunt once said to me “without great love there wouldn’t be great loss” and it’s so true. If we didn’t feel sad and grief then we wouldn’t feel love. It’s the price we pay.
      Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. x

  14. We had a couple of losses in the family this year, it’s always tough when we get together for the holidays. Happy and sad at the same time.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. It’s so difficult. This is my first year coping with loss.
      Thank you so much for stopping in and reading.

  15. It’s so important to remember, as you say, that grief is OK. No matter how long ago the passing of a person was, Christmas is often the most difficult time. I try to explain to my family that collective grieving is better than grieving alone, even at celebtraions. xxx

  16. Grief is very difficult especially during the holidays. my ex-husband lost his brother on christmas eve and then his mother a year later on christmas eve as well so it’s tough every year. A lot of times you have to fill your mind with the good and fun times , but it’s only normal to feel a sad.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. It’s so hard, especially losing someone on the mouth or day of Christmas.
      Sending you much love. x

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