It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Except, it probably feels like the absolute worst if you’re about to spend Christmas without one of your parents for the first time.
If a parent has died, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by feelings of loss when everyone else seems to be having a jolly old time with their picture-perfect family.
Life’s hard enough, with school work, peer pressure and weird body changes – so losing a parent in the home isn’t something you’d ever put on your letter to Santa. It can be a very turbulent time for the whole family, leading to anxiety and worry about your family structure, unity, security, living arrangements, schooling, finances and changes with general day-to-day living.
It’s usual to feel angry, numb, guilty or in denial. And it’s not uncommon to develop habits (comfort eating, fidgeting), imagine seeing your parent still there in the home, or regress back to how you acted when you were younger. Basically, we all handle and express our emotions in individual ways under stressful circumstances.
And that’s the most important thing to remember: everyone deals with loss and grief differently.
You might put on a brave face, determined to stick with your family traditions. Or maybe you address the loss by lighting a candle or putting a special family photo up on the mantelpiece. And sometimes, you might just want to snuggle up with your siblings on the sofa and have a good cry.
Whatever way you go about it, Christmas can actually be a good time to process grief. It’s just important to make sure that you’re surrounded by the love and support that’s still there for you, and to feel confident about seeking professional help available to you if needed.
I spoke with Nicola Dass, a Community Therapist at The Children’s Society who advises young people in need of help every day. Nicola shared the advice she’d give to anyone going through loss this Christmas:
“I would encourage you to talk to someone you feel comfortable with and trust with your feelings. This may be a family member, school teacher, friend, doctor, specialist services, professional counsellor – either face to face or via an appropriate helpline service.
“Talking to others who have gone through similar experiences may be helpful as it helps you see that you are not alone. If talking about emotions is too difficult, it may be helpful to write in a journal or do something creative, such as using photos to create a collage or a memory board to keep those memories alive.
“It’s important to maintain contact with friends and continue the activities you have always enjoyed, like community youth clubs, places of worship, school and other places of gathering. And going out with friends or attending social events is a helpful strategy to escape highly charged emotions and atmosphere at home.
“Everyone encounters loss at some point in their lives, no one is exempt as loss comes in many forms and it is intrinsically linked with change. When there is change, we lose what ‘once was’ whether it was something meaningful or not, and this then results in processing emotions, adjusting, experiencing something new and hopefully recovery with the right support.
“In the case of loss through a traumatic event, recovery may take much longer, perhaps years with appropriate professional support. So it’s important that you talk to an adult who you trust and seek the right help. “
There’s no right or wrong way to get through Christmas during such emotional times. Look after yourself and surround yourself with love – including your own.
Here are some useful organisations recommended by Nicola:
. Book an appointment with your GP
If you’re worried about your mental health, visit this page.
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