Coping with bereavement at Christmas

800px-Christmas06_801IT CANNOT be denied that, for many of us, religion is no longer as influential on our reasoning for celebrating Christmas. So why do we continue to return to this holiday year after year if not to celebrate it for what it truly stands for? Some would say we’ve been exposed far too long to the commercialism of the Christmas ‘industry’ and have lost sight of its true meaning through the cheap glitter and tinsel.

Yet, for all this cynicism, I still maintain that the real appeal of Christmas lies in its ability to unite us with our loved ones; it’s a sentiment that is wholly decent and counteracts the belief that the humble spirit of Christmas has been lost in the modern age.

Indeed, most people can understand the appeal of uniting friends and family for a day of good food, joy, laughter, and the exchanging of gifts. Well, that and the ability to watch some particularly brilliant festive television and films. Yes, I am talking about you, Jingle All the Way. Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting a bunch of con men dressed as Santa Claus is not to be missed, even if the script is as wooden as the trunk of our Christmas tree at points.

Yet, for all the talk of the obligatory family gathering around this time of the year, what does it mean for those whose familial circumstances have changed? The loss of loved ones prior to, or even during the Christmas period can lead to a great sense of negative association with such a family-orientated celebration. As such, Christmas has the potential to become a time of reflection and sadness rather than the pure, unadulterated joy we hope it to be.

I for one can certainly understand this sense of apprehension and sadness towards the Christmas period, perhaps now more than ever. When my dad suddenly passed away in August, I was a mere month away from returning to Aberystwyth University for my final year of study. For obvious reasons, Christmas was the last thing on my mind as I grieved (and still grieve) for his loss. But now that the countdown to the Christmas season has begun and the streets of Aberystwyth are awash with twinkling lights meeting my gaze every few yards, I have been forced to confront my apprehension towards how my first Christmas without my father will feel.

There are so many precious memories I have of my dad from past Christmases. I’m going to miss watching Top of the Pops 2 on Christmas Eve, waiting for Noddy Holder to appear singing ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ just so I could bear witness to the sheer exuberance of my dad shouting, “It’s Christmaaaas!!!” at the top of his lungs. I’ll miss seeing him try to fit as many cheap Christmas paper hats on his head at one time and watching his face light up when he received a present he actually wanted, rather than a pair of socks for the hundredth time. My father shaped my perceptions and enjoyment of Christmas and, as such, it will never be the same without him there.

I know that as I sit at the table for Christmas dinner this year, the lack of his presence opposite me will be painfully obvious. Yet I know that he would never have wanted it to spoil my enjoyment, so for that reason alone I will make the very best of the occasion and raise a glass (or roast potato, as he loved those a little too much) to his memory. In the Philippines, where my mother is from, it is traditional to place a Christmas meal on the table for a deceased loved one, as a spiritual act of remembrance. Aside from that, in the days before Christmas, we also plan to place candles next to his photograph as a further way of celebrating his memory and keeping him close to our hearts.

So, to anyone else who has lost a loved one, I sincerely hope that you can still find the strength to carry on despite any sadness that the holiday season potentially brings you. Enjoy the festivities as best you can and try not to let feelings of upset take prevalence. Although the loss of my dad has been a big shock to the system, I can already sense that the old cliché of ‘time healing everything’ is beginning to ring true. But that doesn’t mean things are always going to be easy, so I advise you to never be afraid to let the tears flow if it helps you come to terms with your loss. And to those who have yet to experience such bereavement, I urge you to enjoy every moment with your family and friends, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. And if you make one resolution in 2014, I suggest it would be to appreciate every new day that they are still with you).

For further guidance on coping with bereavement follow the links on the university website.