Your first holiday season after a bereavement

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Red Nose Bereavement Counsellor Rachel provides her advice for families experiencing their first holiday season after the loss of a baby or child

December holidays - Christmas, Hanukah and Thanksgiving - revolve heavily around the ideals of giving, joy and peace. It is a particularly challenging time for newly-bereaved families - their first Christmas after a loss looks very different from the one they had envisaged and those ideals may not resonate much at all.

In the Gregorian calendar, December holidays are closely followed by a new year, which is often symbolised by hopes, new plans and goals. For parents entering their first year after losing a baby or child, it can be especially painful. The sense of time moving forward into a new year can evoke a sense of moving further away from the baby or child who is no longer there.

Here at Red Nose, our bereavement counsellors work closely with families in December. Families often pose the question: “How am I supposed to get through this, while the world around us appears to be celebrating as usual?”

Milestone dates and holidays are common times for grief to re-emerge at its most painful. If you are facing your first holiday season after a pregnancy, baby or child loss, it is common to wonder how you will tolerate or bear the pain.

Here are five strategies you may find helpful as you face this difficult time of year.

1) Allow for flexibility in your plans

Let your friends and extended families know that you need flexibility and understanding over this holiday season. Bereaved parents may need to cancel or change plans at the last minute or may not feel up to making plans at all. Let others know in advance that this may happen – manage your own and their expectations.

2) Anticipate that you may feel a range of conflicting or contrasting emotions – sometimes all at once

Grief is a complex, messy experience. It can prompt sudden, intense emotional responses, often to unexpected triggers. It is common to feel anger and frustration, deep sadness and loss, loneliness, despair, anxiety and fear. The holiday season is an intense period, so you may experience some or all of these even more intensely than you expected.

3) Think about any rituals you may incorporate to honour your baby or child

For some bereaved families, a ritual on important dates can provide some comfort. That ritual may be as simple as speaking about the loss. Some parents plant a tree, light a special candle, visit the cemetery or significant place, or add a memento to a Christmas tree, to remember their baby or child. There are a wide range of ideas online, many of which provide beautiful suggestions.

If nothing appeals or resonates in terms of a ritual, know that this is OK too, and common for bereaved parents. There is no right or wrong way in how families choose to keep their babies and children close.

4) Consider having external supports lined up in case you need them

Speaking with someone outside your personal network can be helpful. Professional support can form a part of this. During the summer holiday season, regular professional supports, such as psychologists and counsellors, are sometimes on leave.

If this is going to be the case, discuss with them in advance what other accessible supports, such as the Red Nose Grief and Loss 24/7 Support Line (1300 308 307).

Speaking with someone else who has experienced a similar loss, either through an online group or in person, might be a useful resource during this time. Try to create a safety net, which is there ‘just in case’.

Try to create a safety net, which is there ‘just in case’.

5) If shopping for presents is especially painful or triggering, consider buying gifts online instead

Shopping centres can trigger sensory overload at the best of times, let alone in December when you may already feel more vulnerable or fragile than usual.

Know that it is OK to protect yourself from some experiences if you need to, rather than believing you have to push through and do things purely because that is how you have done them in the past.

Remember that you are not alone – Red Nose Grief and Loss Support Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week every day of the year. Call us anytime on 1300 308 307.


Last reviewed: 29/9/20