With all the stresses there are at Christmas dealing with grief can be one of the most difficult things to handle. I remember reading an interview with Sir Richard Attenborough who said that he and his wife could never tolerate Christmas at home again after his daughter Jane was killed along with her 15 year old daughter Lucy and her mother in law (also called Jane) in the Boxing Day tsunami 2004. He said knowing that there were always a couple of empty chairs made it just too painful, so they went away by themselves to remember his loved ones with just the two of them.
Dealing with grief at Christmas (or any other time) is never easy as people often choose to handle their grief in very different ways and that is not always understood by other members of their immediate family.
A good friend of mine hasn’t celebrated Christmas since she was 12 years old. When I first met her, I didn’t think to question why and just assumed it was because she didn’t like Christmas. But then one year she told me why. When she was 12 a week before Christmas, her younger brother had been knocked off his bicycle and killed in a terrible hit and run accident. Her devastated parents unable to face the thought of Christmas, removed all trace of it from the family home and that was it. Christmas was never celebrated again.
Of course in this case my friend and her two sisters were hit with a triple whammy. Not only had they lost their much treasured brother, from that point on they were never allowed to celebrate Christmas again and they were always left with the feeling that they’re dead brother was far more important to their parents than they were. This view was probably erroneous, even if he was their only son, but the fact is that they never talked about what had happened and how they wanted to handle it made their pain so much worse.
Just as there are those people who can no longer face celebrating Christmas because of their grief there are those people who want to party like it was their last opportunity on earth to do so. Another friend of mine lost her twin brother unexpectedly on Christmas Day one year when he never woke up. The reason turned out to be an undiagnosed heart problem and he could have died at any time. My friend was heartbroken, but she celebrates every year, because she says she has no idea whether it will be her last and she feels she has to live her life for two people
It works for her, but her parents have always wanted to do something very quiet and spend the day just gently talking about their son. She just wants to party. They have clashed over their wish to do things differently.
Because Christmas is supposed to be a celebration it can be quite challenging for some families to deal with their grief in a way that works for everyone. The key as always is how people communicate with each other. If you’re in the position where a loved one has died around Christmas, talk to your relatives and friends about what you want to do when and be open to listening to other people’s views.
If people want to spend their time differently, you may be able to reach some compromise or just do part or all of Christmas separately. The very worst thing you can do is not talk about it at all and add to the sense of grief that any of you are already feeling by misunderstanding someone else's actions.
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