My Father died last year and it was the first Christmas I ever experienced without him. This got me thinking about how it feels for others when someone who ought to be there at Christmas is missing. In this blog, I’ll explore with you what ‘missing’ can mean and how this is a loss we need to grieve. There will also be some suggestions for coping with this grief at Christmas time.
So what do I mean by missing?
Christmas tends to be a time of the year when families and friends gather. It’s then that we really notice the gaps. The empty chair at the table or the present left under the tree. That there are no presents at all this year for that person can be hard to accept. All this highlights the space that person leaves behind and intensifies the feeling that they should be there.
It can be harder to bear someone’s absence when a relationship is difficult and troubled. Although this does mean we don’t have to deal with the difficulties this presents when we are together. But it means we don’t have the chance to resolve our differences.
There are many reasons why people can be missing at Christmas.
An obvious one is that someone has died. But a relationship breakdown can mean the family is now split – perhaps more than one person is missing? A child or adult could have run away or disappeared. They might be unable to share in family celebrations because they are ill. Perhaps in hospital, a hospice or a care home.
And what about when they’re there in body but their personality has gone or is fragmenting due to a condition like Dementia.
Grief applies to all of these situations. A person doesn’t have to die for you to experience a loss. The loss is about them usually being a part of your everyday life. A hole is left when they are not there, whatever the reason.
What if you are unable to grieve?
Numbness is something some people feel when someone dies. The impact of the death can generate too many feelings to process at once. In some circumstances feelings are put to one side because other people need support. This is what I experienced. Then when there was space for me to think about how I was feeling – I felt nothing. That in itself really hurt. When someone dies or disappears in sudden traumatic circumstances it is not surprising for you to feel numbness and shock. The feelings do come through eventually, but you are grieving, even if it seems to others and yourself that you are feeling nothing.
What if the person you have lost has not yet died?
They may still be present physically – how do you grieve that? It can feel wrong to mourn the parts of a loved person that are no longer present when they are not yet dead – rude almost, and yet we still have a loss. It’s important to recognise that you are still grieving even in this situation, but it can feel never-ending.
We all grieve in different ways.
The models of grief various people have written about show us that there are many common features in the grief process. These features don’t all take place in every person and certainly not in the same sequence.
Perhaps we feel angry and confused and unable to cry because we haven’t yet been able to accept what’s happened or we don’t even know what happened.
Next we move into a phase where we feel we can accept our loss and begin to pick up the threads of life again. A couple of weeks later we find an odd sock belonging to the missing person and we’re right back in that angry or hopeless place – this is normal.
Initially, we can feel engulfed by our grief
All we know is that mass of feelings and pain. Then in time, even though the pain doesn’t lessen, a small outer edge of us gradually begins to experience and take part in life again. Life begins to grow and we notice the pain a little less. Suddenly without warning, we feel that we can’t remember what their voice sounds like. We are then overwhelmed by the fear that we might have lost that forever too. Then we fall right back into the black hole of grief again.
In time things change – life begins to grow again
Eventually, we find we have an almost fully functioning life once more. But a hole representing the loss of that person remains and will always remain. We can live again, with the occasional falling back into the hole. Most of the time we now have the ability to crawl back out again when we are ready.
How do you cope with all this at Christmas time?
Christmas will happen – FACT.
No matter how you’re feeling, most of the rest of the country will be celebrating, and there is no escaping it. So what can you do to cope?
Firstly a few DO’s and DON’ts:
DON’T try to pretend they are not missing
DON’T pretend you are not missing them
DO talk about them – if you can
DO give yourself time to think about them alone or with others
DO carry out your usual traditions if you feel you want to
DO introduce new traditions if you feel you want to.
Here’s 10 suggestions of specific ways to cope and manage with the Christmas period. Try to use this as a stepping stone to your own ideas too.
Christmas can be a difficult time but it does not have to be a write-off.
You are entitled to feel and express your feelings and celebrate or not celebrate as feels right for you. This goes for any other family event or celebration.
Giving yourself time and space to cope with your feelings about those who are missing is crucial to coping with transitions and bereavements and situations where you just don’t know when you will see someone again.
If you are in the Hertfordshire area and would like more help with this contact Jacqui by clicking the button below. This will take you to the Heron Counselling website.
If your feelings over this time become overwhelming and you feel you cannot cope – do talk to someone about how you are feeling. Click the button below to find some support.
There is support available over the Christmas period – It may sometimes take a while to get through but please keep trying – they are there for you and will listen.