Experts in the Media

Debbie Childs – Body + Soul

Chief Executive Officer at HelpingMinds

How to help a loved one navigate grief at Christmas time

It can be a difficult time for some.

Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be an incredibly hard time of the year for those who have lost a loved one. Here’s how to support someone who may be grieving a loss. 

Whether it’s your first time with someone missing at the table, or you’ve learnt to navigate the grief over a number of years, almost everyone has a story, and this is part of mine…

On our very first date, my now husband bravely shared a profound part of his life that would shape our journey together.

Over a quiet dinner, he delicately described the devastating loss of his first child, Daniel… an unimaginable event that occurred 40 years ago this December.

It’s a story marked by heartbreak, grief, and the enduring love for a firstborn, a fleeting presence that left an indelible impact.

Our first Christmas together was a revelation of sorts. With quiet strength, he described how the holiday season is a jarring reminder of the son he lost. Each twinkling light on the tree, each carol sung, echoed with thoughts of Daniel, a child who’d never had the chance to grow, unwrap a Christmas gift or hang an ornament on a tree.

Despite the passage of time, his grief is not a relic of the past but an ongoing narrative. It intertwines with the mundane moments of everyday life, like a quiet undercurrent. It doesn’t fade with time, rather it lingers, woven into the fabric of our shared history.

As we approach this historic Christmas memory, the air becomes heavy with the weight of his loss.

As a partner it’s my role to stand beside him, to understand that even after 40 years it’s an ongoing narrative that requires patience, compassion, and recognition. It’s about holding space for the memories and allowing tears and laughter to co-exist.

I know this will resonate with many people as they take a seat at the Christmas table this year. So here are some ways we’ve learned to navigate grief during the holiday season:

Create meaningful traditions

Establishing new traditions can provide purpose and continuity. Consider activities that celebrate your loved one’s life. We’ve found solace in crafting a special Christmas ornament to honour Daniel’s memory every year. These rituals provide a tangible connection to a soul who touched our lives briefly, but profoundly.

Acknowledge and express emotions

Grief is complex, and the holidays can amplify feelings of sadness. It’s crucial to acknowledge and express emotions openly. Joy can be tinged with sadness for many during Christmas. Support them however you can.

Self-care isn’t selfish

Taking care of your mental and emotional well-being is essential. Whether it’s spending quiet moments reflecting, engaging in things that bring comfort, or seeking professional support. Self-care is not selfish, it’s a necessary aspect of navigating grief and maintaining overall well-being.

Be gentle, be kind

Recognise that everyone copes differently, and the holiday season may evoke varied responses. Offer patience, compassion, and a non-judgmental space for each family member to navigate the season their way.

Create inclusive celebrations

Embrace flexibility in your holiday plans, allowing for variations in the level of festivity. Whether it’s a subdued gathering or a more traditional celebration, understanding and appreciating someone else’s grief can mean a lot to them.

What I’ve learnt is that love beyond loss is not about erasing grief but learning to co-exist with it.

It’s about embracing the complexities and finding meaning in the enduring love that binds us. Through the lights and shadows of the holiday season, we continue to navigate this path hand in hand and heart in heart, acknowledging that grief is not an obstacle but an integral part of our story.

A story of love, loss, and the unwavering connection with Daniel, who will forever live in our hearts.

Please be kind to one another this festive season, and recognise that love and loss, joy and sadness often intertwine… as Queen Elizabeth said, “Grief is the price we pay for love…”

Deborah is Chief Executive Officer of HelpingMinds leading a team of over 100 to improve our community’s mental health and wellbeing.

*In loving memory of Daniel John Tebby 4 March, 1983 – 30 December, 1983.