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Blog – Thoughts on grief at Christmas time

Ailsa Hill, School Counsellor (East Lothian), offers some personal reflection and suggestions for remembering, during National Grief Awareness Week.

2020 has been such a strange and challenging year in so many ways. There has been so much talk of death and dying in the media that it’s a topic that has been more obvious to us all, whether we know someone who has died or not. Because of the pandemic, restrictions have meant that people who have been bereaved have not had the same opportunities to get support from family and friends – to talk about memories, for example, and share a hug.

Grief Awareness week this year runs from 2nd to 8th December. Their campaign slogan is #ShareYourStory. With that in mind I thought I would share my own 2020 story with you.

My dad died in April this year. Due to health issues he had spent the previous 16 months being well looked after in a care home. I visited him regularly and was pleased that we were able to chat, share stories and experiences, and laugh together. He taught me so much over the years. Early in March his care home went into lockdown and no-one was able to visit. We spoke several times a week on the phone and via Skype but he missed actually seeing people and I certainly missed seeing him. His death happened suddenly and we did not have the chance to say goodbye. Five of us attended the funeral, with other family and friends watching in their homes via a live stream. It was different from what we might have imagined but we were able to make the funeral personal to him and meaningful for the family. However it was difficult not being able to sit together or to hug each other. It’s hard to believe that was seven months ago. My dad will always be special to me and I feel privileged that he was in my life for so long.

For each of us grief is different. Our experience is our own and within families people respond to a death in different ways. Our grief is related to different factors including, how the person died, the relationship we had with the person who has died, who we are as individuals, and our past experiences.

Times such as Christmas can be difficult. Some people find it helpful to mark these days in a special way. It can be useful to think about this beforehand and plan what you would like to do.

If you think you would like to remember someone at this time, here are a few suggestions:

  • Light a candle in their memory
  • Write, or make, them a Christmas card and write your own message in it
  • Set a place for them at the table
  • Raise a toast during your meal
  • Spend some time sharing memories together
  • Hang a special decoration for them on your tree – you could make or decorate your own decoration
  • Make a donation to a charity in their memory

As a family we always spent Christmas day with my mum and dad – sharing a meal, exchanging presents, playing games and making music together. This year will be different and I know that I will miss my dad’s smiling face, his delight in being part of it all, and his laughter.

For me personally, I will be remembering that smile and thinking of the times we spent together. And when I put my tree up perhaps I will put a special decoration on it for him.

Ailsa Hill, School Counsellor (East Lothian)