When someone important has died, Christmas and other special occasions can feel hard to manage. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other occasions can all highlight the painful fact that the person is not there, and how much you are missing them. There can be a strong sense that things can never be the same again, and the first Christmas, birthday or anniversary can be especially difficult.

This information  uses Christmas as an example, but the feelings experienced, and ideas for what might help, can apply in the same way when facing any significant date or occasion. 

It is not unusual for people to feel that they want to ‘cancel’ Christmas when they are bereaved. When everything is so family-focused, the gap in a family is highlighted even more. Families tell us that the run up to Christmas - with all the build-up in the media and in the shops - can be harder to deal with than the actual day itself. You may not have the heart for present shopping, sending cards or festivities. Yet if there are children in the family, it is unlikely that Christmas can be ignored.

What may help?

Everyone grieves differently and you can take what you feel is helpful and relevant from these suggestions:

  • Talk to your family or friends, and ask for specific support, if this is helpful. You might say:

I am going to find the day hard, and it would help me if you could... 

  • Plan the day beforehand, and perhaps include some time together, time for a quiet moment alone, or a way to remember the person. Involving children in making plans can help them to feel included.

  • Do something in memory of the person who has died – for example, visit a significant place, hang a special decoration on the tree, cook their favourite meal or light a candle in their memory. 

  • Keep to traditions that you find comforting, but you could also make some new traditions. For example, create a new way to spend part of the day, take part in fun activities or do something creative. 

  • Recognise that special occasions are likely to be difficult and be gentle with yourself. It may feel important to be there for other family members, but make time for what you need, too. Grief is exhausting, especially in the early days, and can leave you with little energy for much else.

  • If you have children, talk to your child’s school about any activities they do to mark an event such as Christmas or Mother’s Day, so that your child doesn’t feel excluded, and can be given a choice about participating. For example, if their mum has died, for Mother’s Day your child might choose to make a card to remember their mum, or make a card for another family member.

  • Give yourself permission to do something you might enjoy - this does not mean you are grieving any less. There is no time limit on grief, and the connection you have with the person will always be there, even at times when your grief feels more manageable.

There is no right or wrong way to manage a special occasion when you are grieving. What matters is that you are able to do what feels right.

Tips for young people from other bereaved young people

  • Too many feelings? Share them with someone you trust, or write them down.

  • Take your mind off it – watch TV, play on the PlayStation or go outside.

  • Choose something that belonged to the person who died that you can treasure.

  • Listen to music that you like or watch a good film.

  • Create your own space: somewhere safe to go where you can have some time out.

  • It is OK that sometimes you may want to talk about it and other times you may not want to.

  • It is OK to be upset, and also to feel happy or enjoy fun things sometimes. 

  • Spend time with friends, and any pets you have.

  • Write about or draw your thoughts, feelings and memories.

  • Memory books or memory boxes can be helpful. Ask your family for their memories as well.

  • Think about all of the good times you had with them.

  • If you would like to talk to others, there are online message boards and forums for bereaved young people. Just reading other people’s stories can help you to see that you are not alone.

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