No longer with us: Remembering loved ones in the festive season

Grief Awareness Week is at the beginning of December for a good reason. It’s a season when most religions have a winter festival. When our family reunites, eats together and shares gifts, it’s inevitable that we remember those we have lost.

Students returning home from university may become starkly aware of how the family has changed in their absence. Holidays are a time to relinquish the distractions of work and study and allow space for our thoughts and feelings. We recall happy times spent with the lost loved one and the pain of losing them strikes home again. It’s no coincidence that January is the busiest month for bereavement counselling services.

Part of the problem is not accepting that it’s okay to be not okay, healthy to be sad. We hold our grief too close so as to protect those we love. But shared grief dissipates. Fond memories and funny stories make us smile. “Remember how Dad wouldn’t open a present until he’d shook it, squeezed it and guessed what it was?” Talking shoos the elephant out of the room.

Rituals help too. A bauble decorated with a name, a candle lit in memory, cooking or baking Grandma’s favourite recipe; whatever it takes for your family to look back in fondness. Rituals deliberately recognise and celebrate something precious.

Make those you have lost part of your festivities this season. I can promise you that it nearly always helps.

Dr Wilson is hosting a free public talk at York St John University on The Myths of Coping with Loss

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