Christmas Survival Guide: Good Grief

Grief is tough, but it is not something that should be ignored, creating a safe space and a positive place to remember the loved ones we have lost is key to the grieving process.

Grief can come in many forms. We grieve for friends, family and loved ones, but also following this year, the normalcy of 2019, the lost careers and other aspects of life we all took for granted before Covid hit. Christmas can be a particularly tough time when remembering those no longer with us.

To help you through this, After The Storm have brought together ways for remembering those we've lost in a positive space and less scary way. 

Verity and Nicola share their own unique insight into dealing with the 'difficult aspects of grief' and provide tips on how to open up.

How do you feel when thinking about how to bring up grief with your family during the Christmas period? How do you think the rest of the family would handle it? 
Verity: It is something that we talk openly about in our house, especially after losing my Dad and Mum, it has become quite evident that it is still a prominent feature in my childrens lives and as such I like to share stories and fond memories, it certainly helps.  We have another form of grief this year though in the strange times where we cant see my parents in law as they live down South and have had to shield through Covid so some of our normal Christmas traditions are on hold, so I encourage video calling a shared activities.
Nicola: My family aren’t the biggest “talkers”..something which only became apparent once my siblings and I realised what we needed to do was talk things out. Talking about lost grandparents still stirs up lots of emotion within myself and my family but it’s no longer as taboo as it was in past years and now we’re getting better at it being much more positive and less of a scary subject for us all. 

How would you start a positive conversation to remember those people or parts of our lives we’ve lost over the Christmas period? 
Verity: I’d simply start with ‘Do you remember when….?’ or ‘Did I ever tell you about the time….?’ and share a story that made me happy and that I think they could relate to.
Nicola: Similar to Verity I’d ask questions about Christmases past. How did you celebrate? Who did what on Christmas Day? I think in doing so you’re remembering happy, lovely cherished memories and people in the process. 

How would you react when someone becomes emotional when talking about those we’ve lost? 
Verity: I’m a hugger, its not everyones thing but my initial response would be to hug or place a comforting hand on their shoulder and invite / allow them to continue speaking, I can't always guarantee to keep dry eyed, having experienced the very very real pain of losing my parents and also since being a mother my empathic responses are at times off the charts.
Nicola: I’m a listener. I’d give them space to feel what they need to feel. I’ve had to grow out of the habit of avoiding my feelings and not really dealing with them so I’m a huge cheerleader for letting it out, having a good cry if needed and talking to others if I need to. It’s all about helping people to acknowledging how they feel and not burying it down for me. 

How do you think we can help children to express themselves when experiencing grief? 
Verity: we can invite children to speak to us, but if they find that tough writing down their feelings can also help, or drawing a picture and explaining what it's about.  If a child opens up about how they are feeling we should not try to fix what they are saying we should just let them know we are there to support and listen and love them unconditionally.  Grief and loss in children can come in many forms and it isn't alway sadness, it can be raging uncontrollable anger or impulsive behaviour, remind yourself of what might be going on and understand that out of character behaviour will have a trigger.
Nicola: I like Verity’s point around drawing pictures and using this as a tool to communicate. With young children storytelling and drawing can help to visualise or explain their feelings that they maybe couldn’t articulate otherwise. I think it’s also important to create an environment where it’s ok to feel negative emotions and talk about them. The “Good vibes only” movement is great but children need to feel safe in talking about the good and the bad feelings they experience 

Where would you turn to for help with supporting your partner/children/family/friends to handle grief they might be feeling? 
Verity: Seeing as though I am specifically talking about the loss of a loved one, remember that there are a lot of resources available, firstly your funeral director will have a whole host of resources, not just at the time you are involved with them but even a year or more after the death of the loved one.  If your loved one had received care in a Hospice Environment, they run amazing bereavement programmes, then you can turn to online resources (that can be found via After the Storm, Grief UK, The Good Grief Trust, Cruse Bereavement etc…)  Most importantly do not try to navigate grief on your own as there is so much help and support out there.
Nicola: Honestly, before being part of After the Storm, I’d really struggle to answer this! I was clueless! However, now I feel like I’ve got a great network to find help for my friends or family through whatever grief they might experience. Tommy’s is a fantastic charity for bereaved parents which unfortunately a couple of close friends have needed support with. The Good Grief trust have just hosted an entire festival focused on opening up the conversation around Grief and Loss so the ship is turning in terms of the stigma and taboo that grief carries currently until then 

Here’s some useful tips from Cruse 

Coping with Grief at Christmas | How to Face Christmas Without a Loved One (