Are you ready for Christmas? As I write this it is 18th December and sometimes it feels as though everyone is in the Christmas spirit, excited and counting down. I have to say that while I do generally look forward to Christmas, with a week of work ahead including being the duty doctor on Christmas Eve, I am more focused on getting through the week than I am ready to ‘wind down’. I strongly suspect I am not the only one feeling like that!
For some people, it is even worse.
Christmas is a time of year when you are more or less expected to enjoy yourself. How does it feel, therefore, for those who are low, depressed or have good reason to find Christmas a difficult time of year?
If you have read my previous blogs you may have read the one about the death of my 17 month old son (https://drjongriffiths.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/part-of-who-i-am/). Last week I tweeted about our family tradition of buying a crystal Christmas decoration each year in memory of him (https://twitter.com/DrJonGriffiths/status/1073902853394190337). We have 14 of them now. 14 Christmases, each one reminding us of the worse time of our lives. And that’s the thing about bereavement. Every significant day brings the memories with it. Christmas is just one. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and anniversaries of the day they died. It all jogs the memory, takes you back to those times, sometimes happier ones, sometimes truly awful ones. And at Christmas, you feel like you have to do it all with a smile on your face as everyone else is having fun.
Except, many people are not. Many people are just like me, perhaps just like you. Don’t forget that we will all suffer bereavement at some point. Perhaps not all the death of a child like we did, but grandparents, parents, siblings, friends. We just don’t really talk about it much do we? I personally think we are really bad at talking about death and bereavement, and while we remain in denial of this in polite company, it allows are true feelings to fester and build.
We need opportunities to express how we feel. Opportunities to talk (if we wish it). Opportunities to acknowledge the good times, cry about the hard times, build traditions that will honour memories of our loved ones. Opportunities to be ‘real’ and authentic in our lives.
We need to build some of these opportunities for ourselves – like our Christmas decoration tradition. Sometimes others will create the opportunities for us – we used to attend the annual Edward’s Trust remembrance service around Christmas time for many years which was one such opportunity (https://edwardstrust.org.uk/). Many churches will hold an All Saints or All Souls service at the beginning of November, or incorporate remembering into acts of worship. I am sure other religions do the same. There are even podcasts to listen to where people talk about bereavement – check out The Griefcast for example (https://play.acast.com/s/griefcast).
Whatever we do, I think we need to do something.
So, if you are slightly dreading Christmas because you are missing someone, and feeling battered and lost, please don’t forget you are not alone. There are many, many more feeling just like you. If you need help, please seek it out. A good place to start might be Cruse bereavement care (https://www.cruse.org.uk/), or this helpful webpage from the NHS (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/coping-with-bereavement/).
And if you want to start a tradition of your own – you don’t need permission from anyone. Just do it, there are no rules. I would love to hear about how you remember those who have died, so if you feel you want to – drop me a line (comment on this blog or find me on Twitter @DrJonGriffiths).
Finally, I truly hope that even if you are struggling this year, that you manage to have a peaceful, restful Christmas.
Dr Jonathan is a GP in Cheshire.