How can I cope with Xmas after traumatic grief or loss?

We all love to spend Xmas with our loved ones - this may include family members we don't see much of at other times. For many of us, Xmas symbolizes a time when we connect and come together to express our caring and love for each other - celebrating our closest relationships. We may look over photo albums together, or have other rituals that help us to remember cherished memories of time together.

If you've lost a loved one, though, especially if this has been in traumatic circumstances (for example, if they were killed through road trauma, or killed/disabled by someone else either in war or in the context of family violence), Xmas can be a particularly difficult time of the year to manage. It's hard to be reminded of previous festivities where your loved one was present. If the perpetrator of that trauma is a member of your extended family, there may be glaring reminders of that person in your photo albums, the stories you share, and even in the faces of other family members (for example, where a child resembles either the person who has died, or the person who committed violence against your loved one).

If you suffered from post-traumatic stress, symptoms may resurface - trouble sleeping or eating (or eating/drinking to excess), distressing memories or images of the trauma may intrude. You may be teary, or have a shorter fuse than usual. You may struggle to connect to family members who remind you in any way of the trauma.

It's important to take such good care of yourself, if you are in this situation. It might be tempting to try and convince yourself that's it's all OK now - the trauma may have happened some time ago, it's time to move on. But this sort of self-talk can set you up for being ambushed by painful thoughts, feelings and body-memories that can be difficult to manage.

Some ways to treat yourself with care at this potentially difficult time may include:-

put some time aside on the day to honour and remember your loved one. Share stories about happy times with that person. If you need to cry and talk about the grief, make a space for that too with family members or friends who are OK to allow you to share this with them.
make sure you get plenty of rest, and if you can, avoid foods or drinks that you know may negatively affect your mood or ability to cope.
build time into your day to nurture yourself - maybe play some music, burn some essential oils, go for a walk in nature - whatever soothes and settles your body, mind and spirit.
if you have had counselling for post-traumatic stress, revisit the coping skills you have developed, either by reviewing these yourself, or making time to have a 'refresher session' with your counsellor. You may also want to schedule an appointment for debriefing afterwards.

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