In many parts of the world right now, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The lights, the music, the decorations! That Hershey’s Kisses commercial where they ring like little bells! What a delight! If Christmas is your thing, this is the season to deck the halls and jingle all the way.
That being said, it is well known that the Christmas season can be a difficult time for lots of people. There are so many reasons why this might be the case: some people have family obligations that oblige them to spend time with people they don’t get along with very well, and others have work or other commitments that keep them away from the people they love. For people who are lonely or grieving, the constant television images of happy holiday families can be hard to watch. Aside from that, there are many people from cultures who do not celebrate Christmas, or who just find Christmas music annoying—but if you live in certain parts of the world, in December the lights and the music become impossible to escape. Christmastime is here… whether you like it or not.
This time of year can be especially challenging for families who are facing the loss of a loved one. Plans may need to be changed or canceled. Celebrations get put on hold and maybe not returned to until next year, when there will be one less plate at the table. Meanwhile, everywhere you look are reminders to be cheerful and happy—it’s Christmas!
As doulas, we need to be sensitive to how our clients are affected by the holiday season. The holidays are already hard for so many people and death and grief are hard for everyone. The combination of the two can potentially make things even worse. Even someone who used to love Christmas might now find it to be a painful time when it reminds them of their grief. If we are working with someone whose grief or pain seems to be even worse because of Christmas, we need to be sensitive to that and find ways to support it.
But we also can’t assume they’re going to feel that way. For lots of people, Christmas and grief will not feel like things that can go together. But for another type of person, a little extra Christmas cheer might be exactly what they need. Maybe Dad loved to listen to Bing Crosby, or Mom loved to watch White Christmas every year with the family—those kinds of things can still be shared with someone in their final days, to make a beautiful Christmas memory for their family to take forward. A specific family I know lost one of their brothers in a car accident several years ago. Christmas was his favorite holiday, and now every year they throw a huge Christmas party to celebrate his memory, and their continuing love for each other.
When it comes to helping your clients through the holidays, as with any other challenge, what they might want or need won’t necessarily be what you might expect. But as always with grief, as long as you make space and listen, your clients will let you know the best way to help them through.