When you’ve lost someone you love, the Christmas holidays can seem far from the happiest time of the year. And grief at Christmas can feel particularly hard. From making new traditions to simply surviving in one piece, here are our 12 tips for getting through the festive season after a bereavement.
If you’ve recently lost a close family member or friend, this Christmas will inevitably be different. Before you make plans, try talking about the fact that it might be really hard this year. That way others will feel that it’s OK to be sad and there’s no pressure to put on a brave face.
Family relationships often get strained around Christmas, and if you’re coping with grief, you might feel extra anxious about getting together. Be open about your own needs and flexible around other people’s. If you can’t face organising a meal or visiting relatives, maybe a family walk or video call could work? Likewise, if someone really needs company, explore ways to help them feel supported.
We all handle bereavement in different ways, and the festive season can bring back memories that intensify your feelings. To lessen the physical effects of losing a loved one and look after your mental health, stick to a basic everyday routine: Get up, eat regularly, get some daylight and exercise, and keep in touch with people around you.
T’is the season to be boozing – but drinking or doing drugs to dull your feelings after a bereavement can make you feel a lot worse, and lead to arguments, depression, even addiction. If you’re drinking too much, see point 3, and ask for help.
Christmas traditions can seem meaningless when your loved one isn’t there to share them. If something doesn’t bring you joy, don’t do it. It’s OK to not write 37 Christmas cards or cover the house in multicoloured twinkling reindeer – motivation after losing a loved one to participate in festive activities can be hard to find. Go away somewhere new, curl up on the sofa, or skip the celebrations completely. The people who love you will understand.
There are many ways to keep your loved one’s memory alive at Christmas. For example, light a candle by their photo or grave, decorate a bauble – or the whole house – in their honour, serve their favourite food, or buy something they would have loved and give it to someone who really needs it.
If you’re ready, try creating new traditions that suit your life now. If turkey was never really your thing, maybe now is the time for steak and chips, sushi or a slap-up veggie meal? Or donating to charity instead of buying presents and inviting the neighbours around for mince pies.
Mentioning people we’ve lost can feel comforting. Make a toast to them, or to ‘absent friends’, on Christmas Day. And if it feels right, watch old video clips or look through photos together.
Sometimes focusing on other people’s needs can give you a break from your own grief. If you’re feeling up to it, offer a helping hand to someone else who is struggling – it is Christmas after all.
If you’re missing them terribly, don’t keep it all bottled up. Pour it into a letter or Christmas card, paint or draw a favourite memory, belt out a Christmas classic (with or without an audience), talk to someone or join a grief support group. You’ll feel better afterwards.
Try thinking about things you’d like to do in the coming year. From painting your bedroom or joining a choir to starting bereavement counselling or moving house: make a list of things that will make you feel better. You might change your mind, but at least you’ll emerge from Christmas with some ideas for what your future could look like now.
Grief can suddenly lift like fog when you forget for a moment that they’re gone. If it happens, don’t feel guilty – allow yourself some happiness in the middle of it all.
To meet others who are also going through grief, join Untangle’s free online peer support groups.
The Samaritans provides a free confidential listening service 24/7, all year, with no judgement or pressure.
It doesn’t mean you didn’t know them; it just means they weren’t what you thought – they were more than you thought.
Once someone you loved is gone, you might think there’s nothing left to learn about them. After all, you cannot create any new memories together. But sometimes you discover new information that casts everything you thought you knew about them into a whole new light.
If you are one of the family or friends responsible for sorting through the contents of a home, a storage locker, or a safe-deposit box, you might expect to find familiar trinkets or long-hidden treasures. But there is always a chance you will find documents or mementos you never even suspected existed.
Closing out the material aspects of a loved one’s life can often be overwhelming or even painful. When you remove their belongings from their physical space, it can seem like losing them all over again, and heightened emotions can leave you crushed by memories that flood back all at once. If in the midst of all that you also discover secrets you weren’t meant to see or facts that your loved one neglected to mention, it can feel too huge to manage. Even if they’re happy secrets, the revelation can be very unsettling.
Knowing what to do with a loved one’s social media accounts when a loved one dies can be tricky. Some find the ghostly notifications deeply upsetting, whilst others like to re-read old messages and posts to remind themselves of precious moments. Some people even use the direct messaging function as a way to write down the things they wish they had said whilst that person had been alive.
There’s no right or wrong way to handle the online accounts of your loved one, but there are options. In this article, we’ll guide you through all the pros and cons of each choice, along with a step-by-step guide on how to take action for each account.
A lot of social media accounts will give you three options: Keep the page as it is, delete the account altogether or turn the page into a memorial of your loved one. Each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, and it’s wise to talk to other members of the family so you’re all comfortable with whatever you decide to do.
Some platforms such as Facebook will keep accounts open indefinitely, whilst others, such as Twitter, will automatically delete accounts after periods of inactivity (in the case of Twitter, this is six months). Keeping the account open allows you to avoid the issue altogether, but it can cause the platforms to send you notifications encouraging you to engage with them, or your loved one may be mistaken for being alive by old friends who may not have heard of their passing.
Deleting the account altogether means that they can’t be found online and old posts can’t be scrutinised by others. Deleting affords the deceased a certain level of privacy, but it will delete all of their posts, photos or messages, so doing this can prove painful to friends and family.
On the page, it becomes clear that the person has passed. On Facebook, for example, the phrase ‘Remembering’ is inserted before the person’s name, and it keeps all the person’s content on the page, whilst removing birthday reminders and taking them out of searches. Facebook even allows users to appoint ‘legacy contacts’. These are people who can take over the account once Facebook has been alerted, pin a message to the top of the page and allow the page to accept friend requests. The page effectively becomes a memorial book for people to post messages, which some can find very comforting. It can also be an effective way of letting a lot of people know about your loved one’s passing, especially if you’re having trouble tracking down old friends, or are finding the process of contacting old colleagues or acquaintances very painful.
Here, we cover the following social media accounts and what you can do with them when someone dies:
In this easy to follow step-by-step guide, we’ll show you how to contact Facebook and action whatever you have chosen. Any friend or family member connected with the deceased can do this.
Here, we’ll show you how to deactivate an account on Twitter. Twitter doesn’t currently allow you to memorialise a page like Facebook does. Also, it’s worth noting that Twitter will automatically deactivate an account after six months of inactivity. To deactivate a Twitter account, you must be a person authorised to act on behalf of the estate or a verified immediate family member.
Instagram – like Facebook – will allow you to either memoralise or delete your loved one’s account. Once you’ve decided, you’ll need to run through the following steps:
With WhatsApp, you can only delete the account if you have access to the deceased person’s phone. It’s worth remembering that by deleting the account, you will delete all messages, voice notes and photos that have been sent between your loved one and their friends or family. A lot of special memories could be lost. If you choose to delete their account, follow the instructions below.
To delete a Snapchat account, you’ll need to know the username and password for the account. Anyone with these details can delete the account.
YouTube only allows you to delete a YouTube account, and not to memorialise it. If your loved one was a content creator on YouTube, by deleting the account, you will delete all the videos they produced. It may be worth checking that you have these on other storage systems such as hard drives or cloud storage. To delete a YouTube account, you’ll need to be an immediate family member or a legal representative.
LinkIn, like Facebook, has a function that allows you to nominate a legacy contact who can close their account if they know the person has passed away. If you know your loved one has done this, ask their legacy contact to enact this. If not, a close friend or family member can get in touch with LinkedIn to get the account deleted. Here’s how:
Dealing with this particular area of death admin can be really hard. There are choices to make, you may end up negotiating or even arguing over family members over the best decision regarding these accounts and the paperwork required to get them closed can be tough to pull together. Here are our tips on how to make this process a little easier:
When someone dies, you will need to inform their pension provider. You may be able to claim from their pension depending on your loved one’s age, your relationship to them and the type of pension account that they held.
Accessing a State Pension should be done within the first 12 months after your loved one’s death. Often state pensions will stop being paid after the person dies, but in some cases a spouse or civil partner can inherit some of the pension.
What you get/how you claim depends on whether you reached State Pension age before or after 6 April 2016.
Accessing a Workplace Pension should be done within the first 12 months since your loved one’s death.
Defined contribution pensions, also known as a ‘money purchase’ scheme, allows an individual to build up a pension pot whilst in employment. This pot is used to pay out an income once they reach retirement age, based on how much the person and/or their employer contributed, and how much this pot has grown.
If your loved one had not yet retired, any beneficiaries can usually withdraw all the money as a lump sum and set up a guaranteed income (annuity), or set up a flexible retirement income (drawdown). This might not always be possible, so check the conditions of the pension.
Different tax rules apply when inheriting a defined contribution pension, and it depends on whether the person died before age 75.
A defined benefit pension pays an individual an income based on their salary, and how long they worked for their employer. These are less common, and tend to only apply to public sector or older workplace schemes. Each scheme is different, and any money paid out to any beneficiaries will be outlined in the rules of the pension scheme.
This type of pension often pays out a ‘dependant’s pension’ to anyone financially dependent on the deceased, including a spouse or civil partner, a partner the deceased wasn’t married to or in a civil partnership with, and/or child(ren) under 23. This payment is a percentage of what your loved one was getting, or would have received if they had not yet reached retirement age. This income is often taxable.
If the pension was a small amount, it can often be paid in a lump sum.
If your loved one had not retired:
If your loved one had retired:
If the total value of your loved one’s pension contributions is more than the lifetime allowance, you might have to pay tax on any money you inherit from this.
The lifetime allowance changes every year, but for the tax year 2021/22 it is currently £1,073,100.
As the average UK citizen has six jobs in their lifetime, keeping track of a pension or multiple pension schemes can prove difficult. This article will help you locate any potential lost pension accounts. If you think you have all the accounts, click here for more information on accessing the pensions your loved one held.
Before 1988, it was not a legal requirement for employers to automatically enrol employees into pension schemes. Therefore, if you cannot find pension records for a job your loved one held, they may have not been eligible, or had their contributions refunded.
Most pension providers send a statement every year. Look through your loved one’s paperwork to see if they kept any of these documents. If you can’t find this, there are few ways in which you can find out whether they had a pension.
If you know your loved one held a pension with a certain provider but you can’t find any further details, contacting the provider directly may provide you with some answers, including the value of the pension pot and whether your loved one nominated a recipient for any death benefits.
Contact them with as many details as you can provide, including:
If you don’t know which pension provider your loved one had an account with, their former employer should have the answer to this.
Contact their former employer with the following:
It is also good to find out whether the pension plan was a defined benefit or defined contribution plan, as this may affect your eligibility to access your loved one’s pension.
If you’re struggling to find the answers, the Pension Tracing Service is a free government service that searches a database of over 200,000 workplace pension schemes to find the details you need.
You can call them on 08007310193, or start an application online.
Other places to try:
When relatives go into therapy or grief counselling together after a bereavement, it can help everybody discover precious pieces of their family’s life and heritage, says psychotherapist Anh Doan.
It’s all about communication. When we’re hurting after a bereavement, we often act like wounded children and forget being adults. People start arguing over petty things and judging each other, asking: ‘Why didn’t they send flowers or a card?’ or ‘Why did they put a happy picture of themselves on Instagram’?
The family dynamic also changes when someone dies. For example, if mum was the one we’d all seek comfort from and rely on, we might want dad to play that role when she dies. And when he can’t, we get angry.
If the person who died wasn’t very emotionally present, we might also realise we didn’t know them very well. That can leave us with a horrific feeling that we’ve lost something precious – important pieces of our family’s puzzle.
When people die we can be left with lots of questions. Family therapists can facilitate important conversations that help relatives learn from each other, open up the photo albums and share precious stories. It’s a bit like digging for old coins and vases – it helps us discover the roots of our lives.
Culture plays a big part, especially for new generations. If your grandad was from Jamaica and now you’re a person of colour in the UK, you might realise you never got to ask him how it was to come here in the 1960s.
If the relationship was terrible or the person who died hurt you, we can ask what you’d like to say to the person who has passed away and explore how to best support you now. This can help close old doors and open new ones.
During this process people start to see life differently and relate better to each other, as well as to the person we’ve lost.
There’s a stigma around mental health, but if you put it into physical injury terms people are often prepared to help. If your brother or daughter broke their ankle you’d be the first to call an ambulance.
With bereavement, sometimes all we can see is a grumpy or angry person, but they are in pain. And grief can trigger depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma. So we need to give each other a hand emotionally too.
It’s also about bonding – a chance to connect with your heritage, your inner self, and your family. In this culture we often hide behind closed doors when we feel vulnerable, but we still crave being together.
Family therapy is about everyone working together towards a common goal. People often agree to come when they see that everyone will gain. We always establish firm boundaries to make sure everyone respects and listens to each other.
Systemic or family therapy focuses on how people see themselves within a wider dynamic. Even twins are different in terms of how they perceive their roles.
For family grief counselling or therapy to work, everybody needs to commit to the same goal. It is a massive investment – timewise, emotionally and financially – and a luxury because you usually have to pay privately. It’s much more complex than individual therapy but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it.
Sessions last 60-90 minutes with a maximum of four people, usually immediate family. We can be flexible, for example, an individual might prefer to come alone before the rest of the family joins in. You also need a therapist robust enough to hold it together.
Now with Covid, things can feel worse for people who are grieving, isolated and alone. But working on Skype and Zoom is working well, especially for families that are spread out across different countries.
Anh Doan is Head of Counselling at Talking Counselling, an Untangle partner organisation.
Here are some ideas for organising a memorial event to celebrate the life of someone you’ve lost.
By Hannah Jackson-McCamley, Funeral Celebrant
Hannah is an experienced celebrant who specialises in unique services that truly reflect the person that has died and the needs of those left behind. She is passionate about people, music, literature and travel and is training to be a psychotherapist.
While a memorial honours the life of a person who has died, it tends to be a much more joyful and uplifting event than a funeral.
The ceremony can be as simple or extravagant as you want. I’ve led very formal events, casual and relaxed ones. The tone is set by the person being remembered and the people attending.
Memorials don’t have to be expensive or involve lots of work. Always ask for help – many people like to be involved and show that they care.
Here are some ideas to think about (these might be useful for planning a funeral too):
A memorial doesn’t need to be sombre – let your loved one’s personality guide you.
This isn’t a wedding so an email will do fine. You could include a picture of your person, plus:
Whatever you decide, the most important thing is to feel that you are memorialising your loved one in a meaningful way that brings you and your family comfort as you navigate life without them.
After their son Josh died suddenly, psychotherapist Jane Harris and filmmaker Jimmy Edmonds discovered creative ways to rebuild their lives and support other bereaved families.
“The agony of untimely or parental grief is beyond words,” says Jane Harris. In 2011, her 22-year-old son Josh had a road accident during a trip to Vietnam and never came home. “When Josh died, I discovered that nothing much helped”. Jane and her husband, Jimmy, also found that grief can be a very lonely journey. “I realised bereaved people represent other people’s worst nightmares,” she says. As a psychotherapist Jane knew nothing could take the pain away: “You have to get alongside the grief and tolerate the discomfort.” But years of training to support others is very different from experiencing the death of your own child.
To escape the silence and isolation at home, Jane and Jimmy – a BAFTA award-winning film editor – decided to take a road trip. They wanted to meet other bereaved families and learn from their hard-won wisdom. Having met in film school, they decided to make a film in their son’s memory. The result was A Love that Never Dies, a moving insight into grief across Vietnam, India and the USA.
The experience would also teach them something new: That articulating their grief actively and creatively was the key to making it more bearable. More films followed, Jimmy wrote a book called Released and in 2015, The Good Grief Project was born, founded on their family’s experiences of losing Josh. Today, their small charity encourages people grieving the untimely death of a loved one to express their pain through photography and film, talks and retreats – even boxing workshops.
Approximately 6,000 young people aged under 24 die in the UK every year, leaving up to 50,000 bereaved relatives who often don’t know where to turn. “We live in a culture of silence when it comes to talking comfortably about death” says Jane. “But silence is deadly. Grief will find its way out either psychologically or physically. If we don’t acknowledge it, it can be catastrophic.” She says countless people have described watching their films as a turning point, because they realised there was hope out there. As well as supporting people to open up about bereavement, The Good Grief Project provides ways to create continuing bonds with the person they’ve lost. For example, using photos of their child to create a montage.
By the end of a weekend retreat, Jane often notices a difference in participants’ body language. “They’re amazed at what they can create and start to show other people instead of wanting to keep it private,” she says. “Through photography or just being with other people they’ve been able to take the mask off and be themselves”. At a time when we’re wearing masks physically as well as metaphorically, she feels it is more important than ever to give our grief a voice. A new film, Beyond the Mask, tackling loss and isolation during Covid-19, will screen online early in the new year.
The Good Grief Project has always been a family venture. During their retreats, Josh’s sister Rosa does the cooking, while his older brother Joe, a personal trainer, runs boxing and fitness workshops, having learned to handle his own depression by being physically active. They welcome siblings as well as parents. “Bereaved siblings appreciate having a voice,” explains Jane. “They lose their parents in a way because they are so grief-stricken and watching out for them is a double whammy.” Almost 10 years after losing Josh, she feels the experience has changed her for the better. “There is definitely life after the death of a child. I would do anything to bring my son back, but he has taught me so much since he died.”
“It’s a huge relief when you realise that grief can become part of your life,” she explains. “You learn to carry that person with you and fold them into your heart. We’ve created new rituals – at Christmas we raise a glass to Josh – we talk about him, and there are pictures of Uncle Josh in my grandchildren’s bedroom. “As time has passed my love for Josh doesn’t lessen. You love your child forever.”
Image – Photo montage of Josh © Jimmy Edmonds
At just ten years old, Anna’s world was turned upside down by the sudden death of her older brother, Benny. She shares how she coped after experiencing a close bereavement at such a young age and how losing her brother has impacted her life.
When Anna was ten years old, her family were out one day, and Benny stayed at home alone for a few hours. During this time, Benny had a tragic accident and was found dead by a family friend. He was just twelve years old.
Anna has many happy early childhood memories of playing with Benny, who was two years older than her, and her other three brothers. She remembers, “Benny and I spent a lot of time playing together. We’d imagine we were pirates in our den in the living room or play football together in our local park. We argued too, of course, usually over silly things like who had been given the biggest portion of pudding.”
Like most ten-year-olds, Anna had never thought about grief before, but found her view of the world changed at that moment. “It was a complete shock. I’ll never forget the sickening, numb confusion that I felt when I first found out. It honestly felt like my whole reality had been pulled from underneath me. It was a tragic, seemingly random event that changed everything.” she remembers.
In the early days after Benny’s death, relatives and friends rallied around: visiting, helping with the shopping and cooking, or simply sitting with Anna and her family. Anna feels lucky that she felt so surrounded by love at that time but recognises that grief can be very isolating for many people. She also credits her friends with providing some much-needed normality and fun. “There are a few friends, in particular, whom I spent a lot of time with, not necessarily talking about the loss, but doing ‘normal’ fun things that offered some light relief and reminded me that things could be good again”.
In the year after Benny died, Anna and her family visited a family therapist who helped them open up and communicate with each other. However, it was when Anna saw a counsellor almost ten years later that she feels she started to process Benny’s death. She says, “This support was invaluable and really helped me understand how the death has impacted my life, and how to move forward in a healthier, happier way. Things have been better since I learnt to let myself feel, rather than blocking out difficult thoughts and feelings. I’ve become much kinder to myself.”
Anna has also found that writing can be therapeutic, whether scribbling incoherent sentences in a journal, writing poems and stories, or writing letters to the dead. “It often makes me cry, but in a good way. It really helps unjumble my thoughts and let go of painful emotions. It can make me feel more connected to my brother, too, like he is still alive in some way.” she explains.
Sibling loss can often affect the relationship between the surviving child and their parents. At such a young age, Anna had only ever seen her parents as a source of safety and love. She found it painful to realise how much they were hurting and scary that this was a situation that even they couldn’t fix. Her parents were able to continue showing love to Anna and her other brothers, despite their grief, but she remembers feeling that there was no space for her to be a child any more, with a normal child’s wants and needs. From her 10-year old’s perspective, Anna didn’t want to be a burden when her parents were already dealing with so much, and she felt a responsibility to grow up quickly to make things easier for them.
Anna remembers feeling like she had to be a ‘good’ child, which has had repercussions throughout her life. “I pushed my struggles to one side, which in the long run has been exhausting and lonely.” she reflects. “It’s no ones’ fault; we were just doing what we could to get through. Despite these challenges, I’m grateful that our relationship has always been grounded in love and that we found a new sort of closeness as we fumbled our way through our loss – a closeness that becomes more and more precious as time goes on.”
It’s normal for grief to change as time passes, and we find new ways of coping with feelings and remembering our lost loved ones. Anna feels a sense of peace and acceptance about the loss of her brother but admits that she still does have bad days, where she goes right back to that raw grief, missing her brother and mourning the loss of a care-free life. She has found ways to manage these waves of grief and says, “I always come out the other side. I wish my brother hadn’t have died, but it taught me a lot about who I am, and has shown me how precious life is.”
Anna credits her friends, family and professionals for supporting her through her grief journey. She recognises that having an outlet to express her grief, and accepting love and support from the people around her have been crucial to her healing.
“It’s been tough, and it’s not a journey I would have ever chosen, but I’m making the most of it and re-discovering just how beautiful life can be, regardless of the challenges it throws at us.”
Anna is a writer who has set up an organisation to support bereaved university students, the Student Grief Network, where she provides online resources and staff training. To see more of her work, you can find her blog here.
Image – Anna with her brother Benny and family. © Private
After Sarah, 47, lost two people in her life, Untangle’s online bereavement sessions gave her a safe space to talk about her grief and gain a sense of community with other people.
I found Untangle after experiencing two very different losses in a very short space of time. First I lost my dad, and then just four months later my partner died. My dad was 85 and had had a good, long life. My partner’s death was very sudden – he had a cardiac arrest out of the blue. My first reaction was to bolt out of the house where I had lived for 22 years, cutting everything off. I stripped it all away: left my home, my job, everything. I tried to settle down in Mallorca, where my partner and I had considered living, but it didn’t work out. Importantly, I didn’t access any therapy in Spain – there was very little bereavement care available. I think the UK is much stronger on mental health, with support on offer through your GP and organisations like Mind.
I came back to the UK for a few weeks in March 2020 to be close to my mum, who is in a care home. And then lockdown happened. At this point I hadn’t done any real healing – I’d just gone numb, living mostly in a survival state of fight or flight. I had a real sense of displacement, identifying with what I imagined life could feel like for a refugee – because I’d lost so much: loved ones, my home, my work, my identity. When I couldn’t go anywhere because of Covid-19 I finally had a meltdown. I had to learn about self-care and begin to forgive myself for my decisions.
A friend had heard about Untangle and sent me a link, so I just filled in a simple form online. Then I was contacted about joining a free bereavement support group and started attending Zoom sessions on Sunday mornings. It worked brilliantly for me. It was scary to potentially open up in front of strangers, but we were all there together under the umbrella of grief. And it felt safe because we had a therapist and a moderator with us. They didn’t always get involved, but when something deeper was triggered it was important to have a professional there.
It felt very scary to finally face my grief once the shock had subsided. But then I just fell into the routine and decided to show up for myself and for the group. It gave me a sense of community and felt very inclusive. Little comments or suggestions that someone made could make a big difference. Meeting on a Sunday morning also reminded me of going to church in my childhood, and was a good time for quiet reflection. I did sessions every week for three months. Other people came for one week or a few weeks at a time. As time went by I recognised that I was in a really strong place, and had processed a lot of stuff. Eventually it felt like the right time for me to leave and occasionally pop back in to support others – that’s my intention now.
Being part of the online group showed me what enormous power can come from sharing in a safe space with others who are grieving. You can rock up and you don’t have to say anything – just gain a sense of connection by sitting with others who understand the extremity of losing a loved one.It’s so important to give yourself time, even if it’s just an hour, to show up to that place that you naturally want to avoid, because you just don’t want to feel anything when you grieve. Being witnessed, and witnessing others, and feeling part of a community online is incredibly effective. It’s an act of self-care – subtle but life changing, because it allows you to take the next step.
If you want to join in the Untangle community, click here.
Image – Sarah with her partner, Lester. © Private