This time of year brings with it autumnal leaves, winter sun and seasonal chilliness. It can lead to a feeling of wanting to hibernate, staying cosy indoors. This can feel exciting, leading to memories of previous years and building expectations - it can also be a difficult time of year for many reasons. There can be a sense of darkness and tiredness as days get shorter.  We can feel societal pressure to conform and act in a happy and positive way that can be the very far from our reality. We are surrounded by images of happy families, and beautiful homes. We can feel financial pressures, and guilt if we can’t afford the things we (and our loved ones) see in the shops and on TV. All of this can cause anxiety, stress, and exhaustion.

For some of us, there is the added enormity of grief. This may be for a family member or a friend. It may be for your child. This is often particularly difficult around festive days and faith days.

There is a theory of grief called Continuing Bonds. As the name suggests, this is about finding ways to reconnect with the person who has died, and maintain our (albeit changed) relationship with them. Grief is an ongoing process and Continuing Bonds acknowledges this. It is an expression of the fact that love never dies, and that grief is an expression of our love for our person who has died.

If this feels like a connection you would like to explore, there are many ways to do this. Though not all suggestions will feel right for you, there will be ways for you to find your own meaningful connections. As with grief, there is no wrong way to build these connections, our relationships are very personal as are our memories, and these connections are personal too. They should be meaningful rather than pressured.

A few examples - it might be meaningful to eat food that reminds you of your person, visit places that were special to them, watch films that they enjoyed. It is okay to talk to them (inside your head, or out loud!) and tell them about your day or special events.
On significant dates, such as birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas or other faith days, we can take some time to feel connected with our person who has died – we might make a cake, or wrap a present they would have liked (this can be sent to charity or kept), write them a card, make a decoration with their name or photo, or listen to music for them. One idea might be for family and friends to write down little memories, and put them all in a jar – these can be taken out and read aloud or to oneself when the time feels right.

It can be difficult to know what to do, and confusing if other family members feel differently – if it is possible to start a conversation before the significant date, this can be helpful, then everyone knows what has been decided. It is likely that others around you will be thinking of the person as well, even if they find it difficult to join in. If others don’t want to join in, it might be that you find a few minutes for yourself to remember your person in a quiet way. 

It may be that you were not able to be with your child for very long or were not able to meet them at all.  You may not have many memories of them, they may not have experienced the things that have been mentioned above. There are still ways to feel connected, still ways to take a moment to honour them. You may want to light a candle for them, put a photo of them in a place that feels significant, have a quiet few moments in reverie for them. 

As a parent, particularly a bereaved one, self-care can feel like a concept we have no time for. The emotional build up to these dates can be tiring, and we may not be aware of how much a toll that is taking on us. We may be more attentive and aware of the emotional needs of those around us at these times, and can forget that we deserve to treat ourselves with the same thoughtfulness. If possible, remember to be extra gentle with yourself around these significant dates.

Here are some links that may be useful in thinking about ways to feel connected.

Hospice UK – How to remember loved ones during the holiday season.