Divorce Grief at Christmas – Five Tips To See You Through

Christmas is hard when you’re experiencing grief. And divorce brings grief. Grief for the loss of the marriage you hoped to have.

Hopefully, you’ve sorted arrangements for the children by now. If not, make sure you agree something clear, and have it in writing (text or email if nothing else). And get a plan in place well in advance for next year. It will make things much calmer.

But right now Christmas is looming large – the big day is nearly upon us. So consider Divorce Grief at Christmas your first aid if you’re hurting right now. This is about immediate self-care. These are my top five tips to see you through divorce grief at Christmas.

Let yourself be sad

Fake it ‘til you make it can work sometimes. We can sometimes jolly ourselves out of a bad mood. Just like we can overcome our nerves and shine at a job interview. But when it comes to something as profound as loss, there’s no getting away from sadness 100% of the time.

So give yourself space to be sad. If all you can muster this Christmas is the energy to buy a tub of Quality Street and hibernate on the sofa most of the time, do that. Christmas 2020 is going to be quieter for most of us anyway. Take advantage of the break in expectations and do exactly what you need to do for yourself.

It’s important to let the sadness have its moment, otherwise, it’ll be there bubbling under the surface 24/7. You will spend all your energy trying to hold it together. You’ll end the year more exhausted than you are now.

So don’t fight it. Honour your feelings. Divorce Grief at Christmas is real. Let yourself proper ugly cry. And feel the sense of release when it comes.

Be honest with others

Our society isn’t comfortable with sadness, is it? Whenever we witness someone being upset we’re desperate to fix it, to dry the tears and make it better. But unhappiness is just as valid a part of life as happiness. And it’s unrealistic to expect it to go away because we don’t like it.

We all need to get a lot more comfortable being around sadness, and holding space for it. So don’t hide that you’re feeling rotten. Be honest with family about it – including your children.

And know that it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. You can feel sad, and still be glad that your daughter’s thrilled with her new presents. Or that your mum’s got giggly with the mulled wine. Or lifted by whatever glimmers of hope show up. There’s space for all of it and you don’t need to cut off bits of your emotions. Humans are weird and complex. No more so than at poignant times like Christmas.

Tell your children and loved ones, “I’m feeling sad this year but we can still have a festive time. And I know that things will get better.”

Show them that you know you can go through tough times and come out the other side. Even if there are dark moments. It may be the end of your marriage but it is not the end of the world.

There’s a lot to process about your divorce and 2020. And yet, the sun rises each morning. Things will soon feel brighter for you too. 

Focus on what’s important

One of the definitions of grief is sadness that things are no longer as you want them to be. And that applies as much to divorce grief as it does to death. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with is that Christmas won’t ever be quite the same as it was in the past. Or as you’d dreamed it would be.

Perhaps you had a vision of your family all together under the tree opening presents – and that’s not going to happen again. But focus on what it is about that vision that really matters.

It’s likely to be a value rather than something specific. For example, it’s because you care about taking time to share with loved ones. It’s not really that your ex always wore the same silly Christmas jumper. It’s that it was a chance for your family to be silly and happy together. So rather than fixate on the specifics, work with the value that underpins your vision and rebuild it in a new way.

For example, if it was about being light-hearted and merry together while you open presents, how can you adapt that for this year? Can you make Christmas hats or badges for each other? Could you send one to granny so she can wear hers while opening presents on zoom?

It’s true that things won’t be quite the same as they were before. But you can still capture the heart of what matters to you about Christmas traditions. Christmas isn’t about always doing the same things the same way. It’s not about certain foods, or fancy gifts. It’s about digging into what’s most important to you, and creating new memories that centre on that.

Do things for you

It is ok – in fact more than ok, it’s essential – that your own needs are part of your Christmas story. It’s essential to your sanity and wellbeing. It’s also essential to those around you – they need to see you taking care of yourself as well as of others.

You wouldn’t want your child running themselves ragged in thirty years time and feeling relentlessly miserable and put upon. So don’t let them see you do it. It is absolutely appropriate to be clear about your own needs – especially at the moment.

Figure out what anchors you when you’re starting to feel rubbish. Your anchors will be different to everyone else’s, but they might be things like:

  • Going for a walk
  • Talking to a friend
  • Locking yourself in a bathroom with a book
  • Making something: baking, knitting, doodling, colouring
  • Zoning out in front of some feel-good TV

Meeting your own needs doesn’t mean everyone else has to feel let down. It means you get clear on your boundaries and expectations, in an age appropriate way. If you need time to go for a walk while the children stay with the others in your Christmas bubble, do it. If you need space but there’s no-one else around and the children have to come too, put a podcast on and tune them out for a little while.

Be in the moment

Grief can feel never-ending. The bleakness you feel now looks like it stretches out forever. And as much as people tell you that you won’t always feel like this, it’s hard to believe.

What you can do is focus on now, rather than what the future will hold. Most of our worry comes from imagining what might happen in the future. Much of which never comes to pass.

And much of our sadness comes from thinking about the past – either dark times that play over in our minds, or the loss of happier ones. One way to free ourselves from this assault of ghosts and demons is to focus on right now.

Each time you start to feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Try to bring your brain back to your body and what you can sense right now. Focus on what’s under your feet. Pay attention to what you can see, hear, smell and touch.

Your brain won’t stop talking to you. But you can also make space for the present moment in your awareness. This allows your body to calm physiologically, and it also has a calming effect on your brain. Mindfulness is big news in wellbeing circles, and rightly so. You can read more about it from lifehack, here.

Finally, reach out for help

However tough this Christmas might feel, there are people to support you. Here are some key free support networks:

I will be having a break over Christmas, but I will be back in the New Year. I’d love to help you get your divorce done in 2021. Just book in a chat to see how I can support you in the way you need.

Have a gentle, safe and nurturing Christmas! x


About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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