You’re told that Christmas is a time of joy and celebration but for those of us who have lost a loved one, it can be a time when we’re reminded of what we’re missing. Here is Maureen (one of our bereavement counsellors) to share her story and offer some advice for those of you who may be grieving during the Christmas period…

I was inspired to become a bereavement counsellor after my husband died. I wanted something positive to come out of all of the pain and grief and thought the best way to honour him was to use this experience to help others.

Although I can never fully understand what someone is going through, I’m able to use my own experiences and my years of training to make a difference. I feel blessed to have gone through what I have because I can pass on my knowledge to others.

Here at the Hospice, we try to help people acknowledge and understand their loss and their feelings and that how you are feeling is completely natural. You may feel a different person and feel completely lost compared to how you were before your loss. Everyone responds differently to grief and within grief there are some common threads.

Your loss is going to be equal to the love that you have lost. Nobody over exaggerates it; what you’re feeling is always right. In my job I encourage people to understand themselves. The positive thing is that over time we all learn to cope, no matter how ridiculous that may sound at this moment in time.

During the Christmas period grief is often heightened. At Christmas, we spend time with those we love creating memories, so often feel a void when someone is missing, it saddens us to think how much at this time of year our loved one is missing out on.

The advice I would give to people grieving at Christmas is to recognise how they’re feeling is always completely natural although it may feel strange. It’s ok to not feel Christmassy, it’s ok to feel sad and equally, it’s also ok if something makes you smile.

Christmas is a time for family and friends, so don’t be afraid to be honest and tell them how you feel. You may feel you just want to be on your own at times, or for your family not to make a fuss.

If you do decide to spend time with family, if things become too much, consider going into another room and just having a moment to yourself. However you choose to spend your Christmas, it’s important to do whatever feels right for you, everyone is different.

It can be difficult seeing the table set with a seat empty for your loved one. Some people like to have something symbolic of them instead, perhaps light a candle or you could even set them a place at the table, or take a moment to toast them. Christmas is a bittersweet time.

Your relationship with your loved one will always continue but it will continue in a different way. If you have always done something for them at Christmas, then why stop? This can be kept between you and your loved one; it can be part of your ongoing private relationship. It can often make it easier if you bring an element of humour into this, something which would have made you both smile!

My best advice would be not to focus on their absence but to involve your loved one in the day, they will always live in your heart. It’s not unusual to put their last Christmas card up, for some this brings some comfort, if it wouldn’t bring you comfort, then don’t do it. You could even buy them a present or give something to charity in memory of them. It’s important to honour those who have died, and you can do this in any way you choose.

Here at the Hospice, we put on an event called Light up a Life, where we welcome hundreds to the Hospice for an afternoon and evening of music, remembrance and the lighting of our Christmas tree.

Supporters can make a donation to dedicate a light on the tree to their loved one, while their name is also added to our Book of Remembrance.

Seeing so many people join us, you quickly discover you’re not on your own; at Birmingham St Mary’s we’re all part of a community. The love shown at Light up a Life is wonderful, and the atmosphere is fantastic, which is why it’s become a Christmas tradition for so many families and we can’t wait to see you all again this year.

Thank you Maureen for sharing your story with us. Light up a Life takes place on Thursday 12th December this year and everyone is welcome so please join us… Light up a Life.

To find out more about our Family and Carer Support services, please click here.