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Advice for Christmas – Expectations & Guilt

This Advice for Christmas is focusing on Expectations and Guilt.

When someone we cared about has died we can often feel lonely, isolated or overwhelmed. We may long for our friends or family to come and rescue us or we may long to be alone and hide away from the world, both are natural reactions and are ok to feel. The responsibility for making the best of your situation begins with you, so drop all expectations you have of yourself and what you should be doing and focus on what you want to do and what you feel is right for yourself.

As well as the expectations we place on ourselves, you may find that you have also high expectations of others. I had high expectations of my closest friends, but it was the distant ones who pulled through. On the morning of receiving the phone call that would set me on this journey through grief there was a knock at the door. I’m standing in the kitchen, half ready to go to work, half in my pyjamas with tears all down my face and I open the door to one of my mums’ friends, a funeral director from Leicester. As soon as he had heard the news, he had jumped into his car with the largest bouquet of flowers and come to be with us. What happened next, we all still laugh about, our first laughter just a few hours after the death…I shut the door, leaving him outside in the cold and shouted for my Mum. After this happened, I removed all expectations immediately. It wasn’t that my friends didn’t care, it’s that they didn’t know how to support me.

A quote that I read has always stuck with me, “Not every day is going to be good, but there is good in every day”. His gesture meant the world.

Christmas is going to feel different, we can’t deny that. If you find that you want to shut yourself away and spend Christmas alone that’s ok, but try to plan in one or two things that will give you some comfort and pleasure, even if you are choosing to overlook Christmas completely. It is so easy to hide away because we fear we might get upset or emotional. Why deny yourself the opportunity of company or even support and comfort off those around you? Just in case you change your mind, its always good to have a backup plan.

I can’t really remember much about the day I answered the phone to the worst news possible. Emotions just kept coming in waves, sadness, pain, panic… over and over. There are many emotions in grief and often we feel multiple emotions at one time – this is what was happening to me.  I remember thinking I need to pull myself together, my family need me to be strong and really, that just wasn’t the case. It took me a few months to let myself go and stop running through this repetitive cycle, but when I did a new set of emotions set in, the main one being guilt. I felt guilty because I irrationally thought maybe I could have changed what happened, for beginning to laugh again, enjoy myself and at some points, I forgot that there was a key part of my family missing.

I remember sharing this feeling with a friend and they told me “You shouldn’t feel that way, you have nothing to be guilty about”, but the truth of it is, guilt is a feeling, for me it was in the pit of my stomach and would travel up to my chest and I couldn’t just switch it off. Feelings need to be validated which is why I had to find a way to accept my guilt and move forward with my life – no one could just simply tell me to stop feeling that way.

Guilt is one of those overwhelming emotions that many of us feel when a loved one has passed away and can be especially heightened at Christmas time – here we are enjoying Christmas when our loved one has died. If you do feel guilty, ask yourself what you would want your loved one to do if it was you who had died, or perhaps what your loved one would have said if they knew how you were feeling. For those moments where everything feels so overwhelming, try to take 5 minutes and focus on your breathing, this may help to put you in a calmer place. I tried this during those moments where I felt I was on the edge of letting the guilt control my actions, our ‘empty chair’ would never have wanted any of us to feel guilty for living. I would go and hide, take five minutes in the laundry room – the room where I was least expected to be found – and re-evaluate the situation, almost like pressing reset. Eventually I realised that the only thing I could do was forgive myself. It didn’t happen overnight but every time the guilt crept in, I replaced that thought with a positive one.

Guilt is such a huge topic to cover, should you feel like you need a little extra help with coping with guilt, our Dandelions Grief Journey Programme has a section teaching how to approach it. Next years programme dates are almost finalised, if you would like to be put onto the waiting list for any of these programmes, please contact Fay Bloor on 01332 345268 or email