REMEMBERING:  Burstows Funeral Care co-director Don Burstow says it’s important at Christmas to acknowledge the people we have lost and the important part they played in our lives.
REMEMBERING: Burstows Funeral Care co-director Don Burstow says it’s important at Christmas to acknowledge the people we have lost and the important part they played in our lives. Helen Kilpatrick

Coping with grief this Christmas

IT'S okay to laugh or cry on Christmas Day ... or both ... as you remember someone you have lost this year or in the past.

That's the word from Don Burstow, who, as a fourth generation funeral director with brother Trevor, has 36 years in the funeral business, and understands just how difficult this time can be.

He said because Christmas revolved so much around family and friends, loss and the fact that circle was no longer complete, became even more apparent, and it was important to recognise and communicate feelings of sadness rather than trying to hide them.

"We are a society that is focused on the pursuit of happiness and pleasure, but for those really hurting deeply, it's important to feel safe to express that grief," he said.

"Sometimes grief comes to us in waves - then we might feel we can enjoy a few laughs, and then it hits us that that's inappropriate ... it's not.

"Laughing and crying are both very healthy signs. It's inhibition of emotion which is dangerous."

Don encouraged people who had experienced a loss to "be gentle with themselves", and for family and friends to listen rather than trying to, with the best intentions, "jolly" that person out of their feelings or avoid mentioning the person who has died for fear of causing unhappiness.

Sadness, he said, was entirely appropriate, and we shouldn't be afraid of tears or "ruining the occasion" by expressing our feelings.

"The only way beyond grief is through it," he said, and that is likely to involve tears, reflection, even anger, as well as gratitude for that person's life.

"Through embracing sadness comes the healing we need," Don said.

For many it can be like gold to hear that person's name, acknowledgement that they existed and were an important part of our lives. They don't want that person to be forgotten.

One way to do this is to remember that person in a significant way, such as having a photo and a lit candle on the table at Christmas.

Some may want to visit the grave, or a special shared place, have some quiet time away from the festive atmosphere, wear or display a keepsake or special Christmas decoration to remember that person, or set aside time at the table to talk about the person you are missing.

However, just as important as not feeling the expectation to put on a cheery front when you are not feeling that way, is not feeling guilty about enjoying yourself, because life does go on and "there can be celebration even in the midst of sadness".

Don suggested family and friends follow the grieving person's lead.

"Grief and sadness are part of the human experience. It's something we never entirely get over; we just reconcile it into our life experience.

"There's no magic timeline, but it is possible to live and love again, to find fulfilment and joy in life again."


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