Paul Cuthell: Help on hand for bereaved this Christmas

The sense of grief that many bereaved people feel is often magnified at Christmas. Picture: PA
The sense of grief that many bereaved people feel is often magnified at Christmas. Picture: PA
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IT’S not a time to forget those who have lost loved ones, writes Paul Cuthell

In the coming weeks we will each be preparing for Christmas and looking forward to spending time with those closest to us.

All around us we will be reminded of the most important event in the Christian calendar as the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated across the world. Gifts will be exchanged, families will come together, attend nativity services and participate in the many other events that take place in towns and cities across the world.

However, for millions of people every year there is an empty seat at the table and Christmas celebrations become anything but.

As funeral directors will know, Christmas is often one of the toughest times for bereaved people, especially the first festive season after a death.

The sense of grief that many bereaved people feel is often magnified at Christmas, and those closest to them don’t always know how best to support them or, indeed, sometimes what to say or how to behave.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the tradition of wearing black for a longer period of mourning, the world around them may not even be aware that they are grieving.

The result can be an even more profound sense of loss and isolation that they may already be feeling.

In her thought-provoking blog for Dying Matters, Kate Ibbeson talks about how she felt about Christmas just months after she lost both of her parents in quick succession.

“Being perfectly honest, not many people mentioned my Mum or Dad over that first Christmas without them both. Maybe they didn’t know how to find what they thought were the right things to say, but I really wished they had just said something, anything, to show that this was on their minds.

“Some didn’t even ask how I was feeling about getting through Christmas without my parents.

“Perhaps they didn’t want to risk me getting upset, but I was more upset by people maintaining a distance from me and my grief, by them not saying they were remembering the people I had lost.”

The funeral profession has a unique role to play here. Funeral directors know who has been recently bereaved in their local community and can reach out to those clients that they have supported in the previous 12 months or so to offer additional support over Christmas – or even just to acknowledge how they might be feeling.

As part of the profession’s ongoing commitment to support people in their time of loss, increasing numbers of our members are doing just that and their actions are not just providing a valuable service to those in grief, they are also helping the funeral firms to get to know and create stronger ties with their local communities.

Funeral firms across the country, in conjunction with their local churches, help organise candlelit memorial services for families who have lost loved ones during the year, giving them the opportunity to bring along a small framed picture of their loved one, to light a candle in their memory during the service.

At each of these services the focus is upon the new life which lies at the heart of the Christian message of hope at this time of year. Some arrange a Christmas tree of remembrance in their funeral home or their local area encouraging people to leave a message in memory of their loved one; perhaps running it in conjunction with a local charity should people wish to leave a donation at the same time. And an increasing number of funeral firms are now choosing to organise events in connection with a local church or charity, to helping bereaved families remember and honour the person they have lost and access support if they need to talk.

As many businesses and organisations close down over the festive period, it is important to know that your local National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) member remains open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, not only for emergencies but also if people require help and advice at what can be a very difficult time.

We are here to help, so please contact your local NAFD funeral firm if you are in need. All of our firms will have our logo in their window or on their website. We wish you all a very happy, peaceful and blessed Christmas.

• Paul Cuthell is the immediate past president of the National Association of Funeral Directors