festive winter challenges for bereaved and health care professionals


Tania Brocklehurst explains how to balance work with wellbeing over the festive season winter challenges

Winter time can bring mixed emotions. Often, the anticipation of longer evenings, worsening weather conditions and the arrival of Christmas starts to raise worry levels in those who are caring for someone who is dying or those who have been bereaved. Elsewhere, shops are playing carols or upbeat music designed to make us spend money on gifts for loved ones, television portrays family Christmases and there is a general expectation that it ‘is the most wonderful time of the year’. In my experience, those bereaved at Christmas time face a particularly difficult challenge, to negotiate and make sense of their own newly changing world whilst seemingly all around them participate in the annual festivities.

Health, social and funeral care service providers have a not dissimilar personal challenge, often finding themselves balancing supporting those in grief at the end of a life, whilst bestowing onto their own families an authentic sense of seasonal peace and goodwill.


How can we make sure that we address our own needs, and be as fully present with our own families as we are with our clients at this particularly busy time of year?

Create Boundaries

Ensure you have safeguarded some time for you and your family where you won’t even be on call, and that everyone knows what these times will be. If you are a family-owned business, divide on call times fairly so everyone gets an opportunity to have down time.

It can be difficult to come home after a challenging day and leave work behind. One client I worked with managed this by putting into place a landmark on his journey home. At this point, he would pointedly push his thoughts and feelings about work to one side and begin to focus on what would lie ahead at home and for the rest of the day, adjusting his focus from his work to himself.

Such boundaries are really important to ensure that we too have an opportunity to spend as much quality time with, and give as much attention to, the people we care about, or if on our own, giving ourselves a break from the intensity of working with end-oflife. The more we practise this, the more naturally it will occur to us to do so.


A New Year can bring refreshed hope, resolution, and sense of renewed energy for projects old and new. A New Year for a recently bereaved person can bring a sense of isolation, desolation, sadness and reduction in energy and motivation. In the face of adversity, and working with those contemplating existential meaning on a daily basis, what is important to you right now? Life is short, make every moment count – whether it’s a favourite meal or a new venture, this coming new day, week and year is an opportunity to work towards fulfilling your own hopes and dreams. If life feels heavy, set short term focus points, waking, showering,

getting to work, shopping, doing what needs to be done to get by until things feel more manageable and you can contemplate longer reaching goals.


How has your day been? Tell someone. Busy? Unexpected? Rewarding? If there is no-one to talk to, jot some thoughts and feelings down in a text, notebook or journal. As someone who is likely to spend a lot of their working life listening to and supporting others, externalising your own thoughts and feelings will help to ensure that they don’t build up in your unconscious and manifest unexpectedly, such as in your dreams or psychosomatically in your body.

Finally, be mindful of others’ expectations, which can be high. Often seen as pillars of the community, health, social and funeral care professionals’ own needs are rarely considered, particularly by ourselves. We need to be strong and carry on. However, by creating boundaries, prioritising life and work loads, and taking time to connect with our personal responses to working with  loss, we can be in a more resilient place to support others.

Further, from this more settled and less frazzled place, we can support our clients as they find their own way through their funeral and grief process this wintertime.

December 2015

Tips for clients over the winter season:

Immunity can be lowered when grieving. Take the time to eat a balanced diet, and eat little and often. Warm, sweet drinks or broths, such as chicken, can be healing and particularly useful in instances of shock. Even if you don’t really feel like eating or drinking, your body needs fuel to get through the day. A good multivitamin is also

recommended if this is challenging for you. you will undoubtedly have enough to be thinking about and it usually helps others  Delegate. Often people want to feel useful. If there are tasks you can delegate, do so,

to feel they are being supportive. Whether it’s a neighbour clearing a path, accepting a

lift, or someone making sandwiches, it is okay to say yes if it will help you. as to what to do on Christmas day, trust your instincts. Some people prefer to stick  Christmas day. There really is no right or wrong in this situation. If you are uncertain

to the routine they have always had, drawing comfort from familiarity. Others prefer to change routine and do something completely different. Either is fine, whatever helps you to get through. Be honest with those around you, it is unlikely they will be

offended and will just want you to be as okay as it is possible to be with your decisions.  to still send cards, and keep their loved one’s names on the card as in years gone by.

Sending Christmas cards. Again, this is down to personal preference. Some choose

Others choose not to send cards at all. Those closest to you will understand, so do what feels right for you.  that they can’t engage in such activities, or upset that they have and feel they To decorate/ give presents/ attend parties. I often hear worried clients either upset

shouldn’t. Again, do what is right for you. If you get comfort from decorating, wrapping, giving, attending, go ahead. Equally if it just feels too difficult, this is okay too. Do consider whether you might feel better if you were to encourage yourself to participate; sometimes the thought is worse than the event. If this really is not the case,

permit yourself not to have to go.

If you don’t have family or friends the Salvation Army host and or deliver regional  Let someone know how you are feeling and what you will be doing this Christmas.

Christmas dinners, and the Samaritans have a freephone number, 116 123 for home and mobiles. moment, one step at a time. You can get through this. The day will pass. Things may feel surreal – remember to take things one breath, one

Look after yourselves and each other. May we at bereavement.co.uk take this opportunity to wish you all a safe, restful and peaceful season and New Year. Alex and Tania

Tania Brocklehurst works with Alex James at Bereavement UK. She is a professionally accredited counsellor and trained therapist specialising in bereavement support and life transitions. For further information on her work and on Bereavement UK, please visit the website www.bereavement.co.uk


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