More people are experiencing a Blue Christmas

Christmas looks different this year, and that’s hard for many people. For those who struggle during this time due to a significant loss — also referred to as experiencing a Blue Christmas — this year may be more challenging.

“I certainly think it’s harder with COVID. There’s so much that’s compounding that grief right now,” says Ralph Magnus, spiritual care manager with Covenant Health. He adds that these feelings of loss, usually associated with bereavement, may be more severe this Christmas due to the pandemic.

“This year, there will be limited access to mental health supports and other familiar connections. Many won’t be able to physically attend the special Christmas service many churches and care facilities would normally host to mourn the loss of loved ones.”

That’s why Covenant Health created a virtual Blue Christmas service this year. (Please see below to watch service.)

“This is the first time we have produced something that is shareable. Ours is a message of hope,” says Ralph. “We are giving grief a place and honouring how people are feeling.”

Ralph adds that while Blue Christmas is traditionally interconnected with “disenfranchised grief” — which he explains is a feeling experienced by those who cannot find a place to express their grief while everyone around them is expressing joy during Christmas — more people may be facing a Blue Christmas this year because of COVID-19. 

“People who have had other losses are experiencing the same feeling, and they are in as much need of help,” he says.

He cites losses related to employment, health and relationships as significant ones that many are currently experiencing. “It’s harder now because prospects for quick re-employment are not good, and feelings of safety and mobility and the freedom to move around have also been compromised.”  

Kay Wilson, a psychologist at the Misericordia Community Hospital, agrees that while it may feel like we have lost much this year, we can use this time to create space for meaning. 

“We’re grieving the loss of tradition, rituals and comfort this Christmas. But now that we are in a holding pattern, we are gifted the opportunity to be creative and generative in creating something new.”

Her advice is to have a plan ahead of Christmas to help ease the feelings of disappointment as a result of COVID-19 safety restrictions.

While she is cognizant that finances are a concern and that many people are struggling, she believes certain traditions can still continue over Christmas, like giving the gift of service over monetary gifts, which she says can become a new tradition that evolves from the pandemic.

“You can still get joy from giving service, and you grow positive emotions when you give gifts,” she says. “You can also grow joy by receiving gifts. There’s a catchiness to joy — it can be contagious.”

She explains that gifts of service can be acts of kindness like shovelling your neighbour’s sidewalk, picking up groceries for someone or even giving notes of support, appreciation and encouragement. Since larger volunteer activities may be difficult because of COVID-19, we can get creative with these gifts as well.

Growing positive emotions may include the simplest of things, like giving yourself the gift of time to read a book, watch a movie or go for a refreshing walk. “It’s about finding something purposeful and acknowledging that pleasure in the gift that you’re giving yourself,” says Kay. 

She adds that because so much has been stripped away from us this year, accessing supports is key to mitigating negative feelings. She advises talking with mental health experts because they may be able to help with problem-solving. “Don’t suffer in silence,” she says.

Ralph shares that sentiment. “We can get isolated in our loss. That is why there is value in funerals and memorials and family gatherings to talk about loss. But this shared comfort is a barrier right now.”

To cope with loss in whatever form it takes, he recommends first naming it. “Rather than be overwhelmed by it, call it out. Ask yourself, Who or what did I lose?”

He adds that finding a safe place to express that loss by journaling or having a conversation with a counselor, clergy person or close family member or friend without being judged or having feelings diminished is the next step in the process. He says this helps people process the emotion, honour their loss and rekindle hope, rather than thinking only about what they’ve lost.

Ralph cautions that if people don't properly address these emotions, they may find themselves on a downward spiral to anger, deep sadness and, eventually, apathy.

“Dealing with loss is a process, and it takes time. You can’t jump to the end without a beginning. But when you give grief a place, you can begin to open up a space for positive emotions such as gratitude and love, and even moments of joy, to re-emerge.”

Where to get help

Mental Health Helpline: 1.877.303.2642

Income Supports: 1.866.644.5135

Addiction Helpline: 1.866.332.2322

Text4Hope: Text COVID19HOPE to 393939

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