LIFE

This Support Group Is Helping Grieving Men Get Through Christmas

And their lives thereafter.

08/12/2016 11:36 AM AEDT | Updated 08/12/2016 9:06 PM AEDT
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For some, Christmas can be another day to get through.

For dad of six, Scott Johnson, Christmas has always been a time for giving.

"For years, we've always asked someone to Christmas lunch at our home -- whether that be a neighbour or someone who we have met who may be in an isolated situation," Johnston told The Huffington Post Australia.

This year, as he and his family grieve the death of his second wife, this sentiment will stick.

It helps that person but it also helps all of us.

"I've been married twice. My first wife died in 2000 and after remarrying in 2003, my second wife died last year," Johnston said.

"We're all still grieving... It helps that person but it also helps all of us."

Whilst Christmas can often by a time of joy and festivity, for some people dealing with the death of a loved one it can just be another day (or occasion) to get through.

"We think of it as a family time. When there is a member missing, that gap becomes even more apparent," bereavement counsellor for organisation HammondCare Nathan MacArthur told Huffpost Australia.

"And whilst we all grieve differently, the focus or the onus can often fall on men."

This December, MacArthur is running an open bereavement support group for men who are grieving the death of a family member or partner.

Men want to get on with their life and not bring others down with them. That can lead to a greater sense of isolation.

"A lot of people will talk about feeling misunderstood or let down by those around them. It is so important that people know others are going through something similar," MacArthur said.

"It is particularly common for men, with an ingrained sense of being stoic, to want to get on with their life and not bring others down with them. That can lead to a greater sense of isolation."

And when it comes to the festive season, this brings a range of challenges.

"They often comment on the fact that their wives or partners have been the one to organise family or social events," MacArthur said. "When you have operated as a couple and are now a single person at the table, this can be jarring and obvious. There's a whole series of changes tied to that."

Into its second year, the demographic of those who have attended the group is diverse.

"Some are younger men who are now the sole parent with younger children," MacArthur said.

"They have quite different needs to those men who are on the cusp of retirement (and had made plans with their partner) or older men who are often left living alone for the first time in their life," MacArthur said.

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Grieve can affect us all differently.

Understanding grief

When it comes to managing bereavement, modern research focuses on the 'Dual Process' model.

"This talks about a person's lived experience of grief and how to redefine your changed relationship," MacArthur said.

"The first process is dealing with the emotions tied to loss-oriented areas of grief such as shock, fear, anxiety and guilt. On the other side of this is the restoration -- practical areas of your life that need to be tended to."

Meeting other people and hearing their stories makes you realise that you're not actually the only person in the world who has lost someone recently.

For Johnston, the ebbs and flows of grief were managed by these restorative strategies.

"What was important for me was looking outward and seeing where you can help others. This takes the focus off yourself and that connection that you start to form with others reminds you that there is reason to live without your partner," Johnston said.

The group provides a safe, open space for men to share experiences and learn strategies -- an important step for Johnston.

"Meeting other people and hearing their stories makes you realise that you're not actually the only person in the world who has lost someone recently."

Getting through Christmas

Loosely plan your day

"There are lots of expectations around things that should be done in a certain way. Have some things that are roughly scheduled in but also be kind to yourself if you don't get to them," MacArthur said.

"Commit to a shorter stay time at lunch, and if you're enjoying yourself, stay longer."

In the days after, he recommends planning some easy events with close friends and family to maintain routine.

Maintain memories and connections

"Have something in your day that honours your grief," MacArthur said. This may be sharing memories or photographs, lighting a candle or using a recipe that your loved one may have used.

"Including your loved one in the day in some way can help."

Have open conversations

"Being open in your conversations leading up to the day with other family members is important -- particularly with children," MacArthur said.

"If your kids are used to buying presents for their mother, for example, talk through this and think about the implications."

Be kind to yourself

"Christmas can still be a time of enjoyment. Children and animals can be your saving grace," MacArthur said. "Give yourself permission to enjoy those moments of joy or laughter."

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