Christmas time is the time of year for families to come together and be thankful for everything they have.

But for many people, Christmas time is not full of joy. Indeed, the festive period can be a fearful time if they are coping with the loss of a loved one. For one South Belfast organisation, that is a daily reality.

Cruse Bereavement works with people who have been affected by death to understand their grief and work through it in order to cope with their loss. First established in Northern Ireland in 1984, Cruse has over 450 volunteers here, who last year gave a total of 43,000 hours volunteering.

Suzanne Quinn, regional training manager of the Saintfield Road group, says Christmas time sees an upturn in the charity’s work supporting children, young people and adults.

“There are many events and times that will evoke memories of the death of someone else. Christmas is certainly one of those times and those who have been bereaved can experience powerful memories and feelings that are definitely personal.

“We tend to find an uptake in our services around Christmas time, that would be a normal thing to happen. We especially see a lot of people who are experiencing their first Christmas without a loved one. It is very difficult to go through the first anything without a loved one, whether it be Christmas, birthdays or anniversaries.

“They are all new experiences. When people are bereaved, their lives are changed forever. They have a new reality and that is the difficulty for them.”

Suzanne said there were many ways for people who have experienced loss to deal with the burden of Christmas.

“There is no right way to grieve, so listen to your heart. Others may try to keep you busy to save you from your grief, but only you know what you need.”

“You need to let family and friends know they can talk about your lost loved one and it helps you to hear their name. On the other hand, your way of coping may be to keep your feelings to yourself, to remain silent about the person who is not present this Christmas. It is all right to grieve in your own preferred way.

“Family traditions may be too painful without your loved one this year, so you may want to consider creating a new tradition. That may be something as simple as eating buffet style rather than setting a full table or donating to charity rather than giving gifts.

“There is no right way to grieve, so listen to your heart. Others may try to keep you busy to save you from your grief, but only you know what you need.”

Suzanne said Christmas showed how each person approached the grieving process differently.

“People think they have been bereaved once and if it happens a second time it will be exactly the same. But that’s not the case because it’s all about the relationship you had with that person and each bereavement is as unique as the person you are grieving.

“You could have three brothers and lose them all but because you had a different relationship with each brother, you will also have a different grieving process for them. A lot of people don’t realise that.

“Grief is a blanket term but it manifests itself in many ways. That can be physically, emotionally, behaviourally or in your thoughts. Some people might need our one-to-one support, whereas for others coming along to one of our information evenings helps them to normalise their grief.”

Looking practically, Suzanne said if someone did come to Cruse seeking help, it could manifest itself in several ways.

“About 70 per cent of people who come to us are referred by someone in the health profession but they can also come to us of their own accord. If someone is isolated and can’t make it along in person, they can still have a regular appointment by phone, so everyone can get help no matter what their situation.

“We also have a website they can use. Most branches do have a waiting list due to the high demand for our services, therefore people don’t get seen immediately but we make sure we help everybody who has been bereaved.

“It is irrelevant who you have lost, when it was or how it happened. We will offer support, advice and information for anyone who has gone through loss.”

If you have been bereaved and wish to contact Cruse, ring the helpline on 0844 477 940 or see To help volunteer with the organisation, ring 90 792 419.