It's been, well, interesting over the last week or so, as the cards have started to arrive and the get-togethers have got under way. In a spirit of pure helpfulness (what else?) I thought it would be good to set down a few insider's hints on how and how not to deal with people like me at this time of year.
1. Cards require more thought than usual. Try not to send your bereaved friends and relations Christmas cards that are overly cheerful and upbeat. Jolly Santas etc. should be avoided in favour of something a little more soothing - doves or other birds are good.
2. Cards that feature messages urging the recipient to have a "merry", "jolly" or "wonderful" Christmas/holiday/festive season/New Year, when that is the last thing they'll be doing, will not go down well. A simple "Season's Greetings" is fine. Writing something inside that shows you've remembered what's happened since last Christmas, and know merriness is off this year, will be greatly appreciated.
3. At seasonal gatherings, try not to wax too eloquent about the happy holiday you're about to have with your partner. On the other hand, don't go in for arch complaints about having your partner around either. Doing either of these things will just hammer home the fact of partnerlessness.
4. Don't ask the bereaved person what he/she is doing at Christmas unless you really want to know. And don't make vague noises along the lines of "must have you round some time after Christmas" (often followed by "Of course we're away for two weeks, but maybe after that...") If you really do want and intend to have them round, come up with an actual day/night they can put in their (often alarmingly blank) post-Christmas diaries - the details can be sorted out later.
5. Please don't try to buck the person up by pointing out that there are many worse off than them, and/or helping some of these people out would be a great way to take their minds off themselves and their own troubles. They probably won't tell you to sod off, but they will want to.