Christmas is supposed to be a time of festivity and joy to the world. That’s what all the Christmas songs tell us anyway.
What about when you’ve been bereaved?
Among my friends and wider family, there are people grieving very recent loss. There are others just passing or approaching the first anniversary, and many others for whom this Christmas represents yet another year with an empty chair at the table.
For many years, I have played Christmas Fairy in my family. On Christmas Eve, I sprinkle lametta tinsel all over the tree, clocks, paintings and basically anywhere it’ll hang. I do this in memory of my Grandpa, who gave us the most magical Christmas back in 1984. My dad had been posted to the UK for a year so we had flown over from Australia. It was our first winter Christmas, and Grandpa pulled out all the stops. There was tinsel and fake snow everywhere. Their house was covered in lights. Right down to the mice eating the chocolate under the tree, to the 7 year old Rhiannon, it was perfection.
He died when I was 18, and I’m now 43. He’s been gone longer than he was in my life, but I always remember him at this time of year.
It’s been nine years, but there are elements of my first Christmas after Oliver died that are so vivid in my memory that they could have happened yesterday.
I held it together out in public, and I tried to shield my parents from how I was feeling at home. I mostly cried alone, in the dark. That first Christmas Eve, we’d been out somewhere and when we got home there was no sign of my parents. Baby Tilly was fast asleep, and the tsunami of grief hit me. I don’t know how long I was on the cold hard floor ugly crying, but by the time it ebbed there was snot everywhere and I was cold to the bones. I felt utterly wretched, and also guilty for making my parents sad. Of course, now that I’m a more experienced parent myself, I know they were worried about me anyway. The only person I was fooling on that score was me.
Christmas Day itself was not as bad as I’d feared, and I only cracked when Dad proposed a toast to absent friends.
This year, I had one of those “I must tell Oliver that, it’ll make him laugh” moments. Just for a minute or maybe only twenty seconds, he was available on the end of the phone. Then I remembered, took a deep breath and smiled at my memory lapse.
In many ways, I am lucky. Whilst we were in each other’s lives for years, we only spent one Christmas together. I feel sad for what he is missing out on – our incredible daughter – and I am sad that she never had a chance to know the man I fell in love with.
Memories of Christmases Past
I don’t have to contend with years’ worth of memories attached to every Christmas song and movie though. My heart goes out to people who do. It is bad enough the rest of the year, with barely an hour passing between “our songs” on the radio. If Christmas was a big event in your relationship, festive classics on a loop on every radio station, in every shop and blaring from cars as they drive past must be emotionally exhausting.
It remains important to honour your memories and your feelings. Even if you are in a relationship with somebody else now, give yourself the permission to take a minute and remember.
Christmases Present – Movies
Over the past week we have watched a lot of movies. Tilly commented on the fact that there seems to be a parent missing from a lot of the families these movies centre on. The Christmas Chronicles – wonderful IMHO – is set in the first Christmas after the family lost their firefighter father. Noelle is set in the first Christmas after her father (Santa) dies. Godmothered (spoiler alert) is set in the run up to Christmas and the family have also lost their husband/father.
Yesterday, Tilly wanted to watch Frozen 2. The grief song took me by surprise again, just as it did when we saw it in the cinema. The words are, quite simply, perfect. It is called The Next Right Thing and the linked video has no spoilers.
Last Christmas also delivered a kick in the emotional guts, but that’s another story.
As we move through life and the immediacy of loss dims, the space our people occupied in our hearts doesn’t just close up. There will always be a piece of me that misses the people who can no longer answer the phone.
What changes is the intensity. They say time is a great healer, and it certainly helps. Alongside that passage of time is perspective. We find acceptance around what is no longer possible, and hope for what might be.
Christmas will come around every year, complete with its soundtrack and reminders of Christmases past. It is up to us to choose to do the next right thing. (Seriously, listen to the song!)
With love xx
If you would like my blog delivered to your inbox each week, please sign up here. It’s a mix of personal development, business and grief. My book about grief should be out in May.