Facing Christmas without a loved one

It starts around the beginning of November, maybe earlier. It is the same each year and there is no escape. Christmas ads on the TV, decorations being put up in the shops and houses lit up like Blackpool illuminations. Everyone asks each other ‘What are you doing for Christmas this year?’

This question can cause feelings of panic and desperation for someone who has lost a loved one in the last year, or lost a relationship that was important to them.

Christmas 2010 I spent a lovely, happy day with my son Toby who was 23 and my Dad who was just coming up to 81. My Mum died 5 years ago and I made the effort to make Christmas day special last year. I had to coerce them to come out for the obligatory Christmas day walk. They moaned, they resisted but I wouldn’t back down. There was snow on the top of Pole Hill near where we lived in East London and I had just got a new camera so my son took pictures of me and Dad and I took pictures of Dad and Toby. I’m so glad I did, because I will spend this Christmas without them.

Toby and Dad on Pole Hill

Last Christmas together

My beautiful 23 year old son passed away in July 2011 and my Dad was diagnosed with cancer in August and passed away in November just a few weeks later. I am single and don’t have a partner in my life at the moment, so am all alone apart from my puppy Elfie.

When my Dad died on November 19th I was surprised that after hearing the news one of the first questions was ‘What are you going to do for Christmas?’  I hadn’t really thought about this, after all I am still reeling from my loss, but I started to panic because everyone kept telling me that I couldn’t possibly spend Christmas alone as if this was the worst thing that could happen to me.

I don’t know yet how I will spend the day but I have given this some thought and my top tips for facing a first Christmas without a loved one are as follows.

Ten Top tips coping with Christmas after loss

  • DO talk to your friends and family. They will be grateful if you tell them what you need as they care about you and will be conscious of your loss. Just because they don’t mention it, it doesn’t mean they don’t care, it just means they don’t know what to say and are afraid of upsetting you.
  • DO schedule time in the day to perform a small ritual in memory of your loved one. Light a candle, look at some happy photos, and tell others of a happy memory that you shared. Shed a tear, but be grateful for the time you had them with them and focus on this rather than their absence in your future.
  • DO plan at least one thing during the day just for YOU. Be selfish.  If you want to watch your favourite TV programme with a glass of wine, or go for a walk to a favourite spot or indulge in your favourite treat, make sure you are able to plan this into your day and visualise it and look forward to it. Your loved one wouldn’t want you to feel miserable all day.
  • DO ask for support from friends. If you must be alone, ask a friend to call you at a set time so you can share a favourite memory of your absent loved one.
  • DON’T be a martyr. Tell people how you feel, and how difficult this Christmas will be for you. Don’t expect people to read your mind or intuitively know what you need. If you haven’t had an invite try asking someone if you can pop in during the day. Your true friends will be more than happy to help and support you through this difficult time.
  • DON’T beat yourself up if you feel sad and depressed or cry; know that this is completely normal and that the first Christmas will be the worst. Look into the future and believe that it will get easier. If you feel really desperate don’t forget you can always call ‘The Samaritans’ on 08457 90 90 90 if you just want an ear at the end of the phone. It is not weak to reach out for help. You are grieving and you are in pain.
  • DO try and find an inspirational reading or poem that you can read during the day if you feel down. Choose this in advance and know that it will lift your spirits if things get too bad; this is your back up plan.
  • DO enjoy a Christmas drink, but avoid numbing your pain with alcohol. This will just make you feel worse in the long run. Have a glass or two, but know your limit.
  • DO try to have FUN. I know this is the last thing you want to hear but all the clichés are true, ‘Life goes on’ and ‘life is for the living’.  Above all think about if your loved one would want you to have fun. I don’t feel it is disrespectful to laugh during your darkest times; sometimes it is the only way to survive.
  • DO celebrate when you get to the end of the day; you took control and not only survived, you found some pleasure in the day, and you will enjoy many more Christmas days and create new special memories as well as always remembering the special times you shared with your loved one

I will make sure I find some quiet time in the day to light a candle and be grateful for all the years I had Toby, Dad and Mum in my life. I will pray for guidance as I face the rest of my life without their physical presence and pray that I can keep their memories alive.

I will ask my friends to mention Toby’s name often

I will find ten things that I am grateful for in my life today and make a commitment to myself that I will make the best life possible because I know that’s what Toby would have wanted.

I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a Healing New Year.

This is my inspirational poem

He is Gone
You can shed tears that he is gone,
Or you can smile because he lived,
You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared,
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on,
You can cry and close your mind be empty and turn your  back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on
David Harkins 

This entry was posted in Christmas, Grief, Healing, Loss and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Facing Christmas without a loved one

  1. Terri Hartman says:

    Thank you.

  2. I’m so sorry for your losses. One step at a time…Sending hugs your way this Christmas season.

  3. Lovely to see the photo Anne

  4. Pingback: Facing Christmas without a loved one. | SuzyGreaves

  5. Tamsine says:

    Wow, you have really been through it. You sound like a brave women anyway but this has been tested to the absolute extreme. Let’s just hope that there’s something on the other side and in the mean time, I wish you continued strength and positivity on your journey. Your attitude is an inspiration x

  6. Shah says:

    You are very wise, Anne, about wanting to talk to family and friends about the loss of a dear one. People are waiting to be guided. also, in the world of story-telling, we say ‘When you speak about someone, they live again.’ Take care and take your time. Thinking about you.

  7. Anne, thank you for sharing this experience, and the beautiful poem (which has me in tears, I have to say!) – sending blessings, thoughts & prayers your way for peace & acceptance when the time is right … and virtual hugs to comfort you. I hope the next year brings only good things your way.

  8. Pam Evans says:

    Hi Ann,
    What a beautiful and inspiring message – thank you! I lost my first husband just before Christmas and know how difficult it is for those left and also for friends who want to help but aren’t sure what to do or say. Your advice is solid gold and coming from someone who is so close to the harsh reality of the situation it’s truly heartfelt and real. Also, I’ve loved this poem for a long time and feel it is truly uplifting, as is your whole post.
    I wish you peace and love this Christmas and hope 2012 brings you much love and renewed happiness.
    Love & hugs

  9. So sorry for your loss Anne – sending love to you.

  10. Barbs says:

    Hi Anne
    You’ve written a really lovely post and what an awesome poem , thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry for your loss, the hardest thing ever for a parent and my thoughts and prayers are with you – it’s been 11 years since my son Nicholas who was also 23 when he died after a car accident (drunk driver) ; and my Mum had passed away exactly one year previously.
    It’s something that changes you and changes your life forever – in the beginning it’s one day at a time. How wonderful that you are asking friends to talk about your son and Dad, so although they have moved on they’ll never be forgotten and you’ll be able to share memories when you need to. I don’t think time heals as such; but as time goes by, you will be able to live and handle loss more easily. Take care of you this Christmas and I wish you a peaceful 2012.

  11. No puedo escribir en inglés, pero te he leído y me resulta realmente inspirador tu forma de enfrentar estos sucesos. Recibe de mi admiración por tu fortaleza y valentía. Desde un sitio muy, muy lejano en La Paz, B. C. Sur, México, pero con la cercanía que nos dan los medios electrónicos y con mi corazón, recibe un abrazo fraterno y mi aprecio. Cecilia Cristerna.

  12. Beth says:

    I suffered the death of my Son Edward on new years day 1996 , Edward was 24 years old. I could not read all that is written hear but, from the small amount I have read , I can only say that you seem to have a hold on your life and your pain. I hope you go from strength to strength. Blessings and love keep you safe and well.

  13. Guinevere Lawson says:

    Dear Anne, there are never any words to say to someone when there loved one’s have passed away. But I wish you the joy of many happy memories to treasure and that even though you feel alone we are all sending beautiful thoughts your way. I too know the feeling of loss and mourning and loss of conversation, the journey through the tragedy and coming out the “otherside” when I felt I would never get out of the black hole that I felt had consumed me. And though we never fully recover from the loss even over time, the importance of remembering those gone before us and the many treasured memories is a blessing as with your beautiful photo’s.

    I love how you have shared here and also have many things to help you through,

    Much love and hugs to you

    Guiny xxxxx

  14. Ralu says:

    God bless you, you are a true fighter and I hope you will really find inner peace! Even for those of us who still have relatives, holidays can be a difficult time, because of all the wrong choices we make, from being upset for all the silly reasons to ignoring the “boring” traditions and doing “something modern”. And the sad thing is that most of us really know what they had only when it’s gone.
    Wishing you a lot of happiness in your life
    and may the birth of Christ bring your soul a new life!

  15. Alison says:

    Thank you for writing this message. It is very personal and very thoughtful. Christmas time stirs up so much emotion in all sorts of ways. Loss is so painful any time, and Christmas makes it all the harder. Your article beautifully described that and what you can do to do make the best of the situation. You are in my thoughts. Love, Alison x

  16. Kirsten says:

    Sending you much love xx

  17. sam says:

    Well done Anne all so true xo

  18. Jan Archibald says:

    Thank you Ann. I have just used the poem today at the funeral of my dear mother in law. It expressed everything I wanted to say.


  19. Sophie Johnson says:

    Anne, you are a beautiful, wonderful lady. Thank you for your excellent, thoughtful advice. It is astonishing that, amid your own pain, the nature of which we all know too well, you are so able to extend genuine help to others. I lost my only child, my dear, beautiful, charming, brilliant son, just ten weeks ago, on the day after his 37th birthday. Last Christmas, and my son’s glamorous, zestful, delightful presence in it, is a precious memory. I am deeply grateful for that. Even so, a real terror settled on me at the prospect of being without him, and therefore alone, next Christmas, even though the countdown has not yet begun. I shall still be alone, but I have cancelled Christmas. I shall hide from it by having dinner in a hotel with a friend. (That is as unlike the Christmases of yore as anything can be.) I shall have time before to visit his grave, tell him how much I love him, and leave him a bunch of Christmas lillies. After dinner, I shall come home, and ‘wait up’ for him to get home too. He will, I’m sure, either in my sleeping or waking dream. Thank you again, Anne, especially for recommending a strategic approach to Christmas.

  20. Rhonda Bonner says:

    I did not feel especially sad this Thanksgiving. My son died in april this year. My son died in April of this year. My sister hugged me ( we don’t ever hug) and said this must be really hard for you right now. And my other son said We hadn’t thought about it until you brought it up. What is wrong with me? But I really really want people to talk about him, not to pretend he did not exist. Maybe they think it would upset me to talk about him. It might make me cry….but probably I would be happy they talked about him. My neighbor told me his son died by suicide but then said I don’t want to talk about it.

    • annwae says:

      I’m so sorry Rhonda, it’s not easy but in time I have found I accept that some people just feel so uncomfortable talking about the death of a child, especially if it is suicide. I think we have to keep talking about our sons and tell people we want to remember their life, not their death. All the firsts are difficult, first birthday without them , first Christmas but I always explain to people that we miss them terribly every day and the only thing that makes Christmas worse is that is highlights our loss as it is a traditional time for families to be together. It was lovely for your sister to acknowledge your loss that’s all I want really just a hug and an acknowledgment about how difficult it is. Maybe you could talk to your neighbor about his son, ask him what he was like, you don’t have to mention how he died. Sending love and best wishes to you x

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