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.
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