Thoughts on managing the Christmas season if you’re living with a broken heart through bereavement, and thoughts on supporting your friends in that position.
It’s less than two weeks until Christmas, cards are arriving in the post and the neighbourhood is lit up. Essential shopping is accompanied by an assault on the senses – the throng of crowds, piped music and tinsel. Every day the local hotel is hosting exuberant parties from workplaces or other groups. There are mince pies all around, the exchange of cards, chatting about plans and expected visitors over the Christmas holidays. There’s no escaping the merriment, however genuine, forced or false. Even when you get home and you open up your Facebook page, it’s all there.
Facebook. I can roughly divide the posts on my page into two groups. There are those living with life and those living with loss.
There are the happy family pix, beautiful children and lots of great things happening in the here and now – these pix and posts will multiply exponentially over the coming weeks.
The other group also have beautiful pictures of sons or daughters, of other special ones, of special times in special places, but the difference is that these are all in the past. They are often accompanied by a candle, a “remember them” message, and by tear drops. These folk may not have any Christmas decorations up at all, or they might have a few choice ones.
For those living with loss, this can be a season of perplexities. We may have family, friends or colleagues who expect us to join in with the seasonal celebrations. But depending on who we’ve lost, how long it’s been, and who we have left, we might just wish Christmas would pack up and go away, rather like the sentiments of W. H. Auden in his famous poem:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
If you’re someone reading this out of interest – and not because you’re personally struggling with grief – you might consider that this is a rather depressing Christmas post! But I hope rather it might help you to recognise those around who are struggling with this time of year, and actually to realise just how heartbreakingly difficult it can be.
And it’s not just the Christmas revelry. Personally I have found New Year’s Eve to be even harder, as I face the prospect of starting another year without my children. Every year they feel further away. I remember New Year’s Eve in 2011. When midnight came, I would be entering the first year without any living children. Catherine would have no experiences or memories or new photos in 2012. She had died in 2011. And so I distracted myself by painting the bathroom. Anything to make those hours pass.
On the other hand, as the years have gone by, I have found ways to make it easier to bear. We have a few new Christmas traditions, such as helping out on Christmas morning with serving meals to the elderly. I decorate the grave, we’ve got Catherine’s tree and decorations up in the living room, and I even manage the Christmas cards (more or less). I am fortunate because I am not completely alone – I do have a partner. I also take comfort from the heart of Christmas and the birth of Jesus.
There are two strands to this post: those living with loss, and those whose friends are, and I’ll draw this post to a close with a few words to each.
To those who have friends who are living with loss
What matters most to us is that our loved ones are remembered. You can make this season a little easier by mentioning them in your greetings, in person or in a card. If we are now alone, please think about inviting us for a meal – not necessarily a big Christmas party. You could make a donation to a charity in our loved one’s name, or buy a gift in their memory to be given to one of the many charities collecting gifts for needy children. Just something to show you care about us, and you also care about our loved ones.
Particularly if this is one of the first few Christmases since our loss, be aware just how vulnerable and emotional we may be feeling. A hug and a listening ear can’t make it all better, but it can make it easier to bear.
To those who are living with loss
Be kind to yourself! Try to find ways to live with your loss in this season that feels right for you. Find ways of cherishing the memories of your loved one, if you wish. On the other hand, if you feel like celebrating Christmas, celebrate away! Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty. But if you’re too sad, then live with that in the moment, remembering that this is one season and it will pass.
There is more advice on surviving Christmas here in this post I wrote earlier: Getting ready for Christmas, when the one you love is no longer here
Cruse bereavement care has some excellent advice here, with useful links to other resources.
The Compassionate Friends (charity for bereaved parents and siblings) has a helpful post on coping with Christmas here.
For all of us…
May the happy memories of our absent loved ones bring us comfort, and may we create new happy memories with our other loved ones and friends who are here.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.