‘When he went to bed, we’d fall apart in each other’s arms’
‘When he went to bed, we’d fall apart in each other’s arms’

Lia Hynes

Meet the speakers at our virtual The Future of Work event
Meet the speakers at our virtual The Future of Work event

IMAGE

This Sandycove home on the market for €1.95 million is stunning inside and out
This Sandycove home on the market for €1.95 million is stunning inside and out

Megan Burns

Meet the Irish designer brightening people’s homes with her beautiful designs
Meet the Irish designer brightening people’s homes with her beautiful designs

Sarah Finnan

Can we stop pretending that Jamie Spears did Britney a favour by petitioning to end the conservatorship
Can we stop pretending that Jamie Spears did Britney a favour by petitioning to end...

Lauren Heskin

‘A story of being trafficked’: Prince Andrew’s accuser Virginia Giuffre has a right to be heard
‘A story of being trafficked’: Prince Andrew’s accuser Virginia Giuffre has a right to be...

Jennifer McShane

‘Creative minds always thrive in adversity’: Author Louise Candlish on her latest (greatest) thriller
‘Creative minds always thrive in adversity’: Author Louise Candlish on her latest (greatest) thriller

Amanda Cassidy

Rotunda Hospital to extend visiting hours for partners of pregnant women
Rotunda Hospital to extend visiting hours for partners of pregnant women

Jennifer McShane

15 underrated Netflix gems that will distract you from the news
15 underrated Netflix gems that will distract you from the news

Jennifer McShane

‘Sleeptember’ and how to create an adult bedtime routine that actually works
‘Sleeptember’ and how to create an adult bedtime routine that actually works

Sarah Finnan

Image / Editorial

Estrangement, grief and the holidays: ‘Not everyone has that big around-the-table-together family Christmas’


by Amanda Cassidy
14th Dec 2019
blank

 The Hallmark Christmas scene is overwhelmingly family-centric, but what happens if you don’t have those relationships in your life? Amanda Cassidy on what the holidays mean to those with looser family ties


 The last Christmas we spent together was like every one that came before it. We bickered over Milk Tray and we teased my sister about her love life. We stretched out on the couch in front of the fire, full of turkey and cheese and joy and just enjoyed being together – in our own quirky, chaotic way.

Later, the same night, my sister got engaged. Four nights later, my father died.

The shock of death is a very strange thing. The shock of death that comes just after extreme joy is even more tumultuous. In the fog of sleep, the shouts in the night for an ambulance are quite similar to the shouts of happy revellers. But the party was over. My sister’s ring sparkled spitefully as she pumped my father’s chest. This was our new Christmas memory – one that took years to fade.

Disconnected

Trying to piece together a semblance of Christmas spirit and family at such a typically joyful occasion when something or someone is disconnected from you is especially hard.

Grief, estrangement or just being without a typical family experience can leave some feeling out in the cold when it comes to celebrating the holidays.

Only-child Fiona from Co. Meath had a turbulent relationship with her parents after their divorce during her teens. Her dad moved away and her mum remarried. The 28-year-old says it used to be a pretty pitiful gathering around the Christmas table.

“We used to try and make it work but it felt so forced and so unnatural because from one end of the year until the next we don’t really see each other very much. My friends all think it is really sad and maybe it is but, to be honest, I prefer to spend Christmas with my boyfriend’s family because of the atmosphere, number one, and also, I don’t really speak to my parents at all, so why would Christmas be any different?”

She’s not alone. Family estrangement is more common than ever, with some UK-based figures suggesting that one in five people are estranged from a family member.

The Hallmark holidays myth

Meghan Markle has also been credited with driving recent conversations around complex family relations due to her own difficult paternal relationship being under the spotlight. In 2018, another celebrity, Anthony Hopkins, admitted he hasn’t spoken to his daughter in 20 years.

Darragh and her three-year-old son will spend this Christmas with her parents after her marriage broke down. “The first year we separated it was awful. All I could see around me was what Christmas ‘should’ be like,” she explained to us.

“It was actually really upsetting seeing so many happy families celebrating the big day when I woke up with just my son, who still doesn’t really get the whole Santa thing, and it was one of the worse days of the year that year because I felt like such a failure. Everyone called in later, and my friends have been brilliant but not everyone has that huge around-the-table-all-together experience.”

Special

Clontarf-born William made the conscious choice this year to steer clear of that very scenario. A volunteer with Focus Ireland and dad to grown-up children, he will spend the day doling out one of the thousands of Christmas dinners to the homeless in Dublin this year.

“It is so rewarding to be part of the team of amazing people who help make this day really special for those who don’t have anyone else to make it meaningful,” he says.

But what about his own family? “My wife is dead almost 15 years. My daughters have their own families and live abroad. My eldest is hoping to get home next year so I’ll try and rope her into helping out too.  I’ve cousins and my brother who comes out to me on Christmas morning for a drink but I’d honestly prefer to be here having the craic with everyone, there is a great buzz. You’d never be lonely here.”

By choice or by design, Christmas unwittingly forces the idea of family and togetherness — a situation that isn’t always well-timed or desired.

For us, Christmas eventually evolved from an empty seat at the table to honour my father to a sticky toddler stashing sprouts under his cushion. Then some more tiny humans joined our family, some of them even mine.

Seeking joy

But not every Christmas can be the raucous, warm, mistletoe-fuelled hooley they make it out to be on TV. For many, it casts an uncomfortable light on what we don’t have, the relationships that are touchy, or complex, or simply too difficult to be around.

Fiona, who earlier told us she will be spending Christmas with her boyfriend in lieu of her parents, puts it best. “I learnt a few years ago that there is no point in forcing a scenario that doesn’t fit you as a person. It is like squeezing into the wrong clothes. F*ck protocol.

“Christmas is about joy and giving and being with those who make you happy – there are no guidelines beyond that, so find what makes you truly happy and stick it to you tightly.”

Image via Thomas Markle Snr 

Read more: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: Their first Christmas without the royal family

Read more: How do I tell people I’m getting separated?

Read more: Must-have board games for Christmas

Also Read

blank
EDITORIAL
This is what happens when you hypersexualise young girls growing up

Who is demanding the fetishization of young girls anyway?”When I was working in my early twenties, and even my late...

By Amanda Cassidy

Mandy Moore pumping
EDITORIAL
Mandy Moore climbed an active volcano at dawn… while pumping

Hiking a mountain and breast pumping – now, that’s what we call multitasking at its finest. Mandy Moore enjoyed an...

By Sarah Finnan

blank
CULTURE
Reality Bites: TV shows like Love Island are warping our minds

It may be the most unifying show on television, but shows like Love Island are promoting some pretty damaging messages....

By Amanda Cassidy

blank
premium EDITORIAL
EVENT: How To Master the Art of Negotiation

We sit down with Negotiation Strategist Natalie Reynolds, discussing key tactics and strategies used to master the art of negotiation...

By Shayna Sappington

blank
EDITORIAL
‘Quite interesting’: Princess Anne comments on The Crown

We’ve all heard that the royal family don’t exactly gather round to watch The Crown, but one member has shared...

By Jennifer McShane

blank
premium EDITORIAL
Join The Club to Avail of Your Complimentary Tickets to The IMAGE Business Summit 2021

Don’t miss this year’s IMAGE Business Summit, with an expert line-up, skills masterclasses, keynote addresses and more.Back by popular demand,...

By Shayna Sappington

blank
EDITORIAL
“A slap in the face for all the victims”: Outcry over Bill Cosby’s release from prison

This is why rape victims think twice before coming forward, writes Amanda Cassidy He was once known as “America’s Dad”...

By Amanda Cassidy