‘I am bereft, and Christmas with all its touching, family, sparkling happiness; feels like a cruel joke’
I have always loved Christmas. I am the person who overbuys on the gifts; who meticulously wraps everything with little bits of lavender and gold ribbon before the first week in December; who wears the silly hat to dinners in town; who drinks too much mulled wine; who sings along loudly to Christmas songs.
This year has been different. Each happy festive moment creates an unwelcome lump in my throat. The greater the expectation of happiness, the greater the feeling of sadness, because someone is missing. An important someone. My someone. We all have our little wolf packs, the team of people who mind us, who lift us, who love us. It’s at this time of year that those people huddle in and when one is missing, it’s painfully obvious.
We saw Santa on the weekend, and put up the tree at Mum’s (not Mum and Dad’s). There were moments that I was present in happiness, watching my little boy’s eyes sparkle. But there were so many moments in which all I could think about was doing these things last year with Dad. Last Christmas was perfect. And we will never have one like it again.
I closed the door after waving my boys off to creche this morning and cried my eyes out. Unknowingly, I had been holding the tears all weekend. At the first sign of being alone – my body took over. I cried big ugly tears on the floor in the hall, with my cup of tea going cold beside me.
Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour one year ago yesterday. He died six months later. We are at some equidistant marker in the road. He has been gone for as long as he was sick. We keep turning to each other and saying “I still just can’t believe it”. It’s such a small sentence, so inadequate for what is not in any way a diminutive feeling.
The utter disbelief that he won’t catch my eye over the Christmas dinner table, and with a knowing grin, share our inside joke. That he won’t sit by the fire and awkwardly hand me a Christmas Card and tell me “Not to be silly”. That he won’t come around the corner while we watch crappy TV and pat me on the head, or sit down beside me to hold my hand.
I am bereft, and Christmas with all its touching, family, sparkling happiness; feels like a cruel joke. I want to take the opportunity to offer some advice. If you know a friend or family member who might be grieving over the holidays, give them a little break.
Let them talk about their loved one, that is the greatest gift you can give. It helps them feel that they are remembered, like they still matter. Acknowledge their loved one. If you are not sure whether to bring them up, just ask. Whatever you do, do not say nothing. Instead try “I really want to support you, but I am not sure of the right way to do that. Would it help to talk about X person? Or would you rather I distracted you with something else?”
If they are not the life and soul of the party this year, let it be. Don’t be concerned if they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves, don’t feel like you need to change that. Let them feel whatever it is that they are feeling. Just be there to support them.
Alternatively, they may want to party the night away and might seem in great form. Know that grieving is not linear and is experienced differently by everyone. Do not judge them. Grief does not prevent you from feeling happy, instead it adds a new assortment of darker feelings, some of which will come and go.
Don’t try and put a positive spin on anything – “Aren’t you lucky to have had them at all” type of catchphrases are really only designed to make you feel better. You can’t make the griever feel better, however well-meaning you are. Instead simply being with them, however they are feeling, is the best support.
Do not comment on their appearance (this is true for every person, every day), how they seem to be doing, or tilt your head to the side and ask them how they REALLY are. Instead try listening and acknowledging how bad it really is. Reach out little and often, but DO reach out. It means the world.
This article was originally published in December 2022.