‘Nothing comes close to the pain of that first Christmas without the one you have lost’
24th Dec 2022
Whenever I get asked about the hardest part of my grief journey, I don’t have to hesitate with my answer. It was Christmas. Nothing comes close to the pain you experience, that first Christmas, without the one you have lost.
It’s important to note, from the off, that when I’m talking about loss, I’m not just referring to death, it can refer to loss of any nature; including loss of friendships, relationships, money, health or even your job. Anything that feels life changing, that you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen for your life, qualifies.
When it comes to Christmas, it is this very personal reflection that can get lost. Let’s be honest, there is an unwritten, universal agreement, that Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, ergo, everyone should be happy. We even have the descriptor of ‘bah, humbug’ for those that don’t fall into the festive elves category.
Yet I still remember the pain of being forced to watch on, as the world appeared to rub my nose in it, just weeks after my fiancé died. I remember feeling some (unwarranted) deep disappointment that his friends were able to go to their Christmas work parties, as if nothing had happened. I can still feel that palpable level of anger I felt, that the world was still turning, as I drove past the packed pubs and restaurants of Dublin just weeks after he had died. What on earth were they doing? Had nobody got the memo that everything had changed?
I also remember the huge effort my parents went to, in attempting to have a somewhat ‘normal’ Christmas day, and what kills me the most, even now writing this, is that I had no idea that it was also to be my last Christmas with my gorgeous Dad. I often wonder had I known, would I have been able to muster up greater enthusiasm, or was it all too raw for me at the time?
The following Christmas, Mum and I just couldn’t face a Christmas at home with just the two of us, and so we naively thought it would be a great idea to escape and go to the sun. Arriving at the hotel in the Gran Canaria, on Christmas Eve, I can still remember our utter surprise when we were welcomed by the hotel staff, cheerfully wearing Santa hats and hearing the Christmas carols being piped throughout the hotel, even around the pool. Feliz Navidad, indeed!
A few short years later, and Mum was gone too, and honestly that was me finished with Christmas. I couldn’t take any more. Christmas without family just couldn’t be Christmas. I was officially disengaging from Christmas. But that’s the thing, there is no hiding place, nowhere you can go and wait for it all to be over.
People say Christmas is just a day, and it is, but for me the hardest part was always the lead up. The weeks of non-stop chatter about Christmas, the planning, the incessant advertising and let’s be honest from Hallowe’en on, it is pretty full on and next to impossible to ignore.
By then, my future husband, also had other ideas. He chose Christmas to propose to me, so that together, we would create new memories around this time of year. On the beach in Ballymoney, Wexford, that Christmas Eve morning, we started doing just that.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned to begin to enjoy this time of year again, but the memories of Christmases past, are never far from my mind. The truth is, I just don’t want them to be either. I choose now to keep some of my family traditions very much alive, baking my Mum’s Christmas Cake, procuring real holly with berries just like Dad loved so much, playing the Christmas songs that they both loved and placing photos of them on the tree just to have them close. While Christmas will never be the same again it doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Different but good.
So, this Christmas, I want to ask you who do you know that has had a difficult year? Perhaps someone you know has experienced loss of some kind, it could be a job, a friendship, a relationship or a death. No matter how they might appear to be on the outside, or how convincing they are that they are coping, just reach out to them and ask them how they are doing.
Let them know that you are thinking of them, that you recognise what a tough time of the year this is for them, acknowledge their loss and let them feel seen and supported.
Sadness doesn’t fade at Christmas, if anything it is more accentuated at this time of year than any other. Guard your hearts and give thanks for everything and everyone that you have in your life this year. Just don’t forget those who find this time of year hard. Let them know you are there, ready to listen should they want to talk, and hope to God, that they won’t have to do the same for you next year.
Photography by cottonbro studio.
Niamh Ennis is Ireland’s leading Change & Transformation Coach and Author of Get Unstuck. She is an accredited Personal, Leadership & Executive Coach and the Lead Coach in the IMAGE Business Club. Niamh has created a special three-part series called RELEASE 2022 & RECEIVE 2023 which will ease you from one year to the next and prepare your mindset as you do.