I remember vividly the first Christmas that you weren’t there.
It had been eight months since you had died, and I thought I was coping pretty well and then Christmas happened.
A switch was turned on when December 1st came around. I opened the first door on the advent calendar and I remembered how you always used to grab the first chocolate and then close the door again to tease me. But this year there was a chocolate inside and I ate it, but it was hard to swallow.
People started to post their pics of trees and festive trips onto social media. I liked the posts, sometimes even commented ‘beautiful’ or ‘looks amazing or ‘looks like the best Christmas.’ Inside I felt hollow.
I put a tree up and saw the decorations that we chose together. I struggled getting the box out from the loft. I put the tree up on my own that year. Once I’d finished I sat and looked at it for hours and hours and hours. The next day I took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook. It got hundreds of likes. It meant absolutely nothing. Why did I even do that?
I didn’t really go out and made my excuses and on the whole people were very sympathetic, which weirdly made me feel angry. But I couldn’t escape Christmas Day lunch. I can only describe it as torture. And that really isn’t fair as everyone was amazing. There was even a present for you under the tree, which was really a gift for me. It sat on the kitchen table unopened until March. It was a box of biscuits and I binge ate the lot and was sick.
I could see my parents were worried, so I joined in to make them feel better. My sister kissed her boyfriend and I wanted to die inside. I left early and that night alone, I chatted to you as if you were there. I spoke to the empty walls all night.
You really should have been there.
Two years later I can write this. I still struggle with Christmas, it is a time that we are meant to be happy and so it’s difficult when you are struggling with something. I cry at Christmas songs, especially ‘a fairy-tale of New York’ as I see you doing your best Shane Macgowan impression and I expect that will always be the case.
I’ve tried to arm myself with tools to get through the festivities and I do quite well, but then I’ll get a card from an old friend that is addressed to us both, or I find myself in a shop that I have a memory of you. There are triggers everywhere.
My best advice if you are in a similar position is this. Know you aren’t alone. Be kind to yourself. If you don’t want to do something, then don’t. If you don’t want to send Christmas cards with just your name on it, then don’t. If you don’t want to put up decorations, then do things your way. It will start to ease. And you will have to trust me on this one. If you want to celebrate and throw yourself in, then do it with pleasure. Try not and feel guilty or that you shouldn’t be happy because of your grief. You are so allowed. Spend a day in bed watching films if that helps, take a walk and breathe. Cry into your roast potatoes. It is OK.
My advice to someone who is worried about someone grieving is this. Don’t ignore it. Do remember them. The gift I received may have sat there for months. But I so appreciated that small act of kindness. Even more so now. It mattered. We now light a candle for loved ones every Christmas. It is a new tradition and it gives me some comfort. I made a decoration with your name on and hung it on the tree. You were there. It is OK if the grieving person cries or is quiet or leaves. It isn’t you. It is OK for them to not be OK.
Be kind and gentle.
There are lots of organisations out there with good practical advice. Here are a few: