Grief at Christmas – When the most wonderful time also brings loss and pain

As December comes round and brings with it its sparkle and promise of kindness, love and peace on earth, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of twinkly lights, tinsel, mulled wine and mince pies. Frantic preparations and scheduling invitations to drinks with friends, get togethers with family or a Christmas dinner with work colleagues all make this month feel like a ride on a crazy, screeching merry-go-round. Whilst most of us love it, and that includes me, for many people December resembles more of a rollercoaster of feelings, and for others maybe even a free fall into darkness, caused by grief and loss, and the realisation that someone we once had with us is no longer here.

Personally, most of my childhood losses happened around Christmas, and I have moments of black outs where I can only remember a huge Christmas tree, which was blurred through the tears that didn’t stop falling. I recalled this the other day during a counselling session, and realised that, whilst I have some recollection of Christmasses after loss, I can’t remember when I started enjoying Christmas again. What I do know is that, for many years, Christmas was not the treasured and joyful occasion that it is now. I was fighting demons, I was battling with trauma, I was angry about the fact that loved ones had been taken from me before their time. I did not cope well with the fact that my family was shrinking before my eyes and the once full and vivacious dinner table was no longer packed with people, too much crockery and too many glasses, infectious giggles and affectionate jokes. Somehow, the magic had gone, the ease of enjoyment had vanished. Something was broken, and it felt forced and like a play I watched from the outside.

I had to move away from home and spend a Christmas by myself, before I allowed myself to feel the magic of Christmas and its inexplicable buzz again. When I finally allowed myself to heal and acknowledge that I could never change the course of time, I found some peace and saw those Christmas lights without tears. I was able to return home for Christmas and feel like a child again, wrapped up in love and the warmth of family, the knowledge that we would always grieve, but we’d also experience joy at the same time.

Most recently, I lost a very close friend. She was my angel, my family, a part of my inner circle. As I write this, it’s her birthday and I push deeper thoughts of losing her aside, because it’s just too much. I think of her immediate family, of all her friends, including me, and how we don’t want to spend this Christmas without her. Yet we have to. So it’s another year of bitter-sweet memories, of magic mixed with mourning, of excitement tampered with moments of despair. It’s true for me that my kids help me to just roll with it; they keep me distracted from many moments where I just want to stare into nothingness and battle with the fact that this year and all years going forward we will not pop round to see my friend and help her decorate her Christmas tree.

Instead, when I think of her, and I think of her all the time, I remember those many moments where she just turned up at our door step. I felt like a little child every time when I saw her; I squealed a bit and then hugged her so tight. I remember those times when she left some presents for us. It makes me smile, because last year, she precariously balanced a massive bag full of goodies on one of our bins. When I rescued it, I was astounded that it hadn’t fallen down – and destroyed a bottle of Champagne, an olive spread and some books in the process… . And so, with the pain and sorrow that make me well up and and form a lump in my throat, I remind myself that it’s OK to feel like that, and that I need to sit with those emotions. And that I am allowed to feel up and down. Especially at Christmas, when many of us want nothing more than to be with the ones we love and hold dear.

Grief is a personal process and everyone deals with it differently. Grief at Christmas is no different. However, for many people those losses are amplified around this time. Therefore, understanding, kindness and love is more important than ever. The grief will never go away. But the life we build around it, and the years that pass will help us to see the sparkle and magic again. Each of us in their own time.

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