If I’m not careful, I become a grinch at Christmas time. My emotions can get the better of me.
The absence of my late husband Mick (my young children’s father) and the associated feelings of loss and grief are amplified because Christmas is a time for family. A time for being together with loved ones.
My initial inclination is to ignore Christmas. To retreat to a cabin in the wilderness. Yet that is not possible because of my kids. They get caught up in all the excitement and anticipation for Christmas at school and in the community. There are end of year concerts, carols, Christmas crafts, TV shows and movies. Projects within class where each child shares how their family celebrates Christmas. Decorations and Lights everywhere.
I have developed a few strategies and traditions to support myself and the kids so that despite our loss we feel connected, loved, grateful and cheerful throughout the lead up to Christmas and on the day itself.
If it is December – put up the decorations
“Not yet.” That is what I used to say when my kids asked in early December if we could put up our decorations. I hoped that by doing so we could stay immersed in the routine and relative normality of everyday life for a few extra weeks. That by postponing putting up our Christmas decorations we wouldn’t feel the loss of Mick not being present as the children’s father to help decorate the house, remember Christmases past and exchange knowing winks with me as the kids discussed and wondered “How will Santa get into the house?”
Last year I realised that my strategy of postponing wasn’t working. I was adding in extra emotions of denial, dread and anxiety by saying “Not Yet.” So instead we put up the Christmas decorations at the beginning of December. The kids were happy remembering previous years, placing the tinsel and decorations in similar places. We had fun. There were no more questions about when can we do it because we had done it!
Incorporating memories into our decorations
Following diagnosis we were lucky to have three Christmases with Mick before he passed. Our children were very young. I knew they would not have their own memories. I made sure that I captured moments each year in photos. We have photos of Mick and the kids
- decorating the tree together
- laughing and wearing Christmas hats
- unwrapping presents
- eating Christmas lunch.
I printed the photos and put them inside Christmas baubles and snow domes.
Every year as we decorate, the kids and I enjoy unpacking and reflecting on each memory. They can see in the photos how much Mick loved them and they him.
A few days away
School finishes at least a week before Christmas and unless we are busy we find the week before lonely and difficult. Our friends are unavailable finishing work, travelling home or prioritising spending time reconnecting in their family units as they prepare for Christmas.
The first year after Mick died I decided to take the kids to a holiday park not far from home for a few days away as a distraction. We had fun participating in the life of the caravan park and camping ground. We played in the pools and playgrounds and felt a little smug starting our summer holidays a few days before most of the rest of our community. It filled the time nicely and has now become a tradition that we repeat every year. My in-laws have since purchased a caravan so they join us which is even better!
When my in-laws join us for a few days away it gives me the opportunity for me time. I go for a walk or a swim. I read a book, meditate and practise yoga.
I take every opportunity that I can throughout December and in the few days away because I know that on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day and the surrounding days, everyone’s emotions will be running high. The more I have grounded and topped up my emotional and physical energy reserves the better. There is not only the Christmas season to cope with but then the January school holidays.
Lighting a Candle
On Christmas Day we quietly remember Mick by lighting a special candle and placing it in a prominent place. It is a visual reminder of his light and our love for him. It acknowledges that he is in our hearts as we gather with our extended family including his parents.
Gratitude for family
We have lost Mick but we are blessed with an amazing extended family. We give thanks every day and especially on Christmas Day for my kid’s wonderful grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousin.
On Christmas morning as we prepare to meet up with them, I remind the kids how lucky how we are to celebrate Christmas with them. My daughter prepares a little speech which she shares over lunch thanking them for their love, support and actively participating in our lives throughout the year.
Gratitude and Giving
Now that my kids are 8 and 10 years of age it is well and truly time to start instilling a greater understanding of how fortunate we are and the spirit of giving and generosity. This year, I have asked them not to give me gifts but instead to choose a World Vision gift for someone less fortunate. There are so many options ranging from a chicken and eggs for a family, to fast growing seeds to school books and pencils. We are having some interesting discussions as they consider the options. I am looking forward on Christmas Day to seeing and understanding what they chose and why.
Next year we might volunteer to help pack Christmas hampers or prepare meals for others through the charity Kids Giving Back. I’m smiling as I write, imagining the kids and I contributing further to our community next year and in the years to come.
It reminds me of a quote of Winston Churchill’s:
“Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.”