Bereavement and Sadness at Christmas

Christmas is always mixed for me.

  • How was it for you?
  • How did you feel?

I love seeing the kids open their presents (we got it right this year – phew) and I like having time to see friends.

I also feel sad at Christmas because it isn’t in a semi-detached house in Kent with my mum and my sister.  My mum used to do all the Christmas trimmings from holy and mistletoe to pigs in blankets and crackers.  She used to get out all the best china and the crystal and make all her own Christmas cake, minces pies, Christmas puddings and trifle.

All that stuff makes me feel sad and a bit lost and empty now.  I haven’t eaten a single mince pie, no cake, no pudding, no turkey and no trifle.  I’m not sure I liked it when I was younger, I certainly don’t now.

Carol singers make me cry, in fact all carols make me cry.

I don’t know what to do with myself on Christmas day…I want to be with people,, but none of them are the right people because none of them are mum.

She died in January 2001 so a long time ago. It’s a long time since I had Christmas with her, but I had every  Christmas from birth to that year with her so it’s still more years together than apart.

‘Proper’ Christmas is just too painful, there is a huge gap that can’t be filled and having kids has in a way made the gap bigger because she never got to meet them.

Added to that, December is First Love’s birthday and early January is when he died..it’s just a shit time of year, made worse because there is a sense that everyone and everything should be jolly.  I feel sad and then feel bad that I feel sad because I don’t want to spoil the kids fun.

  • Do you every do that to yourself? Have a feeling and then feel bad that you feel that way which then makes you feel doubly bad?

It can’t just be me who finds this time of year hard.

  • Who do you miss at Christmas?
  • How do you deal with it?

I think of all the people who have lost partners and children, and at some stage we will all lose mothers and fathers and Christmas is so much a time for families that the empty chairs and missing Christmas cards are glaring reminders.  I only open my address book at Christmas time to send cards…and mum’s address is in there.  I can’t cross it out.

Her posh china and some crystal glasses are in the cellar, but I don’t use them. I tell other people it’s because the kids are too young and I don’t want them to get broken, but really it’s because I don’t want to see them again – it’s too sad.

My guiltiest secret in the cellar are home made, bottled fruit which mum made and which we cleared out from her house.  I’m pretty sure you couldn’t eat them, but I can’t yet throw them out because they are the last of mum’s home cooking.

Bereavement is such a strange process.  The initial shock, anger, sadness, confusion subside and life carries on, until grief sneaks up on us and then it’s like we’re right back there in the early days of bereavement.  I know it’s not just me from all the training we did at the hospice about bereavement.

The night before Christmas eve I couldn’t sleep for crying, I just kept getting images of our childhood home, things I’d long forgotten: the floor tiles, the curtains, the keys on the fridge next to the radio playing Terry Wogan…as clear as if I was there, or had only left yesterday.  I haven’t seen inside that house since the summer of Lady Diana’s death.

We coaches are trained to find the best in things and to look for that past to find strengths to take into future and it would be easy to ‘re-frame’ my melancholy as a sign up my close and loving relationship with my mum (which it was). But I’m not going to re-frame and try and find the positive, because that involves trying to repress how I really feel which is sad, sad, sad.

  • Which feelings do you sit on at Christmas?
  • How could you honour those feelings more next Christmas

The reality of Christmas for me is that I find it hard, I want to avoid it and run away. We do as much as differently as we can (hence Indian Takeaways and videos).

I remember mum talking in the car on the way back from her brother’s funeral. She was thinking aloud about what happened after death and we talked about the kind of funeral she would want.  She also shook her head at the way we deal with death, the way we are expected to carry on, go back to work, get on with things as though nothing is different.  She thought it was wrong that we behave like that and that we don’t acknowledge grief and bereavement more.

I agree with her.

There are parts of Christmas that are great (kids’ plays, pantos, presents, time together, carols – even when they make me cry) and there is huge sadness – that mum isn’t here.  And that’s life. There are bits we like and bits we don’t and whilst there are some bits we can change – this is one I just have to live with, as we all do.

Bereavement is never over, life just carries on around it.

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