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  • clairejtownsend

Missing our loved ones...Especially at Christmas

As our minds begin to turn to the festivities it is often a painful reminder that Christmas will be spent without some of our loved ones. It is often a time when family and friends join together in merriment but for some this is going to be the first Christmas without someone dear. It may be the second or even the 20th year, the number is irrelevant. The thoughts and the longing to be with our loved ones at such a poignant part of the year often brings feelings of sadness and despair.

Traditions within the family home are suddenly void of a key figure...a bit like a jigsaw puzzle which remains incomplete as one piece is missing. This doesn't mean that Christmas will never be celebrated ever again. It simply means there will be a new normal...It's time to do things differently. Even if it’s not the way you would normally do things, celebrating the festive season in a way that is right for you is far more important than celebrating in a way that you think you should be celebrating. Don’t feel pressured to comply with the norm or to listen to the countless pieces of advice you will get...and you will get it! People think they are helping and to a degree they are but only you know what is right for you.

If that means breaking with tradition, then that’s perfectly acceptable. You shouldn’t feel forced into making things harder than they already are. If Christmas morning means you sitting in your favourite cosy jumper without any plans to be anywhere or doing anything then that is fine. If it means that this year you choose to go away from the family home for a few days to celebrate differently then that is ok too. Only you will know what feels right. Grief is a complex emotion and it takes each one of us on a completely different journey. The length of time that the journey takes is irrelevant...all that matters is we reach the destination of peace. One day the dark clouds will lift and things will feel a bit brighter and more comfortable. Of course we still miss our loved ones and we always will but we remember how to laugh again without feeling guilty. Having some fun and laughter isn't disrespectful.

Similarly, you may find comfort in doing the same things you did at this time each year. Maybe you always attend a carol service on Christmas Eve? Perhaps you always prepared the meal in a certain way or wrapped the presents at a certain time. That repetition can help you with your feelings of sadness. It might be the very thing that makes the festive season easier to bear. Do what’s best for you. But do not feel pressured to celebrate Christmas in a way that doesn’t work for you. Remember it’s ok to feel sad and, equally so, it’s ok to celebrate without it being disrespectful. I know in my home I take great comfort in our family tradition. I like to wrap a box filled with photos or special things and place it under the tree as a gift that can never be given. It is a symbolism of still remembering all of my loved ones lost with the blessing of memories at Christmas. These are mine and nothing can take them away. I also have a special ornament upon my tree for the key people in my life that I have lost. As I dress my tree I place these beautiful offerings onto my tree to adorn its beauty and give thanks for the wonderful times we had whilst they were still here. I have friends who set the table for dinner and set an extra place for the "missing guest". Then to make a difference in that persons memory as they donate the price of a Christmas dinner to someone in Christmas through a charity. Whatever you do it becomes a new special, sacred tradition for you. There is no right or wrong.

It can be a particularly hard time for children as they want to be excited but often feel guilty for this. To help them cope better you should involve them as much as possible. Decorate the Christmas tree together, put up decorations, bake the cake together or steam the pudding that Nanny used to make. Ask them about their feelings and what they feel or want. They are grieving too and may be bottling up feelings so they don’t worry about upsetting us as adults. Children are like that sometimes and will be thinking about things more than you might know. They often worry about doing or saying the wrong thing and it reflects in their behaviour. We must respect their wishes too as it is possible that they might not want to be involved. The only way to know for sure is to speak with them about their feelings. Talking is vital!

Let us also remember that Christmas is a difficult time for those of us who have family or friends who are seriously ill. It can be a time where we are giving palliative nursing to a loved one. It could be that we have people around us who know that this Festive season is most likely their last. Again there will be people who will inevitably find themselves in turmoil as they will lose loved ones on significant days. If this is something that we ourselves are experiencing then we need to allow ourselves to be selfish. Its ok to do what we want to do. Its ok to make those memories and make each day count. It's ok to eat non traditional fayre if that is what we fancy after-all who said we had to eat Turkey? I guess what I am trying to say is do what makes you happy! If we are supporting people who fit into this category then our support and our art of conversation is all we need to help.

Christmas isn't about how much we spend or what we give or get That is a commercial expectation. It should be a special time where we please our hearts. Where we love to have that hug, smile and participation in whatever we choose. Where the essence is captured in our actions, where we remember people and treasure the memories both old and new. Let's not forget that due to the COVID crisis many people lost their loved ones much sooner than they would have liked. That they never got the chance to say goodbye in person. That they couldn't grieve in the same way.

My message is very clear...Be kind, be patient and be honest both with others and yourself. If we receive an offer to go out but would rather stay in then that's kind to yourself. If you have invited someone but they have yet to patient. It may be a difficult decision for them to decide upon. Lastly be honest and open. Let them know you are thinking of them, tell them that you care, be the strength that they need and also tell others how you feel.

So...much love to all of you as this Christmas of 2021 approaches...I leave you with this poem

Every day without you since you had to go,

Is like a summer without sunshine or a Christmas without snow.

I wish that I could talk to you, there's so much I'd like to say,

Life has changed so very much since you went away.

Those we love so dearly, will always be at heart,

Yet everything's been different since we've been apart.

Let us move on with festive cheer and start this year anew,

Making memories of Christmas, whilst raising a glass to you.

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