When I’ve looked at the search terms people use to find my blog, my heart aches. These are just the Christmas-related search terms for my blog this week:
‘Coping with the loss of a child, on what should be their first Christmas’
‘Christmas loss of a child’
‘Christmas cards appropriate to send after losing a child’
‘How to get through our first Christmas since my daughter was killed’
‘First Christmas after the loss of a child’
‘Coping with death of a child at Christmas’
‘Coping through Christmas without my daughter’
These words have been typed by real people, parents, living with real and raw grief, most likely in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep, through tears, in desperation for some website somewhere to tell them just how – how on earth – they can get through the next six weeks in the run up not to mention the actual days of celebration without their child. So many parents feeling suffocated by and lost in the hype and pressure to be excited.
Last year, I wrote this post about how to celebrate Christmas after the death of your child, which some readers may find useful, it’s certainly been read many times already these past few weeks.
The first two Christmases without Abi were understandably hard. We were utterly lost. The noise of Christmas, which as we know starts at the beginning of November, was deafening.
We felt suffocated and hurt by the expectations of others who found it hard to understand why we wouldn’t want to ‘do Christmas’. And people don’t understand, as much as they try (and I’ve come to realise it’s really not their fault, often they just want to try to help ease our pain).
Nevertheless, it can be a shock to us when we hear ‘what are you doing for Christmas?’ from a relative when our hearts and minds are consumed with getting through the next day and thoughts of Christmas celebrations seem terrifying. (Incidentally, if you’re a relative of a parent who’s lost a child recently, consider just asking the questions a different way, something like ‘I know Christmas is not on your mind at all but I just want you to know that whatever you want to do – whether with us or alone – we will support you as much as possible.’ And also include the child in your usual traditions and cards.)
Yet, back then, we had to get through the days somehow, and with other children who still expected the celebration, we had to work out a way we could do Christmas for them without making ourselves stressed or upset.
In the run up to the first Christmas without Abi I found it maddening to the point of insanity. I couldn’t buy cards and getting presents was filled with sadness not excitement.
That year, we did something we’d never done before. We went out for Christmas lunch. It was a good idea as we weren’t all stuck at home and neither did we have to sit through a wider family meal without Abi there, as though nothing happened. After Boxing Day we went away for a few days, again something we’d not done before. It kept us distracted in some way from the absence of Abi yet we felt able to include her.
We bought fresh flowers for her memorial, a candle with her name on that we lit on Christmas morning and we put her photo on our table at lunch. It was hard. These things were all we could do. It felt unbearable to think this was it when I could still hear her excited voice, her hovering round me in the kitchen for food, her laughter. There were countless (secret) tears, especially on Christmas morning and New Year’s Eve – ‘secret’ because you feel can’t ‘spoil’ everyone’s fun by crying every two minutes. We were relieved when it was finally over.
The second Christmas, last year, we’d just had our kitchen updated and it was a drastic change, and a huge distraction. So we felt right to have it at home, again just us. We were still getting ourselves accustomed to our new dynamic (with a new baby boy) and finding our feet with how we celebrated Christmas. We bought a real tree and new decorations. We went to the church services and tried to focus on the real meaning of Christmas.
Christ has always been a part of Christmas to us, although I admit that he’s not always been the focus. When I was younger I attended church services and was completely absorbed in the message of Christmas. As a member of the church choir, we’d sing at numerous carol services in old people’s homes and other places. Christmas was a lovely time of year. At home we had little money but the heart of the Christmas message was in our celebrations. Family brought us presents, our presents were humble gifts (not expensive electronics) but we always had something. I do recall feeling a bit envious, as I got into my teens, that my friends were getting expensive trainers and gadgets (back in the late eighties it was all about Nike and TVs), but looking back I remember more the times with people that the actual gifts themselves.
Christmas Day was about family, food, and telly. We always got together with our wider family. My grandma and granddad, who had seven children, would invite most of them round for a Boxing Day meal. We had lots of cousins to play with.
When I married my hubby, his family weren’t churchgoers or believers so our family traditions merged and we established our own as we quickly went on to have children.
We then also weren’t churchgoers but I always kept in my mind that, from my upbringing in poverty, Christmas was a time of humble giving, of being thankful for family and it became about making happy memories for our children.
As my faith has deepened, I’m a committed Christian, and I feel an honest sense of peace this year. I still grieve for Abi very much, but she feels safe to me. I feel love and longing when I think of her. I also remember her love for this time of year.
I feel very fortunate that having a new baby – now a toddler – who is discovering the wonders of advent, my enthusiasm for Christmas is renewed. He’s brought so much joy back into our lives.
I feel a new sense of happiness. I feel strength to face the days. I want to face them with joy, not fear them as I did the last two years. I feel more of me coming back – wanting to be organised, planning ahead, wanting to make memories for us all. My children deserve that.
I’m less fearful of death and illness. I’m living life with more hope for the future. If I’m sticking around, I’m going to do it with joy.
We will still have an intimate family Christmas, but with the bustle of a busy home. We will buy a small potted Christmas tree for Abi’s memorial and decorate it for her, as a way to include her in our celebrations. And there will be plenty of candles!
I don’t quite know how I got here. And if you’re reading this with the numbness and sickness of early grief, these words may feel alien to you.
I cannot deny that what you have to face is hard beyond belief. Looking back over the few years we’ve had travelling this horrible road, I can see that by doing what I could when I could was the only way I got through it. Being kind to myself, avoiding the hype when it was too much, keeping those who understood close and distancing myself from those who didn’t, ordering online to avoid the shops, and including Abi in our days all helped me to transition to where I am now.
Each year has been different for me – the first shock, the second depression, this year hope, and next year will be different too.
Next year, we hope to have our new baby girl with us, and we are getting more excited by the day for her safe arrival. I am putting my trust completely in Jesus, which may be hard to grasp for many readers, but, for me, this is the way.
If you are struggling to think how you will cope with Christmas, or any special day, I would be happy to hear from you so please contact me through the Comfort Zone. And, if you do nothing else other than breathe that’s okay! It doesn’t matter. Just keep going, the days will roll on. It will soon be January, it will soon be over, and spring will come around again… when you are ready for it.
Sending you all love and strength with whatever you are facing this season.