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Because family life matters

What should we do about Christmas?

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Christmas can seem such a stark contrast to everything that’s felt in the hearts of parents who are grieving the loss of a son or daughter.

How can we possibly think of hanging tinsel on a tree? How can we dream of writing a few trite greetings to friends or relatives we rarely see? How will we ever get our minds around going out to the shops, let alone preparing a feast for a huge extended family? It just all feels so wrong! We want to stop the world and get off – perhaps more than ever before.

As Christmas gets closer the panic may begin to build. Bereaved parents so often find that the lead-up to Christmas, as with other special days like anniversaries and birthdays, is very much worse than facing the day itself. So if this is the first Christmas since your son or daughter died, please take courage in the fact that a few plans put in place now, plus some understanding friends, will help
you get through.

Memories

All the commercialism can make Christmas feel very empty, so you could try to avoid shops if you find them too painful. Family and friends will understand if you say that you won’t be giving presents this year. Or you could just send vouchers or a cheque to those to whom you want to give gifts. You may decide to send no cards at all – remember you only have to do as much as you want to do. You may well be stronger to think about other people next year.

We all have so many memories of Christmas; some happy, some sad. However, we can choose how we create memories for the future and so it is important that we don’t allow others to dictate to us how that is to be done. Christmas will never be the same again when a member of the family is missing, so perhaps it is a good time to think about what we want to hold onto and what we would like to do differently. It can be a time when parents can begin a new tradition, perhaps even to go somewhere else at Christmas and have time together away from some of the painful memories around the home. It is probably best to avoid comparisons with past Christmas days and know that these new memories can also be precious and a part of who we are.

A precious reminder

For those who were never able to celebrate even one Christmas with your child because they died so young, there will be an added sense of loss. It may be helpful to buy something special at Christmas that will be a precious reminder of your child in years to come. A picture or lamp is something that will be seen and appreciated every day. It can be a reminder of the hopes and dreams you had for that child and a recognition of the lasting value of their life, although so brief.

Our first Christmas without Philip was spent with good friends who allowed us to just ‘be’, without any expectations – that felt very safe. The second Christmas was a vulnerable time too – we had only spent one Christmas without him, so were still far from being ‘experts’. As years go by, recognise that it may remain a time that needs extra sensitivity within the family, and understanding from others.

In the midst of all the pain that Christmas can bring to parents and families who are grieving, try to remember the real meaning of the season – the meaning behind the tinsel and bells which can seem shallow. The message is of love and hope. If this Christmas is a particular struggle for you, we hope you will journey with us and find help and hope by walking alongside others. Perhaps next Christmas you may be able to look back and feel you have journeyed just a little further down the road, and are a little stronger to face life.

Kath Coulson