The last few weeks have seen me singing and dancing to Christmas music, laughing, watching endless Christmas films and buying and wrapping gifts – excited to see the faces for those who will open them. We have had a zoom family Christmas concert and have been eager to drive around and see the array of Christmas decorations and lights locally. I am confident to say that I have well and truly been feeling the Christmas spirit this season and it has felt so wonderful.
At the weekend I even commented to Mr Smith that my heart felt so full this year, that I wouldn’t even care whether I had gifts or not come the big day, because celebrating together and singing praises – as well as Christmas stories with the kids and acts of kindness for others – has made it already feel so full and special, and for that I am thankful.
But this hasn’t always been the case. You see, for me this feels like a massive milestone and whilst I am not sure how future Christmases will make me feel (or even how I will feel tomorrow) it is a stark contrast to Christmases past and lugging grief around with me.
If you have followed my blog for a while you will be very much aware that Christmas is often a difficult time of year for me (as it is for others). And, for the last 5 years Christmas has made me feel sad, detached and hurting, as I have missed having all of my children here. I have struggled with the loss of Poppy (as well as other loved ones that made this season whole and simply wonderful) and this grief and pain has dulled the sparkle of Christmas time. This year however I have seen a huge shift in feeling the Christmas spirit, an increase of peace and joy, and I have embraced what it has enabled me to do, feel and enjoy.
But, if you are not feeling this way, that is okay too.
It is okay if grief is still beating upon you or if Christmas triggers the missing, the pain and the hurting all over again. It is only natural that when someone we love dies, events that are celebratory and bring family together would magnify the absence of those who are not here.
I know in the early days it physically hurt so so much to be celebrating Christmas when my heart was so broken – I had moments I knew if I heard one more song about angels and such, that I would just lose it! I also know because of these feelings, many bereaved parents used to go away at Christmas or simply just didn’t bother to celebrate it so as to avoid the myriad of messy feelings and pain it would invite.
Tis the season to be jolly – a time of joy and peace – and yet, we all know that in grief it can often be so incredibly hard to connect to any of those emotions. We feel anything but jolly when we are hurting and missing.
Even a year or 2 ago, I wondered if I would ever see the joy in the season again or if it would always feel like a facade! I wondered if I would ever master feeling divided between heaven and earth – grief and trying to make it special for my living kids. I wondered if part of being a bereaved mother meant I would always have to pretend the excitement as well as Santa, to enable my living kids to have a wonderful Christmas? Each gift I bought, song we sung and lights we saw filled me with tears and hurt as I felt the chasm of Poppy not being here with us and it dampened the season for me.
I don’t think we can ever fully heal from the pain and loss that comes when a child or parent, spouse or sibling dies. I do however believe that with time we can gain the ability and capacity to better carry our loss and gain a greater perspective that there is still wonderful things to experience in life. I guess to some looking in this may look like healing and I suppose in many ways the wound is not as raw as it was in the beginning. But anyone who has carried loss will know that it is always right their under the surface and we just become better equipped to handle it.
Even so, 6 years on I can confidently say that I feel differently this year. I feel the Christmas spirit again and I feel joy over the smallest of things. I feel excited – to sing songs, to buy and give gifts and to be with family. I rejoice so much more over the Christmas message and the hope it gives to me and our family. Each hymn now and verse or thought enables me to feel heaven a little closer and brings more peace – it is here I feel brighter than before.
Of course this is not true for all – whether it has been the effects of this last year or the loss of a loved one, I know all too well it can be such a hard time of year. And, if you are not feeling the Christmas Spirit this year, I cannot say enough that that is absolutely okay. Be kind to yourself and…
Don’t force yourself – The worst thing in grief is to force yourself because you feel you “should”. Let go of expectations placed upon you – be it by a feeling of duty or by those who have no idea what this loss feels like for you (be it a person, job or income). No one says you should or shouldn’t do anything – you do you, because this is your journey. I know from experience that the added pressure of making yourself do something or buy something that is painful or upsetting, will possibly make you feel worse or create anger and resentment.
Respect your feelings regarding it and remove yourself if it is too much emotionally. When grief is raw, you need to protect yourself. Also know, if you do show up to things, it is okay to shed a tear, be a little quieter than normal or not get up and dance as you would have before. You may well do these things again in years to come, but do not force yourself now to go to things or do things because you feel it is expected.
Feel what you need to – Let go of any guilt for feeling excited or enjoying that hymn/song you always have done. Let go of guilt that you could have done more or that you shouldn’t be playing and having fun when they’re not here or others are suffering – It is absolutely okay to still find joy in these things and to live your life to the full if that is what you are feeling. You will find as you progress through your grief and life, that it will become normal for our joys and sadness’s to roll into one and that it is okay and possible for both emotions to exist along side one another. Life can and will still be beautiful and joyful, despite this awful loss and heartache you endure through it. So feel it if it comes – embrace the time to laugh and let go a little – it can be so refreshing.
Likewise if you are feeling low and sad and can’t face it, feel that too. There have been so many days over the years where I have planned to go Christmas shopping or do something, but when it came to it, I felt too sad and anxious to. And so, I hopped back into bed or on the sofa with a few treats and cried it out or stared into the abyss – I felt what I needed to and I let the grief wash over me. My child died 6 years ago and that is a tremendous load to bear and process – one that sometimes I still cannot fathom. I do know though that by honouring our grief in each moment, it helps us to move forward and navigate it that little bit better next time.
Find a way to honour them (if you want to) – We always go to Poppy’s grave on Christmas morning and wish her a merry Christmas. It is always a hard part of the day, but also a time to reflect and talk together about how blessed we are to have her as our daughter/sister and how we cling to the hope that because Christ came, we will see her again. It makes Christmas more meaningful for us.
It is important to us to find ways to honour our daughter and not forget her in these seasons – we have ornaments with her name that we hang and we talk about her in our celebrations too. Yes it is emotional and hard at times, but it is lovely to include her in ways that feel right to us and help us feel connected as a family.
Talk about it – either with someone who you know won’t disregard your feelings or a helpline such as Cruse if you are really struggling. Talking helps to process and helps to get out all of the feelings that swamp us. I always welcome the moments to sit (or walk) and chat about life, loss and hope with those who make the time to listen and acknowledge.
One thing I know is that Christmas is never going to be the same again after losing a child (or other close family member) just as life never is. Their absence will always be felt at times like this, but I promise you that as you move forward on your journey, your ability to find joy again and to feel peace at this time of year will increase, just as your capacity to carry this loss will.
My heart wishes daily (and especially at Christmas time) that Poppy was here. I want to have all my kids together; especially as we approach the birth of our 5th. I want to be buying and wrapping her gifts too and seeing an extra child in the sibling pics of elf dress up days and Christmas Jumper days at school. We miss her – and more so at seasons like this. It has been a hard few years, but this year, however I feel going forward next week, I am grateful for the ability to feel joy and find comfort in the Christmas story again (more than ever). I am thankful for moments where I have felt heaven closer and where I have felt merry and bright because of what Christmas means to us and feels for us.
And with those moments, right now at least, I am thankful to be enjoying Christmas once more in our little family. Be kind to yourself this Christmas – it will come.