Grief Notes

What I Learned About Grief This Christmas

29th January 2020
Coal Drops Yard Christmas 2019


Here are my slightly delayed musings on the Christmas just gone. I started writing this weeks ago but the words just did not fall onto the page. Looking back on my postings from last year, I see that I wrote about Christmas in March so at least I have beaten that for 2020. 

Ahhh Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year or a dreaded time of expectation, stress and exhaustion? For most of us, I guess it’s somewhere in the middle. I know I’ve never found it easy. We lost a grandparent at Christmas when I was a teenager, my parents divorced when I hit my early twenties them my dad died just before Christmas nine years ago. I wrote this post two years about festive overwhelm. Even my kids realised ages ago that the idea of Christmas doesn’t always meet reality. They started to question the lack of snow. “But, it can’t be Christmas, it’s not snowing?”. Then when it did snow two months later, “Is it Christmas again?”.

Granary Square Christmas 2019

It was our second Christmas without Andy. It wasn’t all bad, it obviously wasn’t the best Christmas ever but there were parts that were fun. There were parts that were magical. The kids definitely enjoyed themselves which is where it’s at for me. I’m very much still grieving and figuring out how to live this new life. I find that times like Christmas shines a spotlight on my feelings, fears and hopes, bringing them out in the open to be examined. Here’s what I learned, some heartfelt and some more frivolous. 

What Christmas Taught Me 

The Feeling Of Dread Can Be Worse Than The Thing You’re Dreading

I’ve had this realisation time and time again but always seem to forget. I was dreading Christmas from about early November, both the anticipation of being overwhelmed with grief and also the practicalities of doing it all by myself. The anxiety was physical as it often is, tension across my shoulders, a crushing feeling against my chest, nausea and insomnia. By the time December came, the feeling had eased somewhat. I’m putting a note in my diary for the 1st November 2020 to come back and read this and to what I can to not succumb to The Dread.

Just Because It’s The Second One It Doesn’t Make It Easier

Some people say that the second year of grief is harder because your shock has warn off and everyone else’s expectation is that you will be coping now that you are over a year into your new life. I’m not really sure where I stand on this. I do know that I felt more gung-ho about certain things last year. For example, I stood on a kids wooden chair to get the lights up outside the house and batted away a neighbour who came over to help. I was fierce and determined. This year I couldn’t summon up the energy to put the lights up (and that is OK). 

For Most People It’s Not The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 

Not wanting to spread doom instead of joy but I think it’s always helpful to remember that not everyone is having the best time. Even if from the outside it looks like they are.

Christmas Is Full of Nostalgia

So much of how we feel about Christmas and how we want it to be is caught up with nostalgia. I don’t seem to be able to separate Christmas Present from Christmas Past. So I follow recipes that remind me of my childhood and that’s why we have stockings and not pillow cases. And then as I pull out our decorations and as we read Christmas books, I think back to Christmases when the kids were smaller and that is both lovely (so I wouldn’t want to block out those memories) and also incredibly painful. I suppose the pain will fade over the years but I truly hope the lovely memories don’t.

Cliveden Christmas 2019

You Don’t Have To Put Up All The Decorations 

… and having a tree delivered is a game changer. Apart from the tree (which the kids mostly decorated) I didn’t put up much else. And forego the outdoor lights completely. It made it all feel much more manageable to let myself off doing these things.

Check Out The Plots Before Watching / Reading

I had a lovely evening at the cinema watching Last Christmas with friends. But, I’d been warned about the film so I read up the plot. It did not stop my enjoyment but meant I was ready for the sad bits and they didn’t take my breath away. I still cried though.

I also downloaded the book “The Girl That Saved Christmas” by Matt Haig to listen to with the kids on our various journeys to see family and friends. It didn’t start out well and I regretted not better researching the plot. <Spoiler alert>. The main character Amelia’s dad died before she was born, then her mum dies and she ends up in a Victorian workhouse. Cue lots of questions from the girls about what would happen to them if I died. But, it does have a happy ending. And we listened to this beautiful part (I have abridged it slightly) on a particularly slow journey on the North Circular on the 23rd December which made me sob (fortunately in stationary traffic):

Amelia’s head felt heavy with all these sad thoughts. “You know, you love someone and they love you back and then they are no longer here. Where does that love go?”

“The love of a person never disappears”, Father Christmas said softly. “Even if they might. We have memories, you see, Amelia. Love never dies. We love someone and they love us back and that love is stored and it protects us. It is bigger than life and it doesn’t end with life. It stays inside us. They stay inside us. Inside our hearts”.

I Need To Make Room For Sadness

My modus operandi for dealing with life has been to keep us busy. Often very busy. We accept lots of invites and head out on fun yet tiring adventures. I’ve always been like that to an extent but part of what propels me to book up our days is the fear of being stuck at home with the girls and feeling lost and lonely. The thought of that used to overwhelm me in a panicky, racing heart way. I’ve realised that I don’t feel like that anymore. That it is fine to be still. And in that stillness I think I can try to make room for the sadness so that it doesn’t overwhelm me listening to a sad book in a traffic jam on the day before Christmas Eve.

In fact, Andy used to berate me for making too many plans. He wanted at least one day after Christmas to watch films and not do much, preferably more than one day. Next year, I’m going to keep one weekend day free in December for us to do just that. 

We Are Missing A Focal Point 

Andy doesn’t have a grave. We scattered his ashes in the North Sea on Brancaster beach. When his parents were telling us how they had visited their parents graves a few days before Christmas, I realised that maybe what was missing was some sort of physical focal point. Would it feel better to have somewhere locally to visit at times like this? We have talked about a memorial bench or a tree and I’m going to try and sort something out this year. 

Try To Be Better Organised 

A less emotional one here. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people who shop and wrap their presents months in advance but I tend to have a burst of doing Christmas stuff in November. Then I get complacent and end up leaving things to the last minute. I was up until just before midnight on Christmas Eve still wrapping the girls presents. For me this just adds to my feeling of festive unpleasantness. 

Our Local Community Rocks 

However, we did go to a party on Christmas Eve in the early evening when friends were volunteering to come back and help me wrap. I didn’t take them up on it but I came away feeling lifted. Then we met friends on our local green in the sunshine on Christmas morning and went to the local pub with more friends before Christmas lunch with family. On Boxing Day we took part in a Tug of War tournament on the green with families from the girls’ school. The girls got covered in mud. I stayed away from the mud and focused on coffee / Baileys drinking and catching up. It was a definite high point of the week for me. 

Unwrapping presents on Christmas morning

Christmas Is Magical Even Without Father Christmas 

The eldest daughter (ages 8) has started to question how real Father Christmas is. It just doesn’t make sense to her anymore. I didn’t confirm or deny her thoughts. I don’t like lying to her though (I take a pretty dim view of my kids lying to me) and Father Christmas as a real thing has probably served it’s purpose for her and she’s ready to move on. And it was all still magical.  

Homemade wreath Christmas 2019

The Importance of Creativity & Playfulness

I’m glad that I made time for some things I enjoyed. Wreath making, seeing the Carnaby Street lights (always my fave) and visiting Denis Severs’ house in Spitalfields for the first time. The house is a imagined recreation of the home of a migrant Huguenot family of  silk weavers. The room designs take inspiration from the early 18th to the dawn of the 20th centuries. You are not able to taking photos in the house (I love that) but on one of the chairs was a note from Severs. The note said something about Christmas being a human need to bring light into the midwinter.

Christmas notes Christmas 2019

Gentle Moments That Can’t Be Planned Are The Best 

One morning Imogen climbed into bed with a sweet note for me. It’s one if the times that I’d love to remember about this Christmas. <3

I hope you had the best Christmas that you possibly could with whatever challenges you are facing and that 2020 has got off to a good start for you. 

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