Christmas is supposed to be, as the song says, ?the most wonderful time of the year? but for us, bereaved parents, siblings or spouses, Christmas can actually be one of most daunting times of the year.
The pressure is everywhere to rejoice, to engage, to give and it can place a huge burden on the already fragile equilibrium of the grieving mind.
This year, two public figures have spoken of the heartache of loss close to the Christmas season.
Prince Harry candidly spoke about his mother?s death and how it left a ?gaping hole? in his life ?that could never be filled.?
For Mary Berry, whose son died in 1989 in a car crash (and who has been a patron of Child Bereavement UK since 2008), William is in every way still part of the family, not someone to be forgotten or simply not talked about.
But how do you cross the bridge, how do you move from surviving by the skin of your teeth what will probably be the most traumatic event of your life to re-learning to enjoy the Christmas holidays?
Finding meaning in the celebrations after loss takes sustained effort, personal insight, organisation and collaboration. In most cases, it involves renouncing old belief systems and traditions in favour of new ones which account for the changes that have dramatically shifted the family dynamics.
For Jenny, from The Brick Castle, and her family the first Christmas after losing their beloved Elspeth was incredibly hard but, just like Mary Berry?s family, they realised that it is tragedy as well as celebration that has glued them together. In her unassuming and honest style, Jenny opens up about what made that first celebration without Elspeth bearable. The readjustment of expectations and including everyone in deciding on the family?s new traditions gave that first Christmas a fresh facet and something to work together towards.
Kelly, from Chasing Dragonflies, who finds herself celebrating a third Christmas without her beautiful Abigail, speaks of the suffocating burden of external expectations and how doing things differently can shift the focus and make Christmas pass easier for a bereaved family. Kelly writes bravely this year about her refusal to give up on Christmas and her new-found determination to celebrate it in a way that will continue to include and honour Abi.
For Oana, from Mama?s Haven, who faces a second Christmas without her son, Georgie, the name of the game is acceptance and self-care this year. Although she continues to grieve her beautiful boy,and a future that should have looked very different, she has come to realise that hope and mourning can coexist in her heart, intimately intertwined.
Harriet, from A Rush of Love, remembers her young brother three years after his passing and speaks fondly of him ?as he was, kind, funny and one of the best friends I?ve ever had.? Harriet also details the ways in which the tragic loss has affected her as a person. She is now much less prone to sweat the small stuff, she appreciates the value of life and what most people take for granted and also fears death less because, as she puts it ?I know I?ll have someone waiting for me when my time comes and I just can?t wait to see him.?
This Christmas, we will be keeping Julia, from Rainbeaubelle and Steph, from Was this in the Plan? close to our hearts as they both face the first set of daunting holidays without their husbands. We will remember Rog and Andy, wonderful husbands and fathers, from whose memories of love and vitality their families will draw strength and survive these much dreaded days.
Beyond survival, for all these beautiful and brave souls, lie memories that pain will recede from as time goes by. For they have loved and were loved much and those happy memories, which are now still tinted with overwhelming grief, will at some point transform into life fuel and strength.
Remember their loved ones with them, during this festive season and always, as in doing so, you are pulling those memories back from the mire of sadness and gift them back as joy.
Merry memories and a peaceful new year!
About Oana Papaconstantinou
Oana Papaconstantinou is a mum of 2 children who blogs at Mama’s Haven on grief, travel, photography and reviews. Oana has had the life-altering experience of child loss, when Georgie, her 5 months baby boy died on leukaemia in July 2014. She has now made it her blog’s mission to support people who have been equally affected by grief. Oana works from home in creative writing and social media support. She is on Twitter @MamasHaven and Instagram as mamashaven.