Acknowledging Grief at Christmas

Losing a loved one at any time of year is hard but there is something about December and the anticipation that Christmas brings that made the death of my beloved Grandad seventeen years ago today seem all the more devastating. My grandad had cancer of the oesophagus, which attacked hard and fast and left him, at the end of his life, unable to eat, drink or even swallow.

Seeing such a strong and brave man reduced to a frail shadow of himself in a hospital bed was heartbreaking for us all. I remember the day he died so vividly, being unable to go and say goodbye, looking up at the clock at the exact time his eyes closed for the last time, that awful call from my mum to break the news and being sat in my nan and granddad’s house knowing that he wouldn’t ever be coming back home again.

All of this happened just two weeks before Christmas. I was the eldest of eight grandchildren at the time at twelve years old and I remember feeling this guilt for thinking about Christmas as the family prepared for the funeral. The younger children didn’t really understand what had happened and I know now, as a mum myself, how hard it must have been for the adults trying to keep everything together and magical at such a difficult time.

That first Christmas was hard. We had the big family meal, which I helped to cook as my Grandad would normally have and we spent the day together opening presents but there was a gap at the table that couldn’t be filled and it was a bittersweet occasion. As the years went by, things became easier in the sense that our grief was no longer as raw and painful but as my granddad had been such a huge part of our lives, we still miss him, especially at this time of year.

As well as his death being on the twelfth, his birthday was on 27th December, so the two dates almost bookend the festive period, making it a poignant time for us as a family. I think what is difficult is the pressure to enjoy this time of year. With all the parties, special occasions and festive merriment, it can be hard to cope with the emotions of loss, grief and loneliness associated with losing somebody you love.

It is important to remember that these emotions shouldn’t be stifled just because it’s Christmas. It is ok not to be ok. It is ok to avoid social situations if it feels too hard. It is ok to not celebrate if you don’t feel you can. But it is just as important to remember that it’s ok if you do want to celebrate, if you want to distract yourself with the hustle and bustle this time of year brings, if you’d rather be out and about socialising than being inside on your own with your thoughts.

Grief affects everybody differently. Whether you have lost somebody you love this year, or in the past, know that you don’t have to feel the Christmas spirit. It will be there waiting when you are ready to celebrate again.

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