Surviving Christmas while Grieving

Amelie’s family Christmases have changed since her father died. She explains how family have got through.

Grief is intensely personal, and I just want to put it out there that there’s no one way to survive a Christmas while acutely grieving, but here is our family journey.

After my father died, I had two small children who were wildly excited about all things Christmassy and I needed to ‘create Christmas’ for them. I had to keep going, keep faking it, till I could eventually make it and enjoy the time of year again.

That was ten years ago, but I still remember vividly how I sobbed over the turkey the first few years. I hosted my in laws, who seemed pretty oblivious to my emotional state, arriving en masse to be fed and watered, waited on and gifted upon. All good in that it kept me so busy, it stopped me thinking. For a long time, I was happy not to have time to think, it only made me sadder.

My mum on the other hand, opted out of Christmas. It’s important to note at this point that our family Christmases had been the highlight of a happy family calendar. We loved being with each other, my dad at the head of the table, cracking ‘bad-dad’ jokes while we ate, drank and were merry. We were your basic Bisto family and we were always thankful for how unbelievably lucky we were.

So, when the luck ran out and Dad was no longer there, mum just couldn’t face it. She was so strong in those early days of grieving. She was still wonderful with her grandchildren, still cared for her own mother and kept her job. A club-sandwich-original and she was amazing.

She only asked for one thing. “Please don’t make me do Christmas, I’m sorry, I just can’t bear it.”

As her children, my sister and I had to grant her this wish. So that’s how I ended up with my children and in-laws, while my mum helped wash and feed the homeless on Christmas Day. I don’t mind admitting that there were times that first year I really resented it. I may have been a grown up but I wanted my mummy.

It went on for six years and various wonderful charitable acts were done by my mother over these Christmases. I will always admire her for that. For being strong enough to do her own thing. To do what felt right for her and get through the hardest time of her life and the worst time of the year the best way she could.

But then Christmas came around once again and I felt I had to say something. I realised my children were growing up without her being present in any of their Christmases and I wanted her to be part of their memories.

It took a lot of cajoling and persuading but eventually my mum agreed. The first time she came to Christmas it was awful. My children loved it and Granny was a massive hit, but it took it’s toll on her. It was so hard to see my mum struggle to put on her brave face to get through the festivities.

Throughout the next year, we talked about options. By this time, she had met her partner – who had also lost the love of his life – so together they went to Cornwall and ignored Christmas, walking on the beach, eating sandwiches and generally performing an unfestive-grief-rebellion.

The next year, she suddenly offered to host. It was a huge turnaround and we were all initially thrilled. But when the day arrived, my mum was so stressed. The last time she’d hosted Christmas dinner had been nearly a decade ago and she’d had my dad doing all the ‘dad-bits’ – lighting fires, pouring wine (apologies for the stereotype). She did it all solo and was exhausted – emotionally and physically.

This year it won’t be the same whatever the restrictions or lack of end up being. Who, now, can sit down at a table of many age groups without a fear that they may be passing this dreadful virus to a loved one?

Whatever the situation, we will get through it in-person or zoom and there will be hard bits either way as we know there’s no easy way to get through Christmas when you’ve lost a loved one.

But we’re also learning you can only take them one by one, and try to do what feels right at the time – be that opting in, out or something in between!

Perhaps also feel reassured to know that, while Bisto Christmases can sometimes exist, there are many more families struggling to find their way– this year more than most. Let’s all just take it one step, one event at a time and be kind to ourselves.