I appreciate just how difficult this time of year can be for those missing their loved ones. My son Matthew died on the 28-10-2016 just two months before Christmas. It now feels like a time to endure rather than enjoy!
Christmas was a massive event in our family. It was the one time of the year we really splashed out. Our family had many traditions, but when Matthew died our traditions died too because they couldn’t continue without him. People may find it strange that we don’t decorate the house anymore but just the thought of doing this makes me feel emotional. Our trusty plastic tree and box of decorations and Christmas lights now lay dormant, covered in cobwebs in the attic. People sometimes ask, “why don’t you just put out a few Christmas ornaments?” If they were in our shoes, they would know the answer to that question!
We celebrate Christmas differently now. We get on a plane and travel off to the Canary Islands and enjoy some warm mid-winter sunshine. We sit on the beach wearing our Christmas hats, drinking and reminiscing on our past Christmases. We remind each other of the funny, happy, special times and we shed a few tears too, but that’s okay, it’s our new normal. We swim in the sea, relax, sunbathe and enjoy our new tradition. We also like to find a church and light a candle in his memory. One of the positives about this new tradition means, there’s no mad supermarket last minute shopping to do. I don’t miss the craziness of the roads when it seems like everybody is out panic buying. I don’t miss the cold grey days and disappointment of another Christmas without snow. I don’t miss the anxiety of making sure everyone has a perfect day. I don’t miss the awful Christmas television programmes. We celebrate Christmas differently now and it feels good to make new traditions.
Our daughter Sarah is also creating new traditions with her boyfriend, but we always have a day together were we swap presents before we fly off to warmer climes.
Here are some tips that will hopefully help you get through the festive period if you are missing a loved one.
Create new traditions in their memory like making a memorial ornament, wreath, or other decoration. In my spare time I like to paint pebbles and I paint a Christmas pebble and take it away with me. I leave it for others to find and then it can be posted on Facebook @ #letterstomatthew.co.uk and then re-hidden.
Decide where you want to spend Christmas. We choose to go somewhere warm and sunny as part of our new tradition, but it may comfort others to stay at home. Wherever you choose to be, maybe light a candle on Christmas day in memory of your loved one. I like to take a photograph of Matthew away with us and it gives me a lot of comfort to light a candle and focus on the joy he bought into my life. It feels good to have a moment of silence during the festivities. I also like to journal, meditate and listen to his music.
Instead of spending money on presents, maybe think about donating to a charity in their name. Explain to your friends and relatives that this is a new tradition. We choose not send cards anymore as we prefer the money to go to a worthy cause. Each year we donate to a charity that supported Matthew in some way throughout his illness journey.
Leave an empty seat at the dinner table in memory of your loved one. If we were at home over the Christmas period, I would do this. I would put his photograph on his place setting.
Don’t feel guilty if you skip or minimize on the decorations. I don’t!
You never know what may trigger a cryfest but tears are okay. Tears are just love in liquid form and with Christmas everywhere they are never far away. Others may see our tears as a problem that needs fixing or that we are not coping well but what they don’t realise is that tears help us wash away our pain.
Christmas can be tough but remember to enjoy yourself. I know Matthew would be mad at me if I did not look for the love, laughter and joy during this period.
Give yourself permission to be happy and remember this does not diminish how much you love and miss your loved one.
I hope you find peace in your heart this Christmas. That is the greatest gift!
“This year will soon come to an end just like the many others before, but you will continue to live in my heart, mind and soul for as long as I breathe and walk my journey on this earth.”