When people that we love and are special to us die, Christmas can be hard, especially if their death happened close to Christmas. It is three years ago on December 18th when we discontinued my son’s life support. He had tried to kill himself the day before and had done too much damage to his body to survive.
First occasions are often hard so it’s important to think about what you want to do and how you want to deal with things. You may want to completely break with your traditions and do something new or you may want to carry on with your familiar rituals.
On that first Christmas, Sean’s body had only been released by the Coroner on Christmas Eve and was at the funeral home. I had spent the day planning his funeral. That evening my other son, Rob, and I watched one of Sean’s favourite comedy movies and toasted him with his favourite whisky. We laughed at the jokes and talked about how much he loved that film. We spoke as if he were in the room with us. On Christmas Day, we didn’t have our usual meal but went to a friend’s instead. That family had also lost a son some years before and our boys had gone to school together so we shared stories and remembered. That made my emptiness easier to bear and I’m grateful to my friend for including us.
Since then we have developed a new way of marking Christmas – on Christmas Eve we always watch a comedy movie that Sean loved (last year, it was The Blues Brothers). We set a place for him at the table for Christmas lunch. We pour him a glass of champagne and clink our glasses with him. Although he is not here with us in the physical, he is still my son and a part of our family.
A friend always hangs a Christmas stocking for her deceased daughter. Somebody else I know gives a gift to charity from her mother every Christmas. Another person I know still gives gifts on birthdays and Christmas in the name of her dead child to the people he loved.
Some people may think this is all a bit strange. They might even think that people who do this have not ‘let go’ and are hanging on to their grief. There can be some judgmental thoughts about this kind of remembrance.
The truth is that whatever works for you is the right thing to do for you. Some people prefer not to remember – they can only get through those days by not thinking about their loss. Again, this is fine.
It does help to plan ahead. Think about what you are going to do for that special occasion. Honour the emptiness that your loved one has left with their passing. Give yourself, and others, the space to feel and do whatever you and they need to. Remember we all process grief in different ways. Be kind to yourself.
In memory: Sean Campbell White, 4 July 1988 – 18 Dec 2016