By The Duchess, 2nd December 2023

Missing Loved Ones This Christmas

How to Deal with Christmas Grief

How to Deal with Christmas Grief

Christmas is a bit of a bittersweet time of year for me. Like Lady Lolita, I am Christmas mad. I love filling my home with festive cheer, I make far too many Christmas sweets and use ‘it’s the holidays’ as an excuse to drink mulled wine like it’s going out of fashion.

I plan Christmas presents with military precision. My husband and I plan our special Christmas menu months in advance and as he reminds me each and every year, my home looks like Father Christmas has just thrown up glitter in it, particularly the living room. In fact, there is not an inch of my house that is not touched my Christmas cheer.

However, there is not a single day of December that goes by when I don’t feel a stab of pain in my heart and a lump in my throat.

“I wish my gran was here to see all this.”

My beautiful gran died on December 11th many, many years ago, but each and every year, as my kids sit on the carpet in front of the fire making Christmas decorations, I find myself saying “God, my gran would have loved to have seen you making all these.” My mind will drift as I wonder what she would have thought of my kids, if she would have taught them all the small traditions she taught me. I find myself wishing she could have met them, just once. It’s not just Christmas when she pops into my head. Like everyone who has lost someone close to them, she fills my heart and my dreams at random times, on any given day of the year. But Christmas is when she pops into my head and doesn’t leave!

I don’t shed a tear, I know that she wouldn’t want me to. I don’t get ‘sad’ because she was not a sad person. She was full of life and cheer all the time. I don’t remember her being sad, not ever – not the whole time she battled with the nasty ‘C’ word that plagues our family.

What I remember is her smiling face as she watched us open Christmas presents and her cheery chipper soft tones as we coloured in Christmas drawings and made homemade mince pies.

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Now each year, as I am making mince pies with my own kids, I can hear her voice. I can hear my mum and my gran talking and making tea, nattering about what ‘Santa’ might be bringing the kids this year and hoping we didn’t hear them.
Christmas is a massive family occasion, it always has been in my family. No matter what the stresses and strains of daily life may bring, Christmas time in my house as a kid holds some of my most cherished memories. Like watching Meet Me in St Louis with my gran and my mum on the sofa; a tradition that my mum carried on from her childhood. A tradition I now carry on with my girls – less for my girls benefit, more for my own. They are still too young to appreciate the beautiful dresses and the melodic songs. So this is for me. Because this is a time of the year when I allow myself to grieve, just in a positive way.

That’s the thing: I don’t think grief ever leaves us. I don’t think that even when we get to the end of the typical stages, our grief is magically ‘over’. I believe that each year there are certain moments where we grieve more or sometimes less. Christmas for me is a time when I allow myself to feel the grief. Because Christmas is about family, and some of my family are no longer here to enjoy it.

So I enjoy it for them. In a healthy way.

Grief doesn’t have to be destructive. It doesn’t have to be sad or melancholy. It can be healthy and heartwarming. Grieving means that someone has touched your life so completely that they never leave your subconscious. They are in all the little memories that are triggered by that song they used to sing, or the perfume they wore, or the shops they shopped in. I know that as BHS and Marks and Spencers put up their Christmas decorations, I definitely find myself remembering my gran’s reaction every year; the way her face lit up when she saw the new Christmas window displays, or the snuggly Christmas jumpers.

Christmas time is great fun, but look around you this year – who is missing and who is missing them? If you see your mum, or your aunt, your dad or your granddad looking off longingly into the distance, give them a hug. They are most likely thinking about those who will be missing around the Christmas table this year.

Encourage family members to talk about those who are gone. It doesn’t have to be dour and depressing. Remembering fun stories keeps those we love alive. Talking about those who are no longer here to celebrate means that in some small way they are still here celebrating with you.

Me – each year I place something special on or under the tree. Something that reminds me of my gran. Something that when I catch a glimpse of it, I will remember her and smile. I feel like she is still here. Each time I look at my kids and think “I miss her”, I stop myself feeling sad and instead tell them a story about her. I don’t lock up the grief, I talk about it. That way it’s not sad.
Who are you missing this Christmas? Talk about it. Tell us if no one else. Say their names and write or talk about a story that makes you smile and laugh. Because Christmas may be the most glorious time of the year, but it also makes us miss our loved ones and it shouldn’t be something we hide for fear of ‘bringing people down.’

My gran is not the only person I will be missing this Christmas. I also lost my Grandad this past year. The grief with him is still little too raw, and the memories, although there, bring tears to my eyes rather than a smile. I know the smiles will come, in time.

It is something we have to remember each year when we look at those around us that we love – sometimes the grief is still too raw, sometimes this time of year may be harder than other years. Be mindful of those around you – if you see a loved one sat in quiet contemplation, don’t overcrowd them. Sometimes all they need is a moment of quiet to remember those who will not be here to celebrate with them for the first time.

This year, I will be making stovies (a traditional Scottish meal) for Christmas Eve. A recipe that my gran used to make when we were kids. We will sit in front of a Christmas movie, eating stovies and watching Meet Me in St Louis. Why? Because that way, in some small way, my gran wont be missing out. I know she will be sitting right next to me.

As for my grandad – I have a special bottle of rum hidden away to crack open on Christmas day and have ‘a wee tot’ in his memory. I may shed a tear… in fact I am almost certain I will. But then I will smile and laugh, and hold my kids close, because I know that is what he would want from me for Christmas.

What will you do to remember loved ones this Christmas? Don’t feel sad. Remember them with love and a smile, after all, it’s what they would want, right?

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