Christmas is so full of love and joy. But among the gifts, all the amazing food, in between the glasses of good wine and the crappy Christmas TV, in most households, there’s someone missing. There’s the missing spark of someone that should be there that isn’t. As well as the love and the joy, Christmas can also be a really hard time for grief when you’ve had a loved one who’s died.
And sadly, this post will relate to a HUGE amount of people reading it. People die all the time. But life goes on and Christmas still happens regardless. So we have to find other ways to manage and cope with the loss of that person, that tends to be even more noticeable and obvious as Christmas rolls around.
As an only child with a family who aren’t *that* close (I mean, not close enough to make the effort to all get together for Christmas), Christmas was always a quiet affair with just me, my parents and my grandparents (my Mum’s parents).
They would come over in the morning, my Dad would take my Granddad to the Royal British Legion for a pint before lunch – somewhere my Granddad loved to go – whilst my Mum, my Nan and I would sit around, eating chocolate éclairs and probably watching crap TV. They’d come back, we’d have dinner and they would go home. That’s just how it was.
But after my Nan died when I was 13, Christmas Day was a huge change. My Dad would still take my Granddad out but whilst they were gone, it was just me and my Mum. Then as my Granddad got older, he wanted to start going home earlier and eating his dinner in his own house. Those home comforts.
Over the years, those Christmas Days got shorter and shorter. As a teenager, I resided to spending my Christmas Day on MSN and playing The Sims. Christmas Day was never a particularly huge affair for me. I begun to spend Christmas with boyfriend’s and my now boyfriend Carl, who lives with me is obviously here for Christmas.
But it still doesn’t take away from the hole that my Grandparents left. My Granddad passed away in 2019, so this will be our third Christmas without him too.
You just have to make do. It’s difficult – it will ALWAYS be difficult – but life goes on and Christmas isn’t going to stop for anyone. You can still celebrate. You can still be happy. It’s OKAY to be happy. But you can still remember loved ones who aren’t with you and make them part of your celebration – if you want to.
In this post, we’re going to be looking at some gentle ways in which you can remember a loved one at Christmas:
Talk about them
They’re not Voldemort, you can still talk about them and say their name. And you absolutely should. Last month, I read a great book called We All Know How This Ends which is about lessons from dealing with death and dying from a funeral director and an end-of-life doula. One point that comes up time and time again is talking and communication and saying people’s names and not shying away from the fact that yes, they are dead but you can still speak about them.
Perhaps it would be beneficial to talk together about funny stories you remember about them, things they loved about Christmas (or hated – if they were a Scrooge!), your favourite thing you did together. You could do this by going around the dinner table or sharing over an after dinner drink. There are plenty of ways to fit in a small reminiscing session during your Christmas celebration.
Get a personalized bauble for the tree
After my boyfriend’s dog died in 2018, I ordered a personalized bauble from Edge Inspired to hang on our Christmas tree. He died in November, so I thought it would be a nice thing to do in the lead up to Christmas. Then in 2019 when my Granddad died, I did the same thing for him. I actually got a few of them made; one for our main tree, one for my own tree and one for my Uncle and Aunt.
The baubles themselves are beautiful and there are SO MANY wonderful companies that sell personalized Christmas ornaments online. Each year since, we’ve hung my Granddad’s bauble and the dog’s bauble on the tree and it’s a small but nice touch to know that they’re still here with us during Christmas. Maybe not physically but definitely still in our hearts and memories.
Serve one of their favourite dishes
If food was a big thing for your loved one – especially at Christmas – then this could be a really lovely and personal way to remember them and include them in a more physical and practical way in your Christmas celebrations. By cooking their favourite meal, a part of them is still present in your Christmas AND you get a wonderful extra dish on the dinner table, too! (Unless they loved something that everyone hated, in which case, it’ll be a funny story).
Lay flowers or visit their stone
I always go and visit all the stones and of my dead relatives over the Christmas period, including my Nan and Granddad’s plaque where their ashes are, my other Granddad’s stone and my aunt. It’s quite a nice thing for me and my Mum and Dad respectively to go and do, either on Christmas morning or in the week leading up to Christmas.
This is something you could do on your own, if you’d prefer the quiet and reflective time. Or you could make it a thing and go with other relatives who were close to them. You could take decorations with you or candles (if permitted) and have your own little Christmas celebration right there with them.
Light a candle
Simple but effective. Lighting a specific candle for a specific person can have a really calming effect. Perhaps a personalized candle with their name on it or even a candle that belonged to them, if they’ve not long passed. Whatever you choose, take your time, say some words if you want to and light it with purpose. Every time you look at the candle, remember them during your Christmas.
Write them a Christmas card or letter
And finally something that certainly won’t be for everyone but it’s still a great option and that’s writing them a Christmas card and/or a letter. You could also keep this card next to your lit candle or leave it on their gravestone over Christmas. When I go to the cemetery during Christmas, I always see a TON of Christmas cards left on various stones and I think it’s a lovely touch.
I asked on Twitter if anyone wanted to share some of their personal ways in which they remember special loved ones at Christmas and here are some of the wonderful answers that I got:
Sarah Nderi: “I lost my dad this Jan. He was sick around Christmas time and passed 1st week of Jan. I’m thinking of ways to honour him in a way that makes it easier for everyone. I’ll be buying potted flowers and creating a colourful garden of flowers on his grave.”
Becky Francis: “I lost my mum 2.5 years ago. I buy her a new Xmas decoration every year, we make cheap oven frozen sausage rolls on Xmas eve (she’d always make them for me and my sister when we came home drunk no matter what the time!) and we have the best bottle of chateau nerf depape I can afford as a toast drink as it was her favourite. Simple, little things!”
Between England & Iowa: “My Granddad died in the summer. I loved Harley Davidson motorbikes. With some of my inheritance money I bought a Harley Davidson ‘guardian bell’…the story behind them is that they are meant to keep the owner safe/protected from bad things. My dad liked mine so much that he bought a second one to hang on our Christmas tree this year. My Granddad always had dinner with us on Christmas Day.”
Nyxie’s Nook: “So I have this wee tree decoration that I keep out all the time but is meant for a holiday tree. But that’s how I remember my wee granny all year round, not just Xmas. That and I have ornaments belonging to her from both Christmas. She was like my wee mum so she’s always in my heart. As for remembering my grandfather’s it’s more of a memory thing. I talk about them and recall Christmas past when they would both sleep after dinner with their mouths wide open, snoring like bears.”
The Kelly Diane Report: “As the years have gone by, we have lost quite a few family members. Christmastime can be especially hard. When it was just the one missing person around the table, we used to leave a place set up and would put a photo of my granddad there. As the number has grown, we as a family changed how we do it.
On Christmas day, we clear a space on the sideboard and place a photo of each missing person. Added to this is the footsteps poem (if you’ve read it, you’ll know how emotional it is). A candle burns there all day as a sign of remembrance and we talk about memories we had whilst we’re eating our dinner. Its our way of cherishing those memories and keeping those loved ones in our thoughts.”
Glow Steady: “Finding out someone has weeks to live around Christmas time is such a strange experience. You’re wandering around the department store, checking off your Christmas list and there’s this name on it that leaves you conflicted. It sounds cruel, but you can’t help but question whether the name needs taking off. Are they going to be here? Are they going to go that week, before they’ve even had a chance to use it? Not exactly pleasant festive thoughts while Mariah is whistling in the background.
They died January 2020, so the first Christmas without them was mid pandemic and different in every possible way. Knowing what people went through with family members in care homes last year, it almost felt like a relief that it happened when it did so those last few weeks weren’t spent alone and there was no lockdown Christmas in a care home, which I’m sure would have left everyone wracked with guilt. It feels like the first real Christmas is yet to come, so honestly, I still have no idea what that’s going to be / feel like.”
Chimmy Ville: “My Grandma passed away a few days before my sister’s birthday. The week before Christmas. It was heart breaking and I still remember every detail of that night. But every year since then we come together as a family and remember the time we shared with her. We might meet up for a bite to eat, and share stories, get out the photo albums. And of course place a Christmas wreath on her grave.”
I hope this posts helps if you’re facing a Christmas without a loved one and want some gentle ways to remember them throughout your Christmas celebrations. Let me know what you do to remember your loved ones during the festive season.
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