Christmas is all about family and loved ones coming together. This makes Christmas after loss, with the grief of missing our loved ones, a very difficult time for all of us.
The first Christmas especially, can be extremely difficult to face.
Clare Lewis, author of An empty seat at the table, shares the things that helped get her through her first Christmas without her father.
Talking about your loved one
Dad was always a huge part of all our Christmases and it helped to talk about him on the day. It felt raw at first and there were more than a few tears. But it felt right to talk about how much we wished Dad was with us and to share funny stories of the things he had said and done in Christmases past.
We remembered the time the kids made him play Twister and how funny it was watching him try to bend into impossible positions and eventually fall over. We laughed about the way he would always fall asleep after dinner, still wearing his Christmas cracker hat and how it would always fall down over his eyes. We chuckled over the time that he bought Grandma a coal bucket for a present, which went down like a lead balloon. It was forever marked in family history as the ultimate present fail.
Talking about him made it feel like he was still part of our Christmas and helped a lot. Much more than if we had tried to avoid the subject and put on brave faces.
Marking their absence
One of the first presents I unwrapped last year was a glass bauble in the shape of a robin.
My lovely friend has bought it for me as she knew my dad had always talked about the glass robin hanging on his childhood Christmas tree.
We hung it this special gift on the tree together as a family and took a moment of silence where we all remembered Dad. Doing something small but special to pause and pay our respects to Dad felt like he was part of the day still, even though he wasn’t here in person.
I didn’t have the energy to throw myself into Christmas in the usual way but gave myself the acceptance to just do what I could manage.
I didn’t send many cards, I bought a pudding instead of making one myself. I took myself to bed and slept when it all got too much. I think that it helped to be kind to myself and to scale back my expectations.
It was a simpler and a quieter Christmas and that was OK.
Writing a letter to your loved one
My girls were amazing. They wrote a letter to Grandad telling him how much they missed him and loved him. On Christmas Eve we left it out on the fireplace together with their letter for Santa.
I didn’t write a letter but as I sat by the fire on Christmas Eve I talked out loud to Dad, telling how much I loved him and how much I missed him and how I wished he could have been here. ‘Speaking’ to Dad helped us all as we faced Christmas without him.
Doing something completely different
Christmas is so steeped in family tradition that next year we’re thinking of doing something completely different. I might save up and do something crazy like take the kids to Lapland or to Krakow and the Christmas markets.
Or we might, as a family, treat ourselves to Christmas dinner in a fancy restaurant. I feel that shaking things up completely might lessen the pain of the empty chair round the Christmas table.
The first Christmas after loss was painful and full of fraught emotions and grief. But the love, the love between us and the love we have for him will always be there.