Written by Anna, Libby and Angharad, Winston’s Wish Youth Team
If you’re facing your first Christmas without your person, know that you’re not alone in however you’re feeling and that all of your emotions are completely normal. Three of our Youth Ambassadors, Anna, Libby and Angharad, reflect on their first Christmas without their person.
When I was nine years old, my dad passed away right before Christmas, on the 8th December. The funeral was only a few days before Christmas too. I took time off school, and I was surrounded by my family for those few weeks, staying the majority of the time at my aunty and uncle’s house. Between the funeral and Christmas day, my mum and I went home. I don’t have any siblings, so it was just us two. Of course, Christmas is a time where there is a huge focus on spending time with family and almost everything around us was a huge reminder of that (TV adverts, radio, shops, etc…), which was really, really difficult, and often still is, even years later.
Christmas Day came around and we had Christmas morning to ourselves before we planned on setting off to see my nan. As we went to set off, my mum discovered the car would not start and we were going to be stuck at home alone. Although this felt really sad, we knew we had to make the best of it and tried to have the nicest day possible. Because we hadn’t planned to stay in, we had nothing to make a Christmas dinner and absolutely nothing planned so had complete freedom with what we wanted to do in the house. We did exactly what we felt like doing… which was absolutely nothing!
We snuggled up, watched some chick flicks, and ate all the junk food we had in the house, which for nine-year-old me was an absolute dream. It was the least conventional Christmas Day, but we just went with how we felt with the situation we were in and tried to make the most of it. Although I think it is really important to make new traditions after losing a loved one, it felt lovely that there was simply no pressure or expectations for our first Christmas, especially as it was so soon after my dad had passed away. It’s something my mum and I often talk about, remembering how special it ended up being.
The first Christmas without my dad was quite daunting. Christmas is one of my favourite times of year as I love spending time with family and friends, so knowing that my dad wasn’t going to be there with me was difficult to cope with. In the lead up to Christmas, I allowed myself to grieve and reached out to my close friends and family in order to talk about how I was feeling. I also think it is important not to feel guilty for enjoying Christmas when your person is no longer there – you are still allowed to have fun and enjoy life even when grieving.
To feel connected to my dad, I kept up some of the traditions that he used to do. He used to buy everyone a scratch card every year, so I kept up the tradition and did the same to include my dad’s memory in the day. I also allowed myself to take time on my own when needed.
Christmas can be a busy and overwhelming time even without grief, so allowing myself the time to reflect was very important for me. I also tried not to put any expectations or pressure on the day and how I wanted it to go. I knew that Christmas Day would feel very different, so I tried to just go with the flow of the day rather than force a specific experience, which reassured me that although different, I can still enjoy Christmas.
I am coming up to my fifth Christmas without my dad, but I can still remember the very first one I spent without him. Leading up to it there was such a sense of dread, but I found that the build-up was much worse than Christmas Day. The speculation of how I might feel, how I would cope and what it was going to be like changing traditions all seemed to disappear as I realised that ‘milestones’ are often scarier in my head. This doesn’t mean that those days don’t hurt, but I realised I’m still allowed to be happy and celebrate.
To help ease some anxiety leading up to the first Christmas, we decided to change how we celebrated. Not to forget the happy times that we had, but to start some new traditions that would help separate the pain. We got a new tree, different decorations, changed what we ate and crucially for me – how we spent Christmas morning. Since I could remember I would always go into my parents’ room and open my stocking on their bed, but this felt wrong that there would only be one of them there. We decided that my mum would instead come into my room, a small change but one that made a big difference.
I remember making it through most of the first Christmas feeling okay, one analogy for grief is it’s like the ocean and there are waves that come and go; for me, they are particularly strong on days like Christmas. A tradition that I started then is one that I still do now – I will take myself away from my family and sit alone for a bit, I’ll look through my Dad’s memory box, light a candle and just spend some time actually feeling, rather than suppressing my emotions, and this is something really special to me.
My first Christmas was hard, there is no doubt about that. Know that it is okay to feel any and all of the emotions, there isn’t a rule book for how to get through these things! Just know that you will make it through and it’s okay to have a happy Christmas, and I hope that you do.
How to speak to Winston’s Wish
If you’re struggling with grief right now, Winston’s Wish is here to help and here to listen. Winston’s Wish provides support for grieving children and young people (up to the age of 25). We offer one-to-one and group support sessions. We also have lots of online resources and a Helpline, email and live chat service where you can talk to bereavement professionals.
If you need urgent support in a crisis, you can contact the 24/7 Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger by texting WW to 85258.