Christmas was always one of Elspeth's big things, she adored it and drank it all in with a glow of excitement. She'd sing carols from November onward and watch marathon sessions of Christmas movies. We had no idea how it could possibly be good without her there. As Christmas drew closer we began to panic more and do less.
One of the most crippling things about the depression following grief is that everything takes so much effort and seems so hard that you can't face it, but the longer you leave it, the scarier it becomes. Eventually you simply don't understand how it can ever be possible. We realised on 7th December that we were going to be letting our small children down if we didn't create Christmas.
It hurt, it really stung. Everything reminded us of Elspeth. Pine needles and Christmas cards, paper chains and Christmas places we'd all enjoyed as a family. Ordering presents and everything we saw seemed to be perfect for her, but she didn't need any presents...
Faced with a cliff of a hill to get up, we broke it down into small chunks in the way our Counsellor has suggested we tackle anything that seems insurmountable. It really helps.
We asked everyone who is important to say what they absolutely must have, and what they wanted to eat and drink, to make Christmas BE Christmas. We asked all the children, and chose for ourselves too. Actually the 'must have' list was tiny. Between us we found we only had around 6 things that absolutely had to happen, including a turkey in the middle of the table 'like on the telly', making home made cinnamon whirls, watching Dr Who, everyone being here together on Christmas Eve night and decorating the tree together. There was nothing on the list that could really intimidate anyone.
We made a list of what we needed to make the essentials happen, and started an online shopping order to arrive 3 days before Christmas. We made sure the 'have to eat' items always had an alternative written in the box on the order, and we had time to go to the supermarkets ourselves and find anything that didn't turn up, just in case. Always build in a Plan B for the essentials and you rarely need it.
We looked through cupboards. Your head is too full of thoughts turning round and all the old and unnecessary memories are mislaid or spilt out the top. We found several presents and potential presents hidden under beds and in the back of wardrobes. We only recognised about half.
We listed the gifts under the children's names and then listed potential other presents and realised we had a much bigger and better list than anticipated. It was looking good.
It was also saving us money. One of the other things that you fail to pay attention to after you lose a family member is money. Cooking meals from scratch each night or searching for lost things is too hard, too frustrating. Pennies get spent. You want to take your children out at the weekends and let them forget for a while. Pounds are lost treating your family, just to see them smile. You don't want to fill in 8 page forms or make multiple phone calls to people over and over again telling them exactly when your child died. You lose track of anything from the bank, the council, the Tax Credits and if you have simply forgotten to tell them your child died, you can owe them cash. Money does escape you a bit.
Every thing we accomplished gave us a boost, we ticked off item after item and filled Christmas shopping lists by shopping together online at night. We found pleasure in finding bargains, and sitting upstairs wrapping presents.
We made some changes to Christmas, because we felt it had to be a bit different. It WAS going to be different, so we wanted to accept that. We got some new room decorations from Ebay and laid the table differently. We bought some special tree decorations that were in Elspeth's honour and changed where we hang the cards.
I didn't send any cards and that made me feel guilty. I couldn't face it though, and had to accept it wasn't going to be possible. I didn't want to upset people's Christmas by giving them such bad news. So I didn't. I think they'll all understand. I know I would.
We kept busy and booked things that made us cry at the thought of them, but which turned out to create most of the smiles. We were utterly exhausted, but the focus was drawn and it did help. It would have been far too easy to keep our children in watching crap on TV all December.
Christmas Eve brought a lot of tears. We ate our Christmas Dinner as we have always done, on Christmas Eve when we are all together. We left Elspeth's place at the table free. We raised a toast to her and the meal was good. Everyone was full and sleepy and bedtime was easier on everyone.
Christmas morning there were more tears, but there were also tears of happiness all morning from my partner and myself. We had done it, we made it happen and we saw so many smiles. It showed us all that the smiles can still be there. We rode that wave of success and relief right up until the New Year. What we'd anticipated would be so awful had also been fun, it made us smile, our children were happy, we were happy. It was a good week.
With the rise comes the fall. The period after Christmas is hard. You are exhausted and your focus has gone. There is an emptiness again and you need to be ready for it, so that you can be ready to fill it.
Find something now that you can use to fill that space after Christmas. Book it, buy it, pay for it, get a friend to join you or whatever it takes so that you know you won't back out. It will be incredibly hard at the time, but you will be grateful later. Organise it now, while it's still far enough away that the idea sounds okay.
Join a local interest group or take up swimming, bake 2 new cakes each week and give 1 away or share it with friends. Enrol on an adult education evening class. Arrange to play chess or monopoly once a week with a friend or contact your local sure start and find a new playgroup. Give yourself a reason to go out and see other people who aren't paid to be there.
And ignore the guilt. It is okay to be happy. It's also okay to cry, so it's only fair you get to smile too. They would want you to have a happy Christmas, they want to see you smile.
May your Christmas be the best that it can be xxx