We're all too familiar with the saying “time is a great healer”. Of course, it is to some extent. When someone dies, the longer that time goes on without them, sadly the more used you get to them not being around. You no longer go to message them when something funny happens; you don’t look out for the perfect birthday card you know they’ll just love; and their memory lives on through stories and pictures, instead of making new ones.
That said, there are things that time certainly cannot heal. No matter how many years go by, grief will never fail to catch you off-guard. A lyric in a song, the golden hour light during summer evenings, the sight of the first swallow and then the last. One moment has the power to switch it all. You think of how you’d do anything to be with them again, what they’d make of everything and of the person you’ve become without them.
Christmas is a time which is bursting with memories and associations - good and bad - so naturally that familiar pang of hurt that comes with grieving returns and reminds you it’s still there. This year, it will be the seventh Christmas Day spent without my dad. When I say he loved Christmas, I mean he really loved Christmas. Although of course I miss him every day, it cuts that much deeper during this time of year.
Everything reminds me of him. The overwhelming warmth of walking into a cosy pub after feeling the cold chill outside. Wrapping up presents because he never could learn how to curl a ribbon. Being so hungover on Christmas morning, but still building toys in the early hours. These moments, pockets of heartbreak, remind me that life is moving forward without him and I can’t do anything to stop it.
It’s this that reminds me how, despite him passing a few years ago now, it’s normal to feel the same hurt every year. It's normal for me to feel everything, from anger to sadness and countless other emotions in-between. It's normal to feel the bittersweet excitement for the festive season, a time I love and hate simultaneously. It's normal for me to feel whatever, whenever.
No matter the span of time that moves by, they will always be missing, and you’ll always feel that slight heartache. And that’s OK. Take the time to yourself; remember them, but remember you, too. Have a long bath, take a walk in nature without your phone to distract you, open up to your friends, ignore the pressure of replying to every single message. Allow yourself the space to feel and breathe.
From the outside, grief doesn’t look like someone uncontrollably crying and not getting out of bed. It’s the internal punch you get when it feels that everyone around you doesn’t understand. It’s the empty seat at the table. It’s feeling lonely despite being surrounded by people. It's that niggling thought that always circles back. It's the 'what if they were here'.
It seems that when things in life do take a turn for the worst, whether it's a bad day at work, an argument with a friend or a relationship break-up - suddenly, there it is again. Grief is sneaky like that. As well as catching you off-guard, it also strikes when you're at your most vulnerable and weak. It knows you don't have the strength to fight it at that precise moment in time. Grief doesn't always creep up unexpectedly; it's always there, waiting to hit you at your lowest.
There isn't a straight path to recovering from grief - it will always be there, it’s part of you. You’ll feel upset, then happy. Vulnerable, then strong. Empty, then full again. This is your reminder that you aren't going through it alone.
6 things to help during Christmas and beyond:
Don’t feel guilty about prioritising your own wellbeing when you need time to take care of yourself. If you aren’t feeling like getting back to people, or attending any events - virtual or otherwise - then don’t. Your mental health is worth so much more than anything else.
Allow yourself to feel the sadness. It’s very daunting to fully embrace those down days, but that’s okay. They make the better ones feel even greater. They are coming.
Listen to podcasts that make you laugh and feel understood, like The Grief Cast. The award-winning podcast is hosted by comedian Cariad Lloyd, who quizzes a different celebrity each episode on their personal experience of grief.
Talk. Whether it’s your friends, family, partner or even just writing down your feelings, it’s so important to get them out and clear your mind.
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