This month, writer Dolly Obsorne, discusses how to remember those who have passed away at Christmas, with helpful tips for teaching children how to deal with grief.
Winter is packed full of festivities in my household. Not only Christmas and New Year but various family birthdays and therefore lots of time spent with our extended family. Winter is also a time when everything is stripped bare, the cold and the dark seems to allow sadness to creep in, even in the midst of joyful festivals. And sadness is never far away if you’ve experienced the loss of someone you love as we have recently.
I always considered myself lucky where my family was concerned. I had a great grandad until I was eight and lost my first grandparent at 18. I had so much time with these wonderful people and carry so many happy memories because of this. Now my son has been even more lucky. He has had four great grandparents in his life, losing one as an infant, one when he was fairly young and losing one this year. And this one he really felt, as did I.
My grandad was a remarkable man, always bigger than life, always full of joy. He is inextricably linked to Christmas in my mind, perhaps because he reminds me of the ghost of Christmas present, perhaps because his birthday was near Christmas earning him the middle name Noel or perhaps just because every Christmas I remember includes my Grandad’s booming voice asking: “Has he been?” (and yes, even into adulthood).
Christmas this year will be different. And I’m sure I’m not the only one in this position so I wanted to write some ideas of how to help your children, and you, with their grief.
Firstly talk about the person. You don’t need to be maudlin about it or bring them up every day but show your child that remembering is normal, that love doesn’t stop at the grave. Keep it light if you are worried about upsetting your child, perhaps reminisce about a funny gift or a shared adventure. The important thing is that your child knows that the person you’ve lost isn’t vetoed.
Ask your child if they’d like to make a Christmas decoration for the person they lost. Kids love making things for the people they love and this will create an annual prompt to remember that person and proudly display their love for them.
Perhaps your child has things they want to say to the person they lost that they feel is private. So give them an opportunity to write to them. Leave a letter for Santa to deliver to your lost loved one, your child then gets the feeling of connection with that person not only through the writing but upon seeing it gone Christmas morning (if Santa isn’t your bag you could send it through fire Mary Poppins style or take it to the grave if there is one).
I’m also a big advocate of memory jars. You just need a normal jar, scraps of paper and help your child to write down memories of their loved one. It doesn’t need to be profound just little things: their eye colour, their favourite sweets, the places they went. The jar keeps the memories safe and if the child feels they are forgetting they can go to the jar and recall those details.
On the day itself don’t feel the need to be joyous all day. If you need a moment of reflection or sadness then your children may well do too. Crying isn’t a bad thing, you can all cuddle up and cry together if you need to, it’s a perfectly healthy thing to do. Remind your children, and yourself, that grief is the reflection of love and how lucky you all are to have loved someone so deeply that you mourn their passing.
If you have lost someone, this year or a lifetime ago, I send you love and strength to get through this Christmastime. Be kind to yourself just as the person you lost would be kind to you and Merry Christmas!