'It’s our second Christmas since my husband died.'

It was only 18 months ago. The knock on the door, the sitting down opposite to my three children on our pale green couches. My voice faltering, my hands shaking. "Your father has died", I say. Simply. Outright. Not really believing or owning the words as they tumbled from my mouth.

"Nooooooo," wails my thirteen-year-old getting up and pacing around the room. The sobs. The obvious shock, the grief pouring out of them instantaneously like a stream. Loud crying, my arms not big enough to hold all three. No pause. No break. It is final. "How will we ever get through this?" I ask myself.

The days after losing someone close to you are like entering a time zone that no one else can comprehend unless they have been there. The minutes tick by, and the world is the "same", but you feel zoned out, peppered with intense electrodes of panic that prod, like a stick sending multiple shock waves through you.

The panic represents the knowledge that you will never see that person again. You will never hear them laugh, have a talk, have a fight, take a photograph, send a text, or share a Christmas. It is big and little all rolled into one. And when you have children to support in grief, you don’t have the time or space for your own. The minutes tick by in those weeks.

After the funeral, there is a silence. No one feels joy, no one wants to eat, no one wants to do anything, and no one sleeps. The children become ratty and irritable, anxious and tired. They argue. They don't want to go back to school.


Watch: A couple shares what grief during the holidays feels like. Post continues after video. 

Video via YouTube/GriefShare.

"Routine," the psychologist says. "Routine," my mother tells me. "Routine," echoes the Principal. I sent them off. They cling to me. We hug, we have tears. "Routine," I think to myself as I un-pluck my son's arms from around my waist. I log onto my computer. "Routine," I whisper to myself. Then the phone rings. It is the school. "Please, can you come; Harry is crying inconsolably."

I knock over my cup of coffee as I look for the car keys on the messy desk. I swear. I jump into the car. "You are a bad mum," I unhelpfully say out loud. We sit in the playground. I hold him on my lap. It is cold. We shiver. I rub his arms. I don't care that I am cold. I don't cry. I take his tears. In the palm of my hand, I am putting his grief and time is going on by. It ticks like I can hear it. Time for me represents sand slipping through my fingers. I can't stop it and I can't grasp it, but I know it is there. "Come home with me?" I ask him. "No, I think I will play with my friends," he states simply. He is mended for now. He walks away.


At night, they come into my bed. Mainly the two younger ones. They haven't done this for years. They kick and wriggle and, in the morning, no one feels rested as the bed isn't big enough for the three of us. I sleep lightly, if at all, and I see my eldest son in my doorframe. "I miss him," he says quietly. "I know," I respond.

I hear his footsteps and his feet lightly touch the floorboards as they make their way back down the hall. I wait a few minutes. I get up to the winter chill, his bedroom door slightly ajar. He doesn't roll over. His form bunched up. I think I hear him sob. I sat on his bed, and I didn't say anything. I close my eyes. "This will pass," I tell myself. 

But as the weeks come and go, the weather changes. The blossoms appear, lining the streets, representing the change. It has been three months and I find myself humming to the music as I drive back to the office. My daughter has stopped asking me constantly, "Will you leave me? What happens if you die, mum?". People have stopped messaging. There are no more casseroles or baskets of chopped fruit in portions. The night visitors are not every single night and usually just one, not two. And now we have the 'firsts' to contend with.

All three have their birthdays in a six-week period, and they are a day we get through. The visitors are in force. My army of reinforcements, not realising it is actually the quieter time I need the contact. How would they know? I say nothing. We buy presents and we have cake. My eldest son's birthday falls on Father's Day. The cruel irony. For this, we escape and leave town. Poof… disappear. We walk on a lonely beach. We talk. We cry. We write his name in the sand… MICHAEL. I know the tide will wash away our sentiment. And I wish it could carry the grief with it. Take it out to sea. To that place where the sky meets the water. 


I sit on the cold and windy beach, watching them play again, hearing them laugh, staring out at the horizon. I have a sense of calm. It is getting better.

Listen to No Filter where Mia Freedman speaks with Petrea King, a respected grief counsellor in the country. Here's her advice on how to navigate Christmas after losing a loved one. Post continues after podcast.

There is also a sense we should be better. It feels like everyone has forgotten. My youngest is in trouble at school. "He just lost his dad," I say quietly to the Deputy. "But is four months 'just'?" I wonder to myself. It seems they are expected to be back to business as usual. No one is giving them a pass anymore. The world is moving on. Conveniently forgetting. The tolerance period is over.

Christmas is upon us. I hear the carols in the shops. I have no expectations. I buy bigger and better presents, even though my rational self knows this is not the answer. I worry we will just be sad. I put the gifts on a credit card because death has financial implications too. I didn't work for three months. I am struggling with money. The day comes, and it goes, in accordance with my understanding of time. We don't share stories. We don't mention him. We smile. We eat. We have bonbons. We immerse ourselves in others. The mood is good. And the day passes, and I am relieved. The firsts are now over.



It is the second Christmas without Michael. I have bought sensible presents for the children. We did the tree with enthusiasm and laughter. They tell me "they are excited." They are looking 'forward' to Christmas. It is just 'us' this year. I am no longer scared of the quiet. It is our new normal.

We play his favourite Christmas carols. We talk about him. We remember him. The sadness is an ache. We wear it like a badge. My eldest got a tattoo of his name on his chest, so an actual badge. And I think of time. I no longer hear it tick, or wonder where it went, or quietly count out seconds to myself. But as the lights flash on the new tree, the air is hot, and they go off to bed joking. I tuck them in. There will be no night visitors and they will sleep soundly. It was only a few months ago when there were so many moments when I wondered "how I would carry them?," but I thought to myself, "We have made it."

The aftermath is now a memory and with every day that passes; we leave it further behind.

Feature Image: Getty.

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