lifestyle

It's okay to be sad at Christmas time.

My Mum is really struggling in the lead up to Christmas.

Her father, my grandfather, died earlier this year and his loss is being magnified by the incongruity of all this festive cheer.

We haven’t spent Christmas day together for many years but in the lead up to it we always got together. He gave the most thoughtful presents to his great grandchildren; they always loved them more than anything I ever bought them.

And growing up, we spent every Christmas day at my grandparents’ house. The connection is strong.

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I know so many people feeling the same way as my mum, contemplating an empty seat around the Christmas table either literally or figuratively.

My friend also lost her dad. I have another friend who lost her brother. I know women who have lost their husbands and kids who have lost parents this year.

Friends have died. It’s the weight of melancholy wrapped around gut-wrenching grief, an emptiness, a space. All while the rest of the world seems to be merrily ho ho ho-ing their faces off.

But are they really?

I think Christmas is a bit like birthdays in that it amplifies where you are in your life. You can’t hide from anything at Christmas. If there are fractures in your relationship or your mental health, if there is grief in your heart or tension with relatives, Christmas shines a big dirty light on it. No filter.

I truly question whether anyone but children (children who are fortunate to be in loving, safe homes) enjoy Christmas, really enjoy it I mean.

It’s like New Year’s Eve. So much unrealistic expectation. So much pressure to have a great time but what’s great about it really? Women bear the brunt of Christmas in every sense. We buy the presents for kids, for teachers, for relatives that aren’t even our own. We organise the catch-ups. We make the Santa magic. We navigate the family politics and the extended family politics and the politics of deciding where to be on Christmas day and with whom.

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Many of us cook. All of us wrap.

Are we having fun yet?

One of the most fraught things you’ll ever do as an adult is decide when and how to strike out on your own and create your own family traditions. When is it time to stop reverting to your parents or your partner’s parents and DIY?

In the past few years we’ve tried to incorporate both, at times successfully and often not. My biggest problem with Christmas has been being married to someone who isn’t into it and doesn’t understand the point of it. Bah humbug doesn’t even begin to describe it. And this year it’s going to be especially poignant. We will be spending it at the airport farewelling my son as he flies to the other side of the world to begin his gap year.

sad at christmas feat

I feel like we all need to take the pressure off Christmas and shift our thinking. Lower our expectations like we have for New Year’s Eve. Be ready for the waves of sadness that come from the tangible loss of people we miss and that lower grade, pervading yet intangible loss of the simplicity of childhood when you just had to wake up, open presents and play with them.

If there is an opposite of closure for everyone missing a loved one, Christmas and the lead up embodies it. Grief counsellor Petrea King notes that you never stop feeling the loss or the grief, you just slowly grow comfortable with the discomfort.

Christmas can evoke powerful memories of past family gatherings regardless of whether they were happy or difficult occasions. Many families struggle to relate happily to one another at Christmas-time and this can compound our grief in unexpected ways.

Being prepared for this is really important rather than just hoping that things will be okay. Getting caught ‘off guard’ compounds our feelings of grief so setting aside time to consider how we might traverse these days more consciously can assist us to be as comfortable with our discomfort as possible.

The first Christmas after a loved-one dies is often traumatic as the empty space that person filled in our lives simply gapes at us. However, it is very common for the second, third or subsequent Christmases to be difficult or devastating as we fully comprehend the consequences of our lost love.

Setting aside time for reflection so that we honour the relationship we have lost or writing to the person can be helpful. Visiting the cemetery or a favourite shared place in the lead up to Christmas or doing something that you both enjoyed previously can assist people with their feelings of grief while for others creating a new way of experiencing Christmas might be appropriate, perhaps changing the food we traditionally eat or the venue.

This is an extract from Mia Freedman’s weekly newsletter, Hey Mia! You can subscribe to the newsletter here. 

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