Navigating Christmas Without A Loved One


“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” 
Anne Lamott

Christmas is not always an easy time. There are many of us for whom Christmas brings stark reminders of families broken, loved ones lost, and empty chairs at our tables.

If you are navigating Christmas this year while also grieving loss or going through great struggle I want to reach out to you. In the midst of the barrage of happy Christmas movies, fairytale endings and Hallmark Moments I want you to know that I am sorry for your pain, and the hardship this time of year can bring. Please also know you’re not alone. There are many of us whose hearts hurt at Christmas, even as we celebrate, because of loss. If your grief is raw and new it’s also okay to put things on hold, to do things differently, or to let the anniversary days like Christmas slide by unacknowledged until you are ready to face them again.

I’d like to share something I do at Christmas that may be useful for you too. I have found it helpful and healing to make a private little Christmas Altar each year. This way I remember the dead, the absent, the lost. An altar is simply a small dedicated spiritual space that is meaningful to you in some way.

On my altar I place fresh flowers, a candle and some favourite crystals. Things that bring me comfort, and a sense of sacred. Then I place photos or objects that represent a loved one who will not be at my table. That way I can still have them near me, and I can flow love to them and have them be part of my life over the festive season.

The beautiful big owl in the photo above was given to me one Christmas by my friend Angela. She passed away a few years ago. It will be central to my display.

I’ll place a tiny wooden boat for my brother, and a ceramic pelican for my dad. A sparkly stone for my sister and roses for my mum and all of the women in her family who have shaped and grown and loved me. My family all live far from me. But now they are here on my altar even if they cannot be here in person.

I’ll add a photo of Ben’s parents from when they were young, and pictures of my grandparents too. I have cupcake-shaped candles for my darling Kate, who passed away too soon in 2010 ( I went back to her facebook page last night and was lost in there for an hour reading her old posts and laughing at what a dag she was and crying cos sometimes I still miss her more than breathing), and Julie who passed away in 2014. My Grandparents, all now passed, are here in photographs too and I will place a glass of sherry, Christmas Cake and some gingernut biscuits out because these are all the things they would have loved to eat, and later I will eat some and think of them. On Christmas Day I will play The Twelve Days of Christmas by the Ray Conniff Singers, because my Pa used to play that for us every year, and shed a few happy-sad tears.

It’s not the same as having them at my table, but it’s the next best thing. People coming to my house will think that I have simply gathered flowers and candles and photographs and a few ornaments together, but for me it is something healing and emotionally significant that helps me to feel the reassuring weight of my loved ones around me.

Perhaps making your own Christmas Altar will help you this Christmas too.

Sending so much love your way, Nicole ❤ xx

The Stories That Bind Us, Heal Us

“Don’t try to present your art by making other people read or hear or see or touch it; make them feel it. Wear your art like your heart on your sleeve and keep it alive by making people feel a little better. Feel a little lighter. Create art in order for yourself to become yourself and let your very existence be your song, your poem, your story.
Let your very identity be your book.
Let the way people say your name sound like the sweetest melody.”
~ Charlotte Eriksson

 

Today we farewell my friend, Angela. Family, friends and community will come together to celebrate her life, and to remember her place in our midst.

Humanity is built upon stories, and today stories will help us to heal.

I have sat at the deathbeds of twelve souls now – family and friends – as I watched and assisted with their transition from this life to the next. And in every instance it has been story that has helped the living, and the soul who is passing.

When we tell stories we embrace the magical nature of an ordinary life. What kind of stories? I have never heard a deathbed story yet about a corporate takeover, a successful career, or money made. Nor at a memorial, unless by someone who didn’t have anything except the shallowest of connections with the deceased. Those kinds of stories are tabloid news. Wikipedia entries.

No. When we love and remember our time together with someone who is dying, or who has passed, our stories are always about the journey, and our shared moments. Our ordinary everyday magical moments.

Remember that dress with the puffy sleeves you wore to the school formal? God, we thought we were soooo glamorous.

Remember the time Uncle Charlie dropped his dentures in the punch at the wedding? Your mother was furious, and Aunty Esmay just fished them out and pretended like nothing had happened.

Remember that time when we went camping and it rained and the tent leaked. And then that big storm came? And to top it off we got food poisoning. Worst holiday we ever had.

What was that amazing fish and chip shop we used to go to, down at the beach? You know the one that did the big fat homemade chips and you always just used to get two crumbed sausages even though they had the best fresh seafood on the entire planet? You used to drive Dad mad because you’d never even try the fish. It was so good. So good.

Ah, those were the days. Remember that birthday party with the neighbours when we are kids and…

MattBirthday

Dad worked so hard. Two jobs. Sometimes three. I never realised until years later what a big sacrifice he and Mum made so that we could have a better education than them.

Remember that year you forgot to defrost the turkey and we had toasted cheese sandwiches and ice-cream and pudding for Christmas dinner.

Sometimes it’s a place for confessions and secrets too. I never told you where I really went that day. I never told you how beautiful you looked. I still have that jumper you knitted me. Sorry, Dad. I couldn’t throw it away. Now my daughter uses the desk you made for Grandma. Even after all this time I still treasure… I wish I’d told you… I’m sorry that…

We share the small events of our lives with the one who is leaving us.

It’s a beautiful day today. One of those spring days we get, when the jacarandas are in flower and the days are hot, but the nights are still cool enough that you need a blanket on the bed. There was mist on the river this morning. On the drive over here the radio was playing that song we used to dance to, back at high school. You know the one. I saw so-and-so yesterday. Did you know he’s married now? Two kids and another on the way. I can’t believe I used to have the hots for him. I’m glad you talked me out of that one!

I just had a coffee at that corner cafe. You would have loved the chocolate cake. Good thick frosting, and a little strawberry on top. I know how much you love a good cake.

Coffee-Hunter-1090730

When someone is dying, and after they have passed, we swap stories about hair styles and ridiculous fashion, places from our memories, great meals and crashing personal disasters, often with a funny edge. We remember family pets and embarrassing moments. Our first cars, our first romance. Movies and music. Books we loved. How we met. That funny thing they always said. The holiday we had. All of those shared moments.

At the end of our days, or of a loved one’s, the memories we will string like precious beads will be about love and friendship, and adventures and adversities shared and overcome. They will be homespun, with a few exotic locations and amazing highlights thrown in.

We’re almost at the end of a year. A natural time for giving pause and reflecting.What blessings can you plan for the year ahead? What richness can you mine from your ordinary life, right now and into the future? Is your life filled with at least a small amount of the things that make your heart sing? Are you doing the things that really matter to you? Are you spending time with the people you love?

It’s not too late. Life is precious, and it’s yours to do with as you wish. I know that my friend Angela would want to encourage you to live it well, using your heart as a compass. Our time here goes by in the blink of an eye, so make it count!

What story will you write for yourself? What story will you share with the world? In the end it is our stories that bind us, that heal us, and that grow us.

Image from quoteswave.com

Image from quoteswave.com