Words by WYLDE MOON staff writer
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Zoe Clark-Coates knows all about loss and grief at Christmas.
Here she shares her advice whether this is your first Christmas without a loved one or you continue to mourn for someone who will always be special.
My husband and I have cried a lot around the Christmas tree. I remember sitting and staring out at our neighbours’ lights, questioning how our world had so quickly imploded. How were people going about their daily lives buying presents, hanging stockings, but here we were questioning if we would ever get to raise a child in our home?
We sadly lost two of our five babies around the holiday period and people ask me how Christmas has remained special for us. It’s a good question, and for a time I wondered if it would affect how I feel about it. But, I still love and cherish it and this is why.
Even though we lost two of our babies around this time I don’t mark the day any of our babies were lost or were due. For me (and this is very personal), I don’t feel a need to do this. They are my children and I will celebrate them and grieve for them every day of the year. They deserve more than one day to be marked on the calendar. I also feel they deserve to be remembered and acknowledged in a happy way, not by a day hallmarked with tears. Because I have chosen to do this, its enabled Christmas to remain my favourite time of the year, and a time I look forward to rather than dread.
Secondly, Christmas is about peace and joy, and even on years when we felt desolated, our family and friends surrounded us with love. What we learnt first-hand is that even when we had nothing within us to celebrate or smile about, Christmas was still special. We decided that even if we couldn’t be happy that year, we would try to make someone else happy. So, one year we made hampers for elderly people in our area, another year we made homeless packs to be given out to people who had no home at Christmas. Giving back to others, had a way of helping us personally, and looking past our own pain, to try to relieve someone else’s. It really did help us.
Christmas is about LOVE. If that means you need to spend Christmas weeping, that’s OK. If it means you feel you can celebrate, that’s OK. It’s fine to lay under the Christmas tree sobbing, but it’s also OK to smile (guilt-free), as your baby or loved one will always be a part of you, whether you are crying or smiling.
“It’s fine to lay under the Christmas tree sobbing, but it’s also OK to smile.”
Here are a few things I wish I had been told at the time of my losses…
Be aware that grief layers can be torn away without any notice, and Christmas can be very triggering. Whether that layer is torn off whilst you’re shopping, or sitting around the dinner table, it can feel like a trapdoor has opened beneath your feet. It is scary, but also 100% normal. Our brains simply can’t process a lot of grief in one go, that is why it takes a lifetime to grieve for someone you have loved and lost. When a grief layer lifts, be kind to yourself, allow yourself to cry. Give yourself space to process the feelings and the pain. Sometimes you may need minutes or hours to regroup, and at other times weeks and months, either is ok.
Its ok to say no or yes to attending events. Sometimes you may just want space and solitude and at other times you may want company, either is fine. Just remember to be authentically you at all times. If you feel the need to cry, then cry. If you feel like you want to laugh, that’s equally ok. On the 25th December, try to create a day you feel able to cope with. For some that may mean they pretend it isn’t Christmas, for others they may embrace a quiet time of reflection, where they just watch their favourite films or read a book.
My top tips for helping the bereaved through the holidays are…
1. Give them permission to express how they feel when they feel it. Reassure them that its ok to weep buckets around the table, and equally ok to laugh hysterically at a funny film.
2. Offer practical support. Make them meals, clean their house, offer to take care of children or pets.
3. Offer emotional support. By acknowledging their pain and the loss. You can’t take away their pain, but you can show up and listen to them as they share how they feel.
4. Understand that grief isn’t a set time period, they aren’t going to mourn for a few weeks and then go back to normal. Grief and loss changes everyone and having that acknowledged by family and friends can be so helpful.
5. Take the lead in staying in touch. When someone is bereaved its hard to even function day-to-day, let alone calling or messaging family and friends. If you can be the person to text or call them, that can help remove some of the loneliness connected to grief.
Whatever your Christmas looks like this year, I hope you feel loved and understood and that your pain is recognised…But if you don’t feel this, know I get it, and so many others get it too.
Zoe has four books to help guide you through grief, baby loss and pregnancy after loss. ‘Saying Goodbye’, ‘The Baby Loss Guide’, ‘Pregnancy After loss’ and ‘Beyond Goodbye’ you can purchase these from all good bookstores.
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