As we are approaching mid-December and the festive season is in full swing, I’m constantly reminded about my late husband Peter. Christmas to me was Peter. He adored every single aspect of the Christmas season from decorating the tree, to planning/cooking the gorgeous feast, he even wore Christmas jumpers before they came back in fashion!
It’s often said to anyone who is going through grief that the first year is the hardest, but I think the first year is totally unknown. Last Christmas (the first without Peter) I was so numb. Peter hadn’t long since died, I was still on auto-pilot, forcing myself to take part in Christmas festivities as that’s what Peter would have wanted. I didn’t know what to expect or how to feel, whereas now, my second Christmas without Peter, I’m full of last year’s knowledge of how painful it is to spend Christmas without my husband. I know that Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore, and that putting up Peter’s Christmas tree and watching the lights twinkle fills me with so much sadness.
Last Christmas, Peter had died in October, so in wanting to continue Peter’s legacy and zest for life and show the world that I will continue, I said “yes” to nearly every Christmas event. Thinking, “I’ll be heartbroken anyway, I might as well be heartbroken while doing something.” The problem was I was so used to our way of life, even though Peter had a terminal prognosis for many years, we still loved life and boy did we live it! So I found myself living life, but not enjoying it. I was forcing myself to smile and “get out there” and returning home after “celebrating” Christmas to an empty house with Peter’s tree standing there. It simply wasn’t Christmas. It dawned on me that as much as I will carry on Peter’s incredible legacy, nothing would be the same again. I had to embrace change and start seeing life as one, instead of as a couple.
So…this Christmas, I’ve decided minimal is key! I’m far from Bah Humbug about Christmas but in no way am I on the scale of excitable like Will Farrell in Elf. I need to find my own tradition now and do things that feel right for me.
I’m planning a very quiet Christmas this year, with no Christmas trees, no Christmas songs. I simply want to be on my own this year. My family have been incredibly supportive about this, as even saying out loud the fact I would love to be on my own sounds like I’m spiraling into depression but it’s completely the opposite. I simply cannot compete with the happiness I had at Christmas with Peter. I know Peter would be desperate for me to put the tree up and get all excited but I simply can’t force myself. Peter made Christmas, Christmas!
I will, of course, be thinking of Peter the entire time but that isn’t because it’s Christmas, it’s because I think of him the entire time anyway!
Christmas/New Year is always a time for reflection for me as it’s a time when I finally stop, have a rest and be thankful.
I’m a stupid amount of grateful and thankful for the many, many happy years I spent with Peter and I know how lucky I am to have experienced a relationship that most people spend their entire lives trying to find. I’m grateful for all the Christmases we spent together – they certainly were the best Christmases of my life.
2016 has been a massive learning curve of getting through all the firsts, attempting a life without Peter while trying to ensure his legacy is kept alive. At the same time I’m trying not to live in the past, which is a lot harder than it sounds.
I’ve learned it’s okay to actually sit back, reassess and make changes. Just because this year feels incredibly difficult ahead of the Christmas season, doesn’t mean I’m down about Christmas entirely. Who knows, this time next year, I might be getting ready to decorate the biggest tree ever! But this year it feels right for me to take a step back and listen to myself.
2016 has made me realise I am strong and I’ve got a 100% track record of getting through all the bad days so why stop now?!
I hope the upcoming Christmas season isn’t too difficult for those of you who have experienced loss, and that you try to find glimpses of happiness within the sadness. My advice for anyone going through grief at Christmas is: be kind to yourself. Pushing yourself is ok, as sadly, life has to go on – but always in moderation!
My hope for 2017? Happiness and health to every single person I know and love!
Debs Wilkinson, became a widow at 28, trying to find her new norm. Production Assistant for JTV Cancer Support; a place where young cancer patients share their experiences of cancer creatively.