On Christmas Eve, a group of 21 WAY members and 34 children flew to Lapland for three days to try and recapture the Christmas spirit. Together they created some magical memories that will help keep them warm through the winter months and beyond, reports WAY member Diana O’Connor…
“The best gift around the Christmas tree is the presence of family wrapped in love”. That’s a typical meme banded around at Christmas and of course, whilst many are saccharine sweet, they’re based in truth. Christmas is about family. But what if a significant member of your family has died? This truth then becomes agonisingly pertinent.
No amount of tinsel, gifts or even other people’s good wishes will compensate for the hole that has rudely devastated the warmth of your family unit. How do you regain the magic of Christmas when every tradition, every memory pierces your heart and brings tears of sadness rather than the tears of joy?
Well, that’s what we tried to do this Christmas. Fifty-five of us widows and children from the charity WAY Widowed and Young travelled to Lapland determined to find the Christmas spirit. We were all newly found single parents desperate for our children to feel the excitement and happiness of this time of year.
At a time of year when families should be enjoying themselves, we’re all too keenly aware of the added pressure to have a nice day, not wanting to spoil others’ joy. It can be awkward for family members knowing how to treat you. It feels like a pressure cooker for emotions – so escaping with other young widows and widowers who felt just the same seemed like a good idea. The fact so many other WAY members were keen to go confirmed that our feelings were universal and – in the words we all used – we all ‘get it’.
Whilst the destination was exciting and Christmassy, the real adventure was the camaraderie and being together at such a difficult time of year. The delight on the children’s faces at the first glimpse of snow more than made up for the two flights we took to get to Finnish Lapland. The parents who were strangers bonded not only over their shared desire to give their children a special experience but over their shared life circumstances. When you meet someone who has gone through a similar trauma you ‘click’.
The coming days saw us riding reindeer sleighs, eating sausages in log cabins over fires, tobogganing outside the hotel, holding husky puppies and husky sleighing, enjoying an unusual Finnish Christmas dinner in candlelit lodge, taking photos of sunsets and capturing the Northern lights. We made special memories. Amongst all that that was sadness that the one person you wanted to share it with wasn’t there, but because we all ‘get it’ there was no awkwardness, no feeling of isolation – just hugs and nods of recognition.
Our sense of connection buffered the inevitable low moments. What we found in Lapland was not some once-a-year festival feel-good factor but the resilience, the strength and the determination of the human spirit. The joy we have in our children, the desire to make our lost ones proud… This gritty determination to carry on may not make for good Christmas memes, but it’s real, powerful and wrapped in love – and we know more than most that “Love is everything”.
Here are some thoughts from other WAY members who went on the trip:
“It was the first Christmas in four years I found myself smiling and enjoying. Magical memories watching my daughter meet Father Christmas and bake biscuits with Mrs Claus. She has been talking non stop about the reindeer and husky dogs trips. ‘Mummy will Santa invite us again ever? Or will he invite other children who feel so sad about their Mummy or Daddy dying like I am?’ Swimming on Christmas day with WAY friends made such a lovely change. Laughing and crying together was so touching.”
“I still really love Christmas. It’s the third year for us this year. My family have been trying too hard to help the last two and it was so lovely to spend time with so many like-minded people in such a fantastic place. We had lots of laughs, lots of fun, lots of wine and many new friendships made plus a few joint tears - can’t wait for our future meet ups.”
“My second Christmas too, everytime I look at the photos, talk to people about the trip, I feel warmth and amazement of how my little family managed to travel out of the country, enjoy something completely new at Christmas without feeling so heavy hearted about it like last Christmas. It’s an achievement for us. ”
“This was our fourth Christmas since my husband died. The previous three have been spent with family who are wonderful, but it doesn't stop the elephant in the room. This year was a breath of fresh air. Everyone was free to mention their loved one if they wanted to. This was especially helpful for us as it was my husband’s birthday on Boxing Day too. It was lovely to just spend time with people who ‘get it’, no questions asked or judgements made.”
WAY members travelled to Lapland with http://singlewithkids.co.uk/