Christmas is a tough time of year when you're grieving and one of our members, Jane, decided to set up a Christmas subgroup to help WAY members get through the festive season. Below we share some tips from members of the group on coping with Christmas when you've been widowed young.
“I created the subgroup last Christmas mindful that we were going to be spending the weeks rolling up to Christmas in lockdown, and what a difficult and lonely season it is, even without that,” says Jane.
“My vision of the group was that it would be like a school gates gathering, or coffee with friends – getting caught up in all the Christmas fuss, sharing tips, sales that are on, present ideas, what’s on TV and looking out for that lonely friend in the group.
I wasn’t sure how well it would be received and would completely understand why someone would be aghast at the thought of joining a Happy Christmas place given their situation. But I was really pleased and surprised that so many joined. And they didn’t just join, our members really got involved. We have had some sad conversations, and all have been there to send a virtual hug.
We currently have more than 600 members, and we are planning to watch a movie (or two) together – in particular, I am thinking “It’s a Wonderful Life” and then having a discussion after. Festive Zoom chat (Baileys optional). Christmas Bingo is also well under way...
My thoughts with Christmas ever since my husband died has been – there’s no escaping it so we might as well get through it together as best we can. I think the group has at times eased loneliness (especially last year) and definitely improved the wellbeing of many members."
Here are some tips from members of WAY's Christmas subgroup:
Lucy: I did EVERYTHING different to previous years. You can’t re-create what you had so why try. Our new traditions are our ‘new normal’.
Susan: I don’t do a roast at Christmas. In fact, the first Christmas, we had pizza! I have not done a roast since we now have a new tradition... Pizza and naughty treats all day. I still buy mince pies as my son loves them. I am not even sure I will put the tree up this year. It really will be just another day.
Sarah: The first year was definitely the hardest. So subsequent years I have toned down our day to make it quieter. My advice is don’t try to do too much on the day itself. Try to be gentle with yourself in the month of December. Shop online or before the decorations and music start in the shops. And set an alarm for Christmas Eve so you don't fall asleep before Santa is due to arrive!
Jayne: After 3 fairly disastrous years, I’ve booked to go on a cruise this year. However, I feel I need to regroup and look at how I want to approach Christmas in future years. I can’t afford this every year!
Sukina: Matt loved Christmas as much as me. I adore Christmas. Our first Christmas was nine months in and in lockdown, so we had no choice but to spend it just the five of us. We all agreed that we would all celebrate in the same way as always, as that is what Matt would’ve wanted. We included Matt in our day – by that I mean we talked about him, laughed about Christmas past and things he said/did. It was hard, and sad, but it worked for us. The main thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong. It’s whatever works for each individual family. This will be our second Christmas and we will start thinking about some new traditions we can incorporate, as well as continuing with our old ones.
Sarah: Figure out what things are non-negotiable to make it feel like ‘Christmas’ to you. If you choose to, celebrate – and go easy on the rest. A lot of it is culture, not necessity. In our house, a tree is vital, and bauble shopping for a new tree decoration every year is really important to my kids. We buy one for Steve every year too so he's still part of that.
Christmas Dinner wasn’t important to them. As long as Pringles and chocolate feature in the day they aren't bothered. They would rather have my time and attention than me be in the kitchen - so we all go shopping and choose fancy oven food instead. We also make sure we give ourselves space and that usually means we limit the number of people we see on the big day so as not to have to perform to keep anyone else’s expectations of Christmas alive.
We have always made December a month of Christmas so if the 25th didn't go to plan it didn't really matter, even before Steve died. I think that attitude has helped us – it’s just a day.... we use that day as an excuse to plan some memories he would have enjoyed throughout the month. It’s bittersweet, but it’s been OK, even the first one.
Lucy: For me the first Christmas was actually surprisingly fine. We went to my sister’s (which we often did) and there were 13 of us there. I think if you can keep it a busy day, it’s much easier.
Rachel: Maybe invite another widow to share it with. Me and my mum both were young widows so she usually stays with us, but I'd love to have another friend join us as well this year, Covid safety permitting.
Sarah: Before widowhood I obsessed about my tree. It had to be perfect and symmetrical. The first Christmas I had no energy. My daughter took over. The tree was a giant mess but they had so much fun. That was the turning point for me.
Theresa: We made some new traditions. We put up a little memory tree with baubles for all the family no longer here. We all muck in with the dinner, quite often invite others on their own to join us. We go and buy a special glass bauble for the tree. It’s about choosing to do what's right for you.