Blogmas | Day 15

I used to look forward to Christmas every year. I’d get so excited at the thought of being surrounded by the family whilst eating our bodyweight in food and opening all the gifts. It was always a time that we, as a family, treasured and enjoyed. I just remember the happiness I felt and never wanting Christmas to end.

Up until October 1st 2015, I’d never dealt with a death in my immediate family. At the age of 21, I’d consider having both sets of grandparents, aunties & uncles, cousins, my parents and my brother & sister, as an achievement. I know many people who had lost grandparents and parents at an early age and I just couldn’t imagine not having everybody I loved around me.

I knew that one day I wouldn’t be quite as lucky and that no one lives forever, however, I wasn’t prepared for my life to change, as much as it has, in the last 2 years.

The last week of September 2015 was one of the hardest weeks in my life. This was also the week that I was taking part in the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk, in memory of my Nana, who is battling Dementia and is deteriorating with every day that passes. The day before the memory walk, my poppops had fallen up the stairs in his house and broke his hip. Whilst we were taking part in the walk, he was having an emergency hip operation. However, during the operation, he contracted pneumonia. We were told before the operation that this would be a possible outcome and because of his age, it could be very dangerous. We didn’t really have a choice anyway, as his hip needed operating on. We just had to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best. Unfortunately, he took a turn for the worse after his operation and we were told, the following morning, that he didn’t have long left to live. He lived an extra 4 days and died peacefully, on Thursday 1st October at 7:08pm. During that week, we as a family, went through so many emotions. First there was the shock at what we were being told. Then, there were the questions. Why my poppops? How has this happened? Who is to blame for this?. Next, we moved onto denial. I remember having a conversation with my dad on the Tuesday in the hospital. We noticed how alert my poppops was, he was sitting up and talking a little. We thought he was going to pull through and prove the doctors wrong. Sadly, he deteriorated very fast from that Tuesday night after we’d left. Soon came the acceptance that it was going to happen. He was dying and we could see that. Not long after, I remember feeling numb. Just seeing him fighting for every breath and seeing the pain and tiredness on his face. He had a final reading a few hours before he died and not long after he was given some drugs to ease the pain and help him on his way. His death is something that will stick with me forever. Still to this day, I remember exactly what happened minute to minute and I never, ever want to experience something like this again. But once he had died, I remembered feeling relief. Just knowing that he was no longer suffering or in pain. We stayed with him for hours & spoke to him as if he was still there. It was actually really calming and easy to do.

Then, on August 12th this year, my beautiful and caring Grandma passed away in her sleep. Again, we knew her death was going to happen, just not quite so soon. She’s suffered for most her adult life with Crohn’s Disease. For those of you unsure on what this is, it’s an inflammatory bowel disease that affect’s part’s of the gastrointestinal tract. My grandma described it as having little ulcers inside your stomach, and when you ate, the food would irritate those ulcers and cause bad stomach pains. Unfortunatley, she had to have a colostomy bag fitted that collected waste from her intestines, meaning she wouldn’t need to go through as much pain through eating. My grandma was, quite possibly, the strongest person I’ve ever met. She never let her illness define her, she’d never tell anyone if she was in pain and she fought so hard, right until the very end, even when she had no strength. I remember 2 days before she died, she was allowed to come to our house for tea. I was sitting in the living room with her, feeding her some Ice-cream, and I was telling her how much I loved her. She turned to me and said “I don’t like being like this”. Hearing that broke my heart right there and I cried a little in front of her. I felt so helpless. After she died, I went to see her small and frail body at the funeral home, she looked so peaceful. You could see the wear and tear that life had implanted on her body, but her face told a different story. A story of happiness and unity. She deserved that.

The thought of Christmas without your loved one is horrible. They’ll always be that empty chair at the dinner table and one less present to buy at Christmas. It’s the toughest time of the year.

One way to deal with grief at Christmas would be to light a candle in memory of the person and place it in the centre of the dinner table, or on the mantlepiece whilst you open presents, or on the coffee table whilst you watch all the Christmas TV. By doing this, It’ll feel as though a part of that person is still with you.

Another way would be to write them a card. Write a card to your loved one, expressing how much you miss them, what you’ll be doing this Christmas and anything else you might want to say to them. Put the card up along side all your other Christmas Cards and read it out loud or to yourself when you miss them. You might even want to include the loved one on a family card.

Or, you could attend a remembrance service at your local church. I went to one in memory of my Grandma a few weeks back and it was lovely. Really nice to meet people who had also lost loved ones this year too. I find churches so beautiful and calming. It’s one place that I’d call my ‘Happy Place’. I feel as though I’m a little closer to both my Grandma and my Poppops when I’m in a church.

Talking is also another great way to remember a loved one at Christmas. Remembering all the funny stories and the happy times you shared. It’ll help both you and the family deal with them not being there and they’ll still be a part of the day.

Christmas will never be the same again and I know that. You know that. Your family knows that. But there is always a way to deal with it. It’s just finding the best way for the whole family. Just remember, everyone deals with grief differently. There is no right or wrong way. It’s whatever works for you.

I’ll never eat my poppops’ homemade mince pies and sausage rolls again. I’ll never see my grandma sitting on the edge of the sofa, still wearing her christmas cracker hat, handing out the presents she has hidden in her ‘bag for life’. And we’ll never have the full family around the Christmas table again. It’s hard. It probably will be for many years to come, but I know that with each Christmas that passes, it’ll get easier.

This Christmas, Celebrate your loved ones. Remember them and all their weird & wonderful traits. Include them in the day. They’ll be there in spirit. They’d want you to enjoy Christmas. Spend it with family and friends. Go a little overboard on the food and drink. Laugh at the ridiculous cracker jokes. Smile and have fun.

Sincerely, Sophie x