Christmas may not be the same, but…

Heather discusses Christmas traditions old and new in this blog, and trying to find happiness and joy at this time of year, whilst grieving for loved ones.

A time of festive wonder and joy. Of spending time with family and loved ones. Great food, presents and parties galore, but what if you’ve been bereaved?

“A double whammy”

This year marks the second Christmas without my dad and the first without my sister. A double whammy. Two people are missing from our family and at a time when family is so important, this hurts on many levels.

The memories of opening presents with them and cooking Christmas dinner. The laughter that was always present in our house is going to be missed terribly.

Christmas was my Dad’s favourite time of year. He enjoyed everything about it and so did my sister. It’s hard knowing that they won’t be here to enjoy another one with us. It stings sometimes when I see a shop advertising Christmas gifts and playing Christmas songs because it doesn’t feel the same for me anymore.

When I think of this time of year though, I think back to my childhood. Memories of watching the Star Wars trilogy and everyone falling asleep. I think of playing monopoly and Dad always winning, and I think of last year, wrapping presents with my sister and mum. These memories make me happy so I hold onto them fiercely.

I know that Christmas day is going to be filled with sadness and watching families walk around the Christmas markets, smiling and talking. It is difficult when there are holes in your own family – but there is also happiness.

New traditions

I had the pleasure of knowing my dad for 28 years. He gave me my sense of humour, my stubbornness and my love of cheese boards. I also had my sister for 28 wonderful years; she was my best friend and I shared a bond with her like no other.

At a time when family is the centre of the occasion, I feel grateful that I knew them. The sad times remembering them are also matched with so much love for the people they were and still are to me.

I still love Christmas. It may not be the same and in some ways, I grieve for that as much as I grieve for my dad and sister, but I’m beyond lucky to have the memories I do have. It will never feel the way it used to and I will always feel like they are missing but I want to smile for them and try as much as I can to still feel some Christmas spirit because I know that is what they would want.

A new tradition for us will be lighting a candle in their memory and sharing stories of them. This is a new kind of Christmas but one that will still be filled with love.

Although we are used to Christmas being happy and joyful. You can cry, shout, or scream if you need to. Sit with the feelings, then let them pass, and most importantly; be kind to yourself. Talk to someone about your loved one(s) and Christmases past. Include them in what you do as much as you can because I truly believe that the ones we lose never really leave us.

Heather Coldwell

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Me and Dad: Reflecting on a Decade of Grief

In this blog, Beth talks about her art work based on her father. Three years on from the exhibition, and ten years on from the death of her father, she reflects on her father’s life and how it has shaped the person she has become.

Ten years ago on 12th December, my father Geraint Morris, passed away. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about a year before he died. This happened at a very strange time for me. I was 16. That year still feels like a blur when I try to remember anything about it.

After school I decided to study art and I started to work through my feelings on his death. After graduation, I began to feel strong enough to analyse it.

Copy of 09

In 2016, I created an installation using ephemera relating to him. I wrote notes on how I felt about his life before and after becoming a Dad. Even though this installation only took place 3 years ago, my feelings towards what I wrote have changed.

His early life

Throughout this project, I researched as much as possible about my Dad’s life before my birth, in particular what he would have done at my age. My parents met kind of late, so finding out what my Dad was like as a teenager/young adult was difficult. I had to rely on my Mum and any photographs we could find. I regret not asking him enough about his life before he met my Mum.

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My Dad was confident and talkative. However, while in school, he suffered with a stammer which lead to him leaving before sixth form. I am a very anxious person and I find it really difficult to talk to people and be confident in myself. Whether my anxiety is related to my loss, I am not sure.

Growing up in the Welsh Valleys, my whole family had a love of music. My Dad was in a Male Voice Choir and my Mum played piano for another choir; that’s how they met. I always felt like he didn’t respect my love of art, but the older I get, the more I think he regretted not truly pursuing his love of music as a career.

I think he didn’t want me to be disappointed if I didn’t get anywhere. Even three years ago, I still had a chip on my shoulder about his lack of understanding of my art. I just really hate how I missed out on knowing him as an adult.

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Discovering that his own father had died while he was quite young (28) was shocking to me, slightly mirroring my own experience. I never got to meet his parents, but I always remember how hard he found it to talk about them. Going to see their graves together were some of the only times that I saw him cry.

I don’t want that to be me.

Ten years on

I thought I would be fine talking about him, but there’s no rhyme or reason in grief. One minute I could talk about him without a problem, the next I am barely able to hold back the tears. One of the most surprising things is how raw it can still feel. The more time you have to reflect on something, the more heartbreaking it can become.

Deciding to make an installation about my Dad felt difficult at the time but it really helped me to work though my deeper feelings of grief. I received many lovely comments about my work and the meaning behind it. It resonated with so many people, which made me realise that talking about death is so normal and that I shouldn’t be scared to bring it up. Having time to reflect on everything is incredibly important and giving myself the opportunity to learn and understand him more made me feel closer to him.

Thank you

I’m so grateful for how he shaped me as a person. From my love of music of all kinds to my love of film, in particular Indiana Jones and Monty Python, as well as a love of classic cars (he owned a Daimler and we went to a lot of rallies).

But most of all, I’m so thankful for the love he had for our family and just how caring he was. I don’t remember much about the funeral and the year that followed his death, but I do remember the huge crowd of people attending it and the reception. Everyone had such lovely stories to tell. If I can even be 10% as loving, caring and friendly as he was, I’ll be happy.


Beth Morris

You can follow Beth on Instagram or find her full exhibition here:

In anticipation of Christmas mourning…

In this blog, Loraine reflects on her experience of grief at Christmas and how she tries to balance the good with the bad, and the pain with the hope at this time of year.

As I gaze out of my window here in sunny California, I don’t see snow, or even clouds today. They do come and go, as does the rain, but on this particular day, the sun has conquered, and streams of sunlight flood my living room.

Holding onto Summer

It is two days into December and I am blasting Bob Marley instead of my favourite Christmas songs, and contemplating replacing the Douglas Fur with a planted palm tree. I am holding onto summer. This is mostly an internal power-struggle, as I could never disappoint three wide-eyed children begging to decorate a Christmas tree. Still, the sun has been my best friend of late. For now, I evade the inevitable feelings of loss that await me. It is my first Christmas without my Mom.

I know that I’m not the only one balancing joy and grief this Christmas. In fact, it seems like nearly everyone I know is missing someone this year. So, in pondering this new way of celebrating a season marked by joy and gladness, I can’t help but ask the question…


I never claimed it was a deep question. Still, it begs for a complex answer; one that I’m not qualified to give. I can, however, share my own experience with loss.

I’m 32 years old and I’ve lost both of my parents in a period of four short years. Grief upon grief, I’ve found myself mentally and emotionally exhausted more days than not. Within those same four years, however, I also recall countless beautiful days filled with laughter, adventure, and love. How is it that I can remember the same few years as being joy-filled and grief-filled?

This is the concept upon which I’ve built my method of surviving this “year of firsts” following my mom’s death. As one well-acquainted with grief, I know what stands before me as the days begin to grow shorter and shorter.

After my father’s death, I spent many December nights sipping wine with a sleeping infant on my shoulder. I would drive my kids around to look at Christmas lights because they couldn’t see me crying while strapped into their car seats. I embraced grief so tightly, I missed out on the blessings that were still with me that year.

I could resolve to do that again, and perhaps it would be justified. But maybe I could approach the holidays in a less agonizing manner – one in which I am able to be a grieving, broken-hearted daughter AND a fun, loving mother, just as my history is marked with both pain AND gladness.

“A beautiful mosaic of memories”

“How?” Well, I still don’t have an answer, but I know that there are definitely some God-given gifts that can weave themselves together with our own grief to create a beautiful mosaic of memories to cherish, if we let them… even during a painful holiday season.

I believe peace is there, seeping through the cracks of our hearts as we experience holiday traditions without our loved ones for the first time. Gratitude is definitely a part of it, gliding between precious moments, as we take time to acknowledge them.

Grace, a lot of grace, especially for ourselves as we set tasks aside to shed tears of pain and remembrance. And lastly joy, which, if we allow it to, infiltrates every part of our being and enables us to, one day, reflect upon this season with gladness.

This year I am mourning great losses, and that is ok, but that’s not all. This year, I will also rejoice, because there is still adventure, there is still laughter, there is still life. Truthfully, Christmas is about the birth of hope, and that hope is something worth holding onto.

Loraine Meek

Loraine regularly posts on her family adventure blog. You can connect with Loraine and read more of her writing here:

You don’t have to suffer in silence; Talk!

In this blog, Ann describes her experiences of grief ten years apart and the differences in both her approach and the support available. This time around, she’s found a number of support groups which have helped her to talk about her grief.

At 14 I lost my Mum – pain and silence. At 24 I lost my brother – more pain, less silence.

Putting on a brave face

My brother and I were raised by loving Irish parents. Just like most people 10-20 years ago, we never spoke about our feelings. We put on brave faces and got through life’s struggles… including the biggest heartache of all.

My Mum was diagnosed with Breast Cancer when I was in primary school. We were grateful when Mum got through it and had the all clear for a few years. Unfortunately, it resurfaced and was terminal. I tried hard not to let Mum know how scared I was, so I put on a brave face.

A few months after re-diagnosis she took a turn for the worst and so began a world of pain, darkness, isolation and grief.

There is no rule book for loss. I didn’t know what was acceptable to feel or do. Mum was strongly focused on my schooling. So, what do you do when your loving, but hard working, Mum passes away? You go back to school the next day.

Suffering in silence

From then on, we continued as a family of three. All struggling inside, but not really talking; doing what we could in order to keep afloat. Inside I blamed myself, like most children do at that age when everything revolves around you. I didn’t realise the impact that would have in years to come.

All the while my grades started dropping, I felt overwhelmingly responsible for everyone else’s wellbeing but also felt so alone. My family and friends were definitely there for me, but I didn’t know how to open up. The closest person to me had been taken away just as I had started to navigate who I was.

A few years later, I left home for University, where I realised the years of suppressing my grief, had manifested itself into my own anxiety. I searched for support but there wasn’t much, or the support didn’t last very long. After eight years or so, I started to believe I had come out the ‘other end’ but then came part two.

Part Two

I remember the phone call from my brother so clearly; he had cancer, but he thought it was going to be okay. Over the next few short years it went from curable, to controllable, to terminal.

This time we did things a little bit different. We made that visit to Ireland one last time, we said our “sorry’s”, “I love you’s” and “goodbyes”. My brother had clearly noticed the things that would have helped him with Mum’s passing and planned those for us. He insisted on taking photos, he got me talking to his hospice counsellor, and then the most incredible thing; he wrote us letters to open after he passed that I can treasure forever.

Since his passing, it’s not been easy at all but I definitely haven’t suffered in as much silence. I continue to talk to a counsellor and I try to listen to what I need and not what I think I should be doing or feeling. Ten years had passed since last searching for support and this time around there was a lot more out there.

Seeking support

I found an online sibling support group through the Compassionate Friends Charity. This opened up a supportive world to me of people who had been through something similar. It created a language I could use to describe how I was feeling.

Through this group I saw GrabLife by AtALoss. GrabLife is an activity weekend for young people who have been bereaved. I met amazing people who talked so openly about grief.

Finally, I discovered Let’s Talk About Loss and attended a fabulous meet up group that I can now continue to attend once a month.

Cancer and grief are a big part of my life and they previously had no outlet. These groups have given me a space and a time out from pretending I’m okay. Grief is isolating enough when you can talk to people about it so don’t stay silent. Talk in the way that suits you best and if you aren’t sure about it, give it a go, it might just help!

Ann O’Malley

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Widowed at 26 years old

In this blog, Olivia shares her experience of grieving for her husband. She reflects on her experience of the journey of grief and starting this process early – grieving before a loved one has passed. 

From a night out to a life changed

The 18th of March 2019 is a date that has been etched into my heart forever, a permanent scar in my memory which will never fully heal. On that day I watched the love of my life, my best friend, my everything, die. After a nearly three-year battle (and I know some patients think that word is clichéd, but trust me, life had become exactly that) with chondrosarcoma, a rare cancer, my husband drew his final breaths.

Dave and I met aged 18, working at a supermarket. We didn’t actually talk that much at work, however one evening bumped into each other on a night out with our friends. We made the most of the evening’s Dutch courage with a dance and a kiss, swapped numbers, and I suppose you’d say the rest is history.

Fast forward seven and a half years and I am widowed at 26. Life, changed forever.

The first few days after Dave’s death are somewhat blurry. I remember barely eating (not like me!), crying in the supermarket because I couldn’t decide what to buy, and having a meltdown about getting in the shower. It was probably because I just didn’t feel motivated – what was the point in doing anything at all now that Dave was dead?

Grieving early

Nearly eight months on and every day still hurts, but the levels vary. Grief is a very personal journey, and everyone’s experience is different.

I started grieving for Dave when he was still alive, and other widows and widowers have told me the same of their terminal partners. I believe it’s partly because I started this process “early” that I’m coping relatively well, better than I expected.

There are other factors which help. I have an amazing network of family and friends, I’m in touch with my emotions and how to manage them, I’m an open person and don’t often bottle things up. Most importantly, I’m comforted knowing that Dave isn’t suffering any more, trapped in a body which by the end only enabled him to exist (and in agony at that), not to live. Even coping well, though, has its own issues – feeling guilty and the fear of being judged (I’ve learnt these feelings are quite common amongst widows and widowers).

The difference between coping and happiness

Coping well and not being fundamentally happy, though, are not mutually exclusive. Because I’m able to socialise, go out, and have fun doesn’t mean that I don’t live with pain in my heart every single day. Because I’m able to enjoy doing nice things for myself doesn’t mean I don’t constantly miss and think about Dave. Because I’m able to find another person attractive doesn’t mean I wasn’t and won’t forever be deeply in love with Dave; we’ll always be together. Because I’m able to genuinely smile and laugh doesn’t mean there aren’t nights when I cry myself to sleep. Because I don’t feel completely broken all of the time does not mean I feel whole.

I have felt married, widowed, and single all at the same time.

I hate dreaming of Dave because waking up is awful – but at least in dreams I get to be in his company. I can’t bring myself to watch Bake Off or Gogglebox if it can’t be with him. I dread future Easter seasons (his birthday, our wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of his death all fall around then). I can’t bear the thought of Christmas without him. I experience triggers, and have flashbacks to his dying moments, out of nowhere and then feel I could cry forever.

“Everyone you have loved is still loved”

Some of these things may change over time, some may not. The unpredictability of grief can be hard to process. It’s also horrible having to accept that my life will now contain moments of indescribable pain, and that nothing I can do will ever change that, because Dave is gone.

But he is only gone in person. It feels appropriate to end this blog post with a quote from his funeral:

“Everything you have done is still done. Everyone you loved is still loved. You will live on in our hearts, and in stories that will be told for generations to come.”

Olivia Meheux

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