The empty chair at the dinner table
That great pre-Christmas schlep out of London now behind us, I’m happily ensconced in the guest room overlooking the village green.
It’s become a new normal – the food, the drink, the family quibbles the making up afterwards… And that’s just why I’m writing this – to let those facing their first Christmas without a loved one know that it can and does become normal again.
There’s no getting away from it, the first Christmas after losing a loved one is horrible. It’s part of a pattern – first Christmas, first birthday, first anniversary of the death. Yet nothing brings it home quite like that sad empty chair at the family Christmas meal.
Our first Christmas without Jenny came just over two months after her death. We were still shaken from the trauma – being told that she’d died after her clothes caught fire in her kitchen. No surprise then that I was still numb – observing myself and wondering what I should be feeling.
The actual ‘Christmas’ experience was worse than I imagined – family members going through the motions of a joyless meal. All in complete silence. I still remember making a quick exit down the garden to the privacy of the garage, where I could cry without being seen.
I’ve heard of customs to remember the dead – the meal celebrating their life, the glass of their favourite tipple left out on the table. But for my family that year, it probably would’ve been better to just call the whole thing off. No pretence, just a time to be properly sad.
I’m sure there’s no right or wrong way to go about mourning. So if I can give any word of advice, it’s this – just be kind to yourself and do what you want. And remember, life may not ever be the same again, but it won’t remain joyless either.