Christmas is a notoriously difficult time for people who’ve lost loved ones.
Georgia Elms lost her husband to meningitis in 2006. The day after he died, she found out she was pregnant with their second daughter.
Georgia, who is chairperson of Widowed and Young (WAY), a charity supporting men and women aged 50 and under after they lose a partner, tells HuffPost UK: “There’s no getting around it that Christmas is a difficult time when you’ve been widowed – as many of our members know only too well.
“Your first Christmas on your own is likely to be one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face, and it’s best to make sure you have lots of friends or family on hand to help with cooking, shopping and entertaining.
“You’re not likely to feel much like celebrating yourself. And even in the midst of all the jollity, there will be times when you will probably feel wretched.”
With 25 December fast approaching, we spoke to six people who have lost a partner about their coping mechanisms for surviving such a painful period.
Rebecca Farwell, 55, Norwich
Rebecca lost her husband almost seven years ago, during the Christmas period.
She says: “Christmas is a terribly difficult time of year for all bereaved people – but when you are widowed at Christmas, as I was, it becomes hard to see the festive season as anything other than the anniversary of your partner’s death. And my husband loved Christmas so much – this season is full of memories of him.
“I try to remind myself that despite all the hype, it is really just a few days and will be over soon. But it takes more than that to survive it. The best Christmas I’ve had since being widowed was the one I spent in Hawaii. On Christmas Day, I ate a fish wrap by the pool and posed for a photo on the beach with a Santa dressed in a Hawaiian shirt. My friends commented that it really didn’t feel like Christmas – something that was absolutely perfect from my point of view.
“But I obviously can’t afford to do this every year. So sometimes it’s just about not giving myself time to think. I accept almost every invitation and try to have as little spare time as possible between 1 December and New Year’s Day. Not trying to recreate Christmases from the past helps too. For example, instead of going out and choosing a Christmas tree, with all the memories attached of doing it as a couple, I bought a rooted Christmas tree in a pot and that now comes indoors every year. It’s a new tradition – I like to think that my husband would have smiled at that.”
Susannah Harrison, 49, South Bucks
Susannah lost her husband Tim five years ago.
“I survived it by completely ignoring it last year. It was our first Christmas where we were at home alone and we did stuff-all about it. The kids wanted to do nothing so that’s what we did. I didn’t even buy one present, as the kids had big things early.
“We managed to decorate the tree but that was it. My daughter is always in panto so I help out loads there and we collapse when it’s done.”
This year, things will be a lot different for Susannah, who is a member of the charity Widowed and Young: “We are counting the days as a bunch of us who don’t know each other are off to Lapland for five days with 33 kids ranging from 4-16 years old. We’re all hoping to reset the Christmas spirit button.”
Veronica Currie, 43, Perthshire in Scotland
Veronica’s husband died in June 2016. They have two daughters aged 12 and 13, and this Christmas will be the second without him.
“Last year we did something different by spending part of the day at my cousin’s house,” Veronica, who is also a member of WAY, explains. “It was busy with lots of family and younger cousins so lots of distractions. I took a bottle of my husband’s favourite whiskey and everyone raised a toast to him.
“This year we’re going to my husband’s parents’ house. It’s going to be tough but lovely to be together. Christmas is painful… so much emphasis is on fun and celebration. Our missing loved ones are glaringly not there.
“Last year my eldest daughter wrote ′dad’ on her Christmas list. This year my youngest daughter said there’s no point in Christmas as the only thing she really wants she can’t get… her dad. It’s tough for everyone.”
Tips from WAY for coping with grief at Christmas:
:: Do something different – go away or visit a different relative, or perhaps friends. By changing your routine you won’t have the same memory cues.
:: If you have younger children, make sure someone takes them out to buy you a gift.
:: Don’t push yourself beyond what you feel able to do. Bereavement is exhausting so remember to get enough sleep and don’t feel you have to do everything you used to. You could email a Christmas message to friends instead of writing cards. They will understand.
:: Use the Christmas tree as a place to hang special mementoes, or photos or letters. You could also have a candle in a corner of a room to burn throughout Christmas, perhaps beside a special photo.
:: Let children buy a present for the mum or dad they have lost, if they want to, or write cards. You could send letters up the chimney when you’re doing letters to Santa.
:: Buy yourself a gift from your partner – he or she would have wanted you to have something and you deserve it.
Stuart Scarbrough, 36, Lichfield
Stuart’s wife Katie died from bowel cancer in May 2013. For the first couple of Christmases after her death, the family went to Lanzarote.
″I didn’t feel like having Christmas dinner with an empty chair at the table so opted for Christmas in the sun,” Stuart explains. “It was my version of escapism and distraction from our loss. The kids were happy playing in the pool, the sun was shining, the cocktails were flowing so I was happy too.
“On Christmas day, Santa left a present each on the balcony for Sam and Sophie with the rest waiting at home on their return, the hotel organised for Santa to come to the hotel on Christmas day with some small presents and sweets for all the children. Instead of being at home sad and upset we came back rested having spent quality family time in the sun, which worked for us.”
This year things will be a little different for the family. “We will have 20 people at ours for Christmas day with my new wife’s family and mine. I got married to Colette this summer who is also widowed so it is a very hectic household,” Stuart says.
“I buy a heart shape wreath with purple decorations each year for Katie’s grave.”
Gemma Mason, 35, Birmingham
Gemma’s husband passed away a few days after their daughter Bethany’s second birthday in between Christmas and New Year. This Christmas will be their fourth without him.
“The days in between Christmas and New Year are a strange time for most people I think, there’s a bit of a lull,” Gemma says. “Our daughter is a great distraction for me and I don’t want Christmas to be anything other than a happy, exciting time for her.
“For our first Christmas we spent time with both sides of the family, it felt very important to me that we saw my husband’s parents and grandparents, it was a very painful time for them and I think our daughter’s presence helped.
“We then went to Butlins for the days in between Christmas and New Year, it was great to be somewhere new and different that first year, but I have no plans to do it again.
“Now generally we try and embrace Christmas, we keep busy doing lots of different activities, making as many memories as we can with laughter and smiles but it does mean that we are shattered come New Year. January is probably harder, starting a New Year without my husband for me means we are getting further away from each other.”
Gwen, 49, Berkshire
Gwen’s husband Rob died suddenly in April 2014. This will be Gwen’s fourth Christmas without him. ″Every year has been different and every year has been hard,” she explains.
“There has always been a new ‘first’: the first Christmas without him, the first Christmas with his family without him, the first Christmas at home (and the first with me cooking the dinner). This year’s first is being away at Christmas with my fellow WAYers on a Lapland trip.
“It seemed easier to cope when the kids were younger as you could gee them up a bit with decorating, but I now have two teens and it’s actually harder in many ways.
“I’ve started two traditions since Rob died: the first is where the kids buy a new decoration each and it goes on a special little tree I bought called the ‘daddy tree’. They will build up a little collection of decorations each.
“The second is where, on Christmas Eve (usually), we write a few lines or a letter to dad and pop it in an envelope and put it in his stocking, which we still hang. The idea is that one day we can all read back on those letters and see how far we have come.”
Pete Demma remembers one of the greatest gifts he and his daughter, Rubie, received the Christmas of 2015, the year his wife died of a brain aneurysm.
His wife, Teresa, cherished the holidays, hosting parties and decorating their home in Lincoln, Neb. Over their 13-year marriage, she collected enough decorations to fill 15 large plastic boxes. His job was to bring them down from the attic. She did the rest, beautifully. When she died, both he and Rubie, who was 10 at the time, were overwhelmed.
“I was real close to getting rid of most of them,” says Mr. Demma. But then some of Teresa’s closest friends came over and together they put all 15 boxes of decorations up.
Looking back, he says, it was probably one of the most helpful things they could have done.
The holiday season, whether Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, is among the most difficult times of year for survivors of loss. The rituals that made them special—visiting grandparents, hanging stockings, lighting candles, baking cookies, singing carols, throwing parties—are now painful because a central figure who shared those special moments is now gone.
“It really magnifies the absence of that person in our lives,” says Terese Vorsheck, a clinical psychologist and director of Pittsburgh’s Highmark Caring Place, which founded Children’s Grief Awareness Day, a day set aside every November to recognize that holidays are hard for children whose parent, sibling or grandparent has died.
That’s true whether the loss was months ago, or years ago. Adults who lost a parent in childhood say it takes six years or more to move forward, according to a new survey on bereavement from the New York Life Foundation, which supports programs, including bereavement camps, for grieving children. Yet support typically tapered off within three months for a majority of those surveyed, and was especially missed around the holidays.
What many of those grieving find most helpful is hearing stories about their loved ones. It doesn’t have to be momentous or poignant. It can be funny: her comical Irish jigs, his snoring. Teresa Demma was legend for her chip dips.
Families don’t want loved ones forgotten. For children, it can be even more important, giving them permission to talk about what is on their minds and helping them feel less lonely.
“Kids worry they will forget what mom smelled like or the sounds of their dad’s laugh,” says David Schonfeld, a Los Angeles pediatrician and leading childhood grief expert and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement. “If you learn more about someone close who died, your relationship grows.”
The Blohn family bought all new ornaments for their Christmas tree this year, many with loving messages to 18-year-old Bryson, who died in May. Donna Blohn, Bryson’s mother, said the family is creating some new traditions and modifying others in honor of her son, including gifts given to charity in his name. PHOTO: DONNA BLOHN
Donna Blohn knew that Bryson, the sixth of her seven children, was empathetic but didn’t know how much her son had touched other people’s lives. One boy wrote her a letter after Bryson, 18, died in May after taking a pill offered to him by a friend at a party. “He helped me through a lot,” the boy wrote. “I’ll always appreciate his friendship.” Another letter, from the mother of a fellow student, recalled how Bryson had come over to help put together a dining room table. “He made me laugh so hard,” she wrote.
The family is trying to figure out how to get through Christmas, Ms. Blohn says. In years past, they decorated the tree with bulbs given every year to each child. This year, they bought all new ornaments. They are adding more outdoor lights at the request of her youngest son, Jorge. “He wants Bryson to see them from heaven,” says Ms. Blohn, who lives in Lincoln. Bryson’s name will be included when the kids draw names for gifts. Whoever gets his name will buy a gift for Toys for Tots or another charity.
Ms. Blohn says she still plans to host Christmas dinner, with the same meal and mayonnaise Jell-O salad that the kids joked about. She is asking relatives and friends to share stories and tears. “Don’t make Bryson the elephant in the room,” she says. “I don’t want him to be the thing you shouldn’t talk about.”
Such encouragement is useful. More than 60% of Americans admit they sometimes avoid talking to someone about their loss because they don’t want to say the wrong thing, according to the New York Life Foundation survey.
Julie Kaplow, Ph.D. and director of the Trauma and Grief Center at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, remembers one mother of three asking family members to come to Christmas dinner and bring a photo or keepsake relating to her husband, who had died a year earlier. One uncle brought tickets to a football game they attended together. One of her children had a book they used to read together, and another a shirt that smelled like her dad.
“For the kids, especially, knowing that this was something that their father had actually touched or owned was especially powerful and made them feel more connected to him,” says Dr. Kaplow.
WAYS TO CARE FOR GRIEVING FRIENDS AND FAMILY AT THE HOLIDAYS
Be personal. Reach out in person, or on the phone, rather than online. While social media has opened more channels to express sorrow and offer condolences, it’s not the same as personal connection.
Be specific. Instead of saying “Let me know if you need anything,” offer to put up lights, address cards, carry a tree into the house, bake cookies or take children shopping.
Be inclusive. Invite those who are grieving to a holiday outing or gathering. (You might want to avoid using the word “party.”) If they aren’t feeling up to it, they can always say no, but they might want to be with others.
Be flexible. Understand that plans might change at the last minute if someone becomes overwhelmed by the unexpected triggers of grief and can’t make a dinner or outing.
Be mindful. Remember to remember not just on the holidays. On important dates like birthdays and anniversaries send a note, saying that you miss the person who died. Mention their name. Families don’t want loved ones forgotten.
For many who have lost family members, deciding whether to keep holiday traditions or start new ones is complicated and deeply personal. One person may feel comforted by an empty place setting and another pained. Changing anything can make some people feel guilty.
Brook Griese, a Denver-based licensed psychologist and chief executive of Judi’s House, which provides services to grieving children and families, has a friend whose daughter died several years ago and continues to feel acute loss around the holidays. The mother wrote her daughter a letter every Christmas Eve and put it in her stocking. One year, she forgot and needed encouragement from her friends that it was OK to let that go. Dr. Griese says her friend has now reached the point where she worries less about what others think and does what feels good for her and her family—even if it means continuing to make her daughter’s favorite holiday dish even if no one else likes it.
“She said that no matter how long it’s been, you still feel like someone is missing,” says Dr. Griese. Her husband, Brian Griese, a former Denver Broncos quarterback, lost his mother, Judi, when he was 12. The couple founded Judi’s House to help children and families experiencing loss. “I know Brian still misses his mom after 30 years.”
Every holiday in 2014 was hard for Dana Germain, whose husband Rich died of a heart attack in January of that year. Having a big family and being together, her kids playing with their cousins, helped.
The hardest holiday was Mother’s Day because her husband was the one who made sure their four children made cards and bought flowers. In his absence, her friends stepped in to make that happen. They also left balloons and streamers outside the family’s house in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. Her children called them their elves.
“The most meaningful things weren’t words,” she says. “They were actions.” And they didn’t just come around the holidays, but throughout the year. Friends left bagels and coffee outside their front door every Sunday morning for six months. One left notes in her mailbox. Another came over to watch a movie with her. “It was just a reminder that I wasn’t alone,” she says.
That support, along with counseling at Dr. Kaplow’s center, helped them through that first year. On Father’s Day 2015, she and her children began a 14-month trip around the world, visiting 28 countries—a trip Ms. Germain and her adventurous husband dreamed about.
By Clare Ansberry, Wall Street Journal Photo: Jon Krause
If I recall Thanksgiving in 2003, I see the shining face of my husband, Virgil, from across the table. Healthy, vibrant, and brave, he cracks jokes on his younger cousin over his over-demanding wife. Next to him sits his brother Sandu, chuckling and undecided whether to join in this debauchery. A few seconds later his choice is made and Virgil and Sandu roar with laughter. The two were inseparable and their bond nothing short of admirable. They could not only finish each other’s sentences, but maintained a solid foundation of respect and loyalty. Their common denominator was a boundless love for their family.
In charge of all preparations, Virgil and Sandu acted as the delegates of Thanksgiving, a flagship celebration of family. Fast forward 10 years to the present, and with both Virgil and Sandu missing, I can only imagine what this year’s table will look like. A more somber crowd, there will be no hilarity, no feuding over the last swig of wine, and no brothers-in-arms up to their usual antics. The silence will be felt.
The empty chairs will be most evident perhaps to my cousin Claudia, widow to the late Sandu, who left our family just last spring. Having already endured a number of ceremonial meals without Virgil, I became accustomed to attending festivities without my better half. For the last four years, I intruded on different friends, drove to distant family members, and held my three daughters as close to me as possible. But despite my efforts to be in physical contact with others, I realized one thing: I didn’t really belong anywhere. My two older daughters had families, and although I watched lovingly as they kissed their husbands and scolded their children, I knew I didn’t fit into their immediate familial circle. Even my younger daughter, 27, had a life of her own: a boyfriend and friends and parties to run off to later. I thought, Where will I go when this dinner is over? An unwelcomed answer followed.
My struggle is not mine alone. It is the shared challenge of millions around the world who fight to fill a heartfelt void after having lost their spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend, or worse, a combination of. A dreaded battle, at best. But we as humans come equipped with the greatest, rarest grace imaginable: resilience. This unfailing sense of fortitude and endurance, of getting up and forging ahead, allows us to conquer almost anything. Profound resilience never fails to see us through. And knowing this is the first step towards true healing after loss. Implement my tips below to manage through Thanksgiving without your loved one and feel their consoling company on any day:
Talk to them. Before stepping out for Thanksgiving dinner, speak out loud to your beloved. Conjure their memory in your mind and tell them exactly how you feel. You can confess that you miss them, explain your hardships, even ask for their help. Start by saying, “Well, today’s Thanksgiving and I wanted to tell you that…” The words will flow from there. When you release your emotions and speak your mind without restraint, you feel an instant sense of relief. You will also feel inexplicably connected to your loved one, as if they are there and listening. This will endow you with the hope and strength to go out and enjoy your holiday like you deserve.
Celebrate their memory. Reserve a chair at the dinner table for your precious person, as if they were sitting right there with you. Raise a glass for your dear departed one and toast to their name. Prepare their favorite dish for others to enjoy. Rituals like these serve as a reassuring reminder of the spiritual presence of a late loved one.
Find a strong support system. Spend Thanksgiving with whomever offers you the most moral support. This is the time to take things very easy and do what makes you feel comfortable. Stick closely with those who can boost your strength and vitality, whether they be family or friends. Don’t be afraid to call on people who can show you unconditional love and patience in a time when you need compassionate above all else.
Don’t force yourself. The grieving process is unique for each of us and everyone heals at a different rate. Don’t force yourself to feel happy if you don’t, but do try to stabilize your emotions and use them to a positive advantage. It’s perfectly fine to release your pain and cry as long as this provides genuine relief. Excuse yourself from the table and take a quick walk or meditate in another room for a few minutes. Emotions may be difficult to control, but you should both allow your feelings to run their course while also putting in effort to better your mood little by little.
Find a sense of peace. True wisdom means seeking peace in all situations, especially in those which you cannot change. Attain tranquility by adopting the right mindset, whether it’s reminding yourself that at least your loved one is no longer in pain or that their spiritual presence will forever be felt. Dwell on thoughts that create comfort and serenity and banish those that evoke guilt or regret. Remember that the past is unchangeable and that contemplating “what if” will do you no favors. Understand that there is a greater reason for your dear one’s departure, one which you will fully comprehend in time.
A holiday like Thanksgiving can be burdensome with the one we love absent from the table. But we must not forget that we possess resilience, an inherent gift that helps us surmount any obstacle. Add my advice to your holiday routine to discover a deep-seated sense of acceptance and feel the undying presence of your loved one.
Our love goes out to the Kirkland Police Department and Behind the Badge for all that you have done to exceed the needs of our family when we lost Sergeant Nathan Rich. Although your grief for his loss matched our own, you stepped in and saw to every conceivable need and detail. What could have been a time of great despair became a celebration of a life well lived, and a man well loved. We will never forget your contribution to our family’s healing.
MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — It has been nearly a year since a Mount Vernon police officer was shot in the head while on the job. Mike McClaughry ultimately lost his eyesight.
Now, Home Depot employees are volunteering their time to improve McClaughry’s home. With a little bit of elbow grease, they hope to say thank you to a man who has made a big difference in his community. Read More.
November 16, 2017 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day, designed to help us all become more aware of the needs of grieving children — and of the benefits they obtain through the support of others. Children’s Grief Awareness Day is an opportunity to make sure that grieving children receive the support they need. Here is an article with ideas about how to help a grieving child.
Between 2009 and 2011, line-of-duty officer killings in the US rose a staggering 42%, with overall officer deaths increasing over 60%. Not only were more officers being murdered, more and more were being targeted, ambushed, and slain in numbers. Although 2012/2013 saw a welcome decline, the numbers rose again through 2014 & 2015, and 2016 saw a 56% increase in officers being shot and killed.
All sides want to interject politics into these numbers, but all of that aside, there are countless personal stories going untold beneath these tragic numbers. These fallen heroes deserve a voice, as do their families, loved ones and partners who are struggling to pick up the pieces these tragedies leave behind.
For the past 5 years, a production crew comprised of both film industry and public safety professionals has been traveling to police agencies across the country, large and small, urban and rural, candidly interviewing family members, command staff, line officers, city officials and the public in areas that have lost officers. Along the way, they have captured intimate accounts of heroism and loss. Through the words of those who have lived along side these tragedies, these stories will be told.
What makes this project unique is that it is being funded by contributions from the national law enforcement community, along with our extended family and private supporters in the public. Without your continuing support, this film simply could not be made.
Not only will this film serve as an educational snapshot of history, but its raw honesty and intimately candid perspective will serve as a tribute to all those who have sacrificed everything so that we may enjoy the safety and freedoms we all take for granted.
We at Behind the Badge Foundation love seeing the impact that officers have on their community all across the country!
When Asheville, North Carolina, senior police officers Joe Jones and Carrie Lee responded to a call for a noise complaint, they never expected the summertime fun they were about to encounter.
The officers joined in on the neighborhood’s massive Slip ‘N Slide built for a Fourth of July block party on Sunday, July 2.
“The officers got there and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, the cops are here. They’re going to shut us down,’ but they noticed the noise was fine. It was literally the sound of kids playing,” public information officer Christina Hallingse told ABC News. “The Slip ‘N Slide they noticed was so far off the street that cars and emergency vehicles could still pass through so it was perfectly fine and they decided to join in on the fun. There were no citations issued.”
“They had such good energy. All the kids were loving it,” Travis Eagledove, a nearby resident who caught the epic moment on camera, said of the officers.
Officer Lee took the plunge first, sliding down the big hill with a trash bag on top of her uniform.
“When the female officer asked for a garbage bag, we almost didn’t believe it. But she took off her radio and went for it! ,” neighbor Katlen Joyce Smith wrote to ABC News. “ They told us to have a great day, posed for some pictures and thanked us for the fun!”
At the end of the now viral video, Officer Jones can be heard saying, “My butt is wet.”
“He thought he was going to away with it because he couldn’t fit in a trash bag but then a little boy ran and got a big raft,” Hallingse said with a laugh.
Little did he know that he’d also set a Slip ‘N Slide record that day.
“He was the only one that made it all the way from the top to the bottom,” Eagledove recalled. “It was the best slide from the three days of it being there. That was the only time, even out of the all the adults and everybody, that’s the only time the inner tube made it from all the way to the bottom.”