This time of year can be hard, everywhere you go people are smiling, wearing silly jumpers and the music - don’t get me started on the music! Christmassy pop songs and joyful Carols like ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ and ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ seem to be playing everywhere you go, starting way before the main event. I have found that when you’re grieving or if you’re finding this time of the year hard, joyful music can make everything seem one hundred times worse. I’ve sobbed along to many a cheerful Christmas song and then there are the melancholy ones like ‘Lonely this Christmas’ and ‘Last Christmas’ that don’t help either.
I used to love Christmas, not in the obsessive way some people do, I dislike Christmas jumpers and I don’t excitedly put decorations up in November, but I do like sparkles and spending time with friends and family, then there’s always the presents too! I’m fortunate that on the whole, most of my Christmas times were happy ones, until life events dictated otherwise.
The first rubbish Christmas I had was when my dad left one November and I nursed my mum through pneumonia. Then, the following year my precious dog Max died on Christmas Eve and I spent Christmas Day drunkenly sobbing.
The next few Christmas times were happy ones with family and loved ones. Then came the happiest Christmas ever in 2015 with my baby daughter Violet, who was six months old. It was wonderful seeing her reaction to twinkling lights, decorations and presents. Magical.
Unfortunately, the following September she died suddenly and our world ended. The last two Christmas seasons without her have been incredibly hard for us. Last year we lost a son in September, so we faced Christmas 2017 having lost two children
You might ask how we coped those last two Christmases. Well, the first one after losing Violet in 2016 we decided not to do it at all. We cancelled Christmas and with the help of friends and family we escaped to the Caribbean for two weeks. Last year, we spent time with family because one of them was also going through a hard time, so we wanted to support them and so we escaped for New Year instead.
Christmas should be what you make of it, without fearing the expectations of others. If Christmas is especially hard for you then remember you don’t have to do it – shut yourself at home, watch box sets on Netflix, take bubble baths and eat lovely food. Do whatever you want and what will make you happy.
After losing Violet, we weren’t offered any help or counselling support, so I looked online for help and came across others who had also suffered the loss of children – (you can find them here) and discovered amongst them ‘The Legacy of Leo’, created by an amazing couple who lost a little boy at birth and who now undertake an advent of remembrance in memory of Leo doing kindness for others or themselves each day. We were so inspired, that we have also done the same thing for the last two years.
At this time of year, I feel it helps to focus attention away from feeling sad and instead on helping others, remembering our lost children in a positive way. I have friends who find this year hard so they volunteer in homeless shelters instead of moping they serve and help others on Christmas Day.
When Violet died, I set up a fund in her name to raise money for Alder Hey Hospital’s cardiac surgery fund. Fundraising for this cause and building her legacy helped me to re-channel all my energy and love in a positive way; turning my focus outwards instead of inwards. We even held the first Violet ball this September with great success and may do more in the future. I also started a blog in early 2018 to try to help others going through similar circumstances.
Christmas this year will be a bittersweet one for us, as we had our third child and second daughter in July, named Aurora (meaning goddess of light - bringing light into the darkness). It will be her first Christmas and a first Christmas for my baby nephew too. We will miss my other two absent babies and also my Nan who died in the summer. We’ll miss not having a three-year-old Violet excitedly waking up for Santa and my Nan’s traditional gift of shortbread for all of us.
It will be poignant because Aurora will be just a little younger than Violet was for her Christmas and is now fitting into all the same clothes too. The memories will be sentimental and painful in equal measure but we are thankful for our third child and need to try to focus always on the positives.
I ask all of you out there whether your Christmas plans are happy or sad, to please try to be mindful of others. Some people you know may also face tough times, whether that’s because of grief, depression, loneliness or financial struggles, so if you can reach out to help them in some way no matter how small then please do, as I promise you you’ll not only make their world brighter but will inadvertently help yourself too.
Remember December 21st also marks the winter solstice, when the goddess Aurora will bring back the sun into the world. The nights will then get lighter and the days brighter. Whether you choose to celebrate Christmas or not then I hope that the 21st of December fills your world with light and positivity too.
Thanks for reading and we send lots of love your way!
Sarah Stephens is the creator of the Violet Skies blog and @alwaysvioletskies Instagram