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As Christmas approaches... be aware of elephants
Robyn O'Connell is a Funeral Celebrant and the Founder of the Rebecca Jane Foundation - a volunteer run charity helping families who are experiencing financial hardship as well as going through the heartbreaking loss of a baby. The foundation is named after Robyn's own baby girl who passed away at almost 10 months of age. In today's blog, Robyn is sharing her thoughts on what it's like to grieve through 'happy family occasions' such as Christmas...
As Christmas approaches, my heart goes out to the countless number of bereaved parents who maybe facing their first, second, third, 20th or even 50th Christmas without their precious child.
Some will have died as babies, children, teenagers or adults, their age is irrelevant, just as how long ago it was. Some would have died through illness, car accidents or may have even made a decision to take their own life. Whatever the reason or cause the result is the same, their parents face Christmas without them.
Those who have not had this experience are probably thinking, “30 years ago? You’re holding onto the past, you should be over it by now”. But the truth is, just as in life, your child is yours for all time, whether they are alive or not – they are still a part of the family you love.
I remember a dear friend of mine, who at the age of 95 had her 77 year old son die. At his service, they talked about him having a good life, his achievements and the wonderful legacy in the family he had left behind. All this was true, but as my friend said to me later, all she could see was her blonde haired little boy, scruffy and full of mischief.
My heart goes out particularly for those who face that first Christmas, whether they have other children or not, it always creates turmoil. So, as they get ready, most do what they really don’t want to do, that is to reach into the cupboard and put on the smiling face they keep in there, one which they know will be well used in the years to come, if it is not half worn out already. It is a mask, a disguise so that people cannot see the “go away Christmas, I don’t even want to know about you!” face that is really there.
Depending on where their child came in the family creates another dilemma. It could be that it was their only child and suddenly there are no presents under the tree for their child, but plenty for their nieces and nephews. Everyone is acutely aware of the elephant in the room, but everyone tries to tiptoe around it, heaven forbid there be tears, not on Christmas Day, everyone should be happy, shouldn’t they? After all, it has been such a miserable year, can’t we just forget about it for one day? If it was only that simple!
Just as hard is the family with other children who feel they have to ‘keep things normal’ – Santa still has to come, everyone has to be bright and cheerful as they “ooooh” and “aaahhh” over presents bought as small compensation for the major loss in their children’s sibling. The children too are caught in the middle, often putting on their small happy faces which, unlike adults, they easily take off and on because they are very comfortable in the happy mask, because at times it is not a mask at all!
So the scene is set and I’m sure you all waiting with great anticipation for the six easy steps to making Christmas better for the family you love – sorry folks, no fairytale story ending here! Each family has to find, grope, struggle and forge their way of dealing with their own elephant.
There can be memory candles, photos, a special chair, a bauble, going out to a different place, the list goes on and on….but as much as these things may make the elephant a little smaller, and in time maybe even tiny or transparent, it is still there and will never go away.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that never again will anyone ever enjoy Christmas, that will more than likely happen, but I’m just saying that it will never be quite the same again.
So from a bereaved parent to anyone who is dealing with their own elephant, I wish you the most peaceful Christmas that you can have.
With my warmest regards,
Robyn O'Connell CMC, Dip FC, MC
Celebrant, Author & Funeral Celebrant Trainer
PO Box 2126, Rangeview 3132 M: 0425 726 246
Thank you Robyn for your insight into a timely subject of Christmas. Just yesterday we had (my side of the family) Christmas luncheon. It's the 2nd year my of my eldest brother gone and the 1st year of my eldest sister not being here (passed in October) life just seems to be getting more and more forlorn. Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year for 2021
Thank you Robyn so beautifully said. We find we have to acknowledge out loud our children who have died and have a drink to them before I can even pretend to be OK. I'm not sure what the other family members think nor do I really care. There is no getting over the death of children.
Thank you Robyn. This is beautifully written. I am an advocate of talking about elephants in the room (unless it is just too overbearingly sensitive for those involved). I think it is often about taking a risk, but a risk well worth taking to acknowledge that empty chair. I think a lot of people try to act respectably by saying nothing, but that is like acting as if nothing happened at all. So, I like to think that more people will say hi or embrace that elephant, rather than ignore it.