Loss, love and lights on our third Christmas

Christmas shelf

Christmas shelf

Three years in and you’d think I’d be practiced at this wouldn’t you? Although it’s only just shy of two and a half years since my husband died, this is the third Christmas without him and I still feel the loss just as much as the first time.

The first Christmas was hard, it was a shock, a whole new way of operating with this huge hole in our lives at a time which is meant to be all about being happy, spending time with the ones you love and more crushingly, all about family.

My family was broken when Roger died, after a mass of health problems but ultimately of bowel cancer in July 2015. We had been so happy, I never doubted I was with the right man and I know it’s a massive cliche but when he died I really did lose my soul mate and best friend.

Ever since I’ve found December a really difficult month. It’s the run-up to Christmas that I don’t like anymore rather than the actual week. It’s the forced nostalgia and events that are organised for full families to enjoy. It’s like everywhere you look there is a reminder that we don’t have that anymore, my kids have only me now and I’ll never be good enough to be two parents. No matter how much I do for them I can never be mum and dad and the pressure to be that can be overwhelming at times.

It’s something that’s difficult to talk about because I think people think that as I’m in the third year now I should be fixed. These feelings should be less and I shouldn’t be living in the past. It’s hard to keep it all bottled up and sometimes it comes out as tears in the most inappropriate of places.

I often think if this had happened to one of my friends I wouldn’t know what to say to them, so how should I know what to say to myself? It’s just another thing I’ll have to get through, another time I’ll have to brush it off, be brave and just get on with it. Something I seem to have lots of practice doing these days.

Star pillow

It’s been two weeks since we were at the hospice where Roger died, watching Sam switch on the lights dedicated to each life lost there in their annual Christmas service.

I think I’ve needed these weeks to give myself a break before I’ve felt able to write about it. I must admit to being so honoured and grateful that our family were asked to be part of this in Roger’s memory, even though I found it much more painful than I had thought.

This was our third year at the service as a bereaved family at Wirral St John’s Hospice, and I thought that might make it easier, being a bit of a veteran and all. Quite the opposite it seems. I think I had been so focused on Sam being part of the service and how he would be with all the attention, that I didn’t have time to think about anything else.

Sam was a superstar of course, he loves the limelight and wasn’t at all nervous about getting on stage to do his job. I was so proud seeing him up there with CEO of the hospice, Helen Knight, and I know his dad would have been too. Rog and Sam were really close and I know how special having a son was to him. To see him having to go through this was heartbreaking. Children of eight years old should be hanging out with their dads, not remembering how they used to be. It’s just all so unreal and I don’t know if I’ll ever come to terms with that.

After Sam had done his bit I really felt so sad. I think it was the readings and the songs that set me off, combined with standing there outside the hospice in the dark, remembering the last time I was there with Rog and walking across that same space to the building, knowing he was ready to die.

Light up a Life

I had an overwhelming feeling that three Christmases in I should be in a very different place to where I am. I shouldn’t feel so lonely and alone, my life should be filled with love again and the pain should be more of a memory than a reality.

Am I being hard on myself? Probably. But losing someone so close to you so young changes your whole life, your whole outlook and nothing feels certain anymore. In a way I know I have made progress and my life is changing as we all adapt, but in another I know the pain is still as strong as it was and I’ll never get over it.

I wrote a post about my first Christmas as a widow, and again about my second, and was kind of thinking I wouldn’t repeat it this year. But here it is, I guess this is how I feel three years in and it’s probably not that much different from the first!

Only now I don’t want to be the victim, I don’t want to carry this sadness around with me, I want it to go but know it never will.

If you know it will, please let me know because any reassurance is always welcome.

I’ve cried my way through writing this so that can only be a good sign, right? Writing as therapy and all that. I think Rog, a journalist and writer like me, would definitely approve of that.

I’ve cried many times lately in front of Sam and Flo, too, and although they are used to it they still ask what’s wrong and Flo always brings me either a photo of her dad or a toy to cheer me up. her current favourite is the gold star pillow, which reminds her of her dad, the star in the sky.

I know for that he would be so, so proud of his little surviving, if not always thriving, family.

x Julia

Many thanks to Wirral St John’s Hospice for asking us to be part of their Light up a Life service. We were all so honoured and Sam and Flo felt really special knowing they were there for their dad. The hospice is a charity and relied on donations from people like us. If you would like to donate you can find lots of ways of doing so on their website.

Thank you also to the Wirral Globe for letting me use their photos from the night and for such a lovely write-up of the event.

Light up a Life service

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  • Reply
    Sue Quest
    December 17, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Julia heartwarming and emotive as is all your wonderful writing. I can only imagine how you feel but know i would feel the same. Some people seem to move into a diffrerent life with much ease, however i feel you are doing what most of us would do you, are dealing with these overwhelming emotions while being a mum, worker and everything else you are and most of all you miss your husband. You are normal and amazing and i hope you have a restful but busy Christmas with the kids, friends and family to keep you upbeat and positive so you can cope with the quiet times when you need to remember xxxx lovely to see the kids looking so well and you of course. X

    • Reply
      December 20, 2017 at 9:08 am

      Hi Sue, thank you so much, that is really kind of you. Hope all is well with you xx

  • Reply
    December 17, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Christmas is a real ‘should’ period isn’t it? What we ‘should’ do, buy, feel.

    I noticed you used the word ‘should’ a lot – that you should be used to it by now, it should be easier – but there’s no rules. You can do this however you want. It’s your life, and Christmas time is tailormade to you and Sam and Flo now. Who cares what films and adverts and Instagram makes us feel what we ‘should’ be doing.

    It’s hard enough for people who haven’t lost a loved one, and I don’t claim to be able to even begin to really appreciate what you’ve all been through. But I believe that ‘shoulds’ aren’t very Christmassy so don’t let them get the better of you.

    Why not start a new tradition? Pantomime, bowling, trips to somewhere completely non seasonal like seaside arcades or ice cream parlour? Something you might look forward to that doesn’t put too much emphasis on sentimental ‘shoulds’? Or try something new every year that you can look forward to? Christmas dinner in a restaurant, or a city break? It’s a chance to make Christmas time fit your lives, rather than the other way round.


    • Reply
      December 20, 2017 at 9:07 am

      Thanks Bella. You are right, I hadn’t thought about that but I do say should a lot and should move that focus a bit I think. I need to book holiday!! Lots of love xx

  • Reply
    Sarah - Arthurwears
    December 17, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Jules 3 years is nothing, it’s a tiny portion of your life…a massive portion of your children’s life – but it will never be too long ago for it to be something to be sad about, however many christmases it takes. I know you don’t think so, but you are enough. You’re an amazing mum and a lovely person and you’re doing a brilliant job xx

    • Reply
      December 20, 2017 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Sarah, lovely words, and that’s from someone who sees the reality of my crazy family! Haha xx

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Hi Julia x

    I could have written this almost word for word about my very own little family,
    We lost David, my husband, best friend and soul mate in May 2012 after finding out he had metastatic pancreatic cancer, it was everywhere, he was 34, 10 weeks and 5 days after diagnosis and he was gone.
    We are 5 years in and it’s still raw, all we can do is keep going lovely, being the only one is both daunting and terrifying but we can do this ❤
    May you and your children have a lovely Christmas and get through it in any way you can xx
    Much love xxx kim

    • Reply
      December 20, 2017 at 9:06 am

      Hi Kim, I am glad you can relate in a way, but how terrible for you. It is always such a shock and I’m learning that might never go away. Hopefully it will ease though. Lots of love to you xx

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    No words Julia, only admiration & whole lot of love for you & your little ones Xxx

    • Reply
      December 20, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Thanks so much Sarah xx

  • Reply
    Lynn Herbert
    December 18, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    Julia, as a celebrant delivering funeral services on a weekly basis I have an insight, albeit a small one, on the pain that losing someone, let alone your soul mate, feels like in the first instance and in the days leading up to and including their funeral service but it is only by people like you sharing their thoughts that we can really know how it is. It would probably be easier to not be a part of the light up a life service and you could have not told your children about it but you didn’t – you put yourself out there and worked through it and I am very proud of you for that and your children will be in years to come – sending special love to you at this very, very difficult time of year – manage it the best you can and don’t ever put yourself down xxx

    • Reply
      December 20, 2017 at 9:04 am

      Thank you Lynn, I hope my kids are proud of me when they’re older. Thank you x

  • Reply
    December 18, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Hello Julia,

    I just wanted to leave a message and say I feel almost exactly the same. It’s also my third Christmas without my husband and I have the same thoughts – should’t I be feeling better by now? In fact, if anything, I feel worse because I’m less overwhelmed with looking after our son, who is almost 2 now so a bit less of a challenge (soon to change I’m sure!) The first Christmas was just after he died, and I was pregnant, so I just shut down my emotions and it’s taking a long time for them to open up again. Actually, I don’t have anything particularly useful to say, just wanted to let you know you are not alone. x

    • Reply
      December 20, 2017 at 9:04 am

      Hi Kate, thank you so much for leaving me a message and I am sorry you are in a similar situation. Much love to you xx

  • Reply
    December 19, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    Julia, first thank you for posting your blog. I do, as a Panthers fan follow you and your family on twitter. During this time I have felt what a great mum you are, and a dedicated nurse. I have started looking at your other blogs and will read them all in time. I have always wanted to be able to write my feelings down, but never seem to to have the right words. I lost one of my brothers to leukaemia at the age of 41, and my mother at 61, with a asthma attack, it helped me to think of all the good times we had, but Christmas is always a hard time. I do hope with Sam and Flo, and your family you can find a little happiness this Christmas. Keep up the blogs you have a new follower. Joyce

    • Reply
      December 19, 2017 at 6:38 pm

      Sorry Julia, the person I thought you were, had retweeted your blog, I am sorry to get you mixed up, but you still have a new follower, even if you are not a Nottingham Panthers fan. Joyce xx

      • Reply
        December 20, 2017 at 9:03 am

        Haha I was a bit confused about the Panthers link but thank you so much, what a lovely lovely comment Joyce, thank you! x

  • Reply
    December 22, 2017 at 12:20 am

    Hi Julia. I’m so so sorry for your loss.
    It must be so difficult at this time of year with the confused emotions of thinking how you ‘should’ feel and how you actually feel. I hope this year brings you and your children many smiles and happy moments which you can cherish. I believe if you need to break with Christmas traditions do it ! A close friend of ours died aged just 40 a couple of years ago and his wife and children spent the first Christmas at Center Parcs rather than at home because of the memories which were too ‘raw’ to process then. I hope you all have a peaceful Christmas and many new memories to add to the old cherished ones in the new year. Much love to you all Zoe xxxx

    • Reply
      December 28, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      Hi Zoe, thank you so much! Julia x

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