It’s just before dawn on Christmas morning 2020. The first few brave birds are sending out their song into the darkness. As I sit to write this post there are still things left to be done: a few stray presents to wrap, the soup to make for lunch and the cat is nudging me for his breakfast. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where this blog post is going. All I know is that I felt compelled to connect with you on what can be a really difficult day for anyone going through any form of grief or loss, for any reason.
I’ve navigated 16 or so Christmases since I accepted I would not have children and this morning, in the pre-dawn quiet, I want to step – just for a moment – back into the past and take my younger self by the hand and tell her, ‘We can do this. I’ve got you!’ Without any shadow of a doubt, I know it is possible to emerge from what seems like the darkest moments of loss where the future seems obscured by the shadow of the desire for children that did not arrive. I know it is possible.
Over the last 16 years I’ve used every technique (and anti-technique!) to find my own path through the tinsel tsunami that is our present-day Christmas. Not being religious, I find of a sense of hope in the notion of the winter solstice more than in the mish mash of borrowed traditions of the so-called festive season. Living with a Jew, the simple act of lighting Chanukah candles and contemplating a shared history, heritage and humanity has brought me more comfort than putting up the Christmas lights. And yet…even now, as I think of all the healing that has happened, all the grief work that has been done and everything I have accomplished in this dance with loss, this season still brings its own unique challenges for me as a childless person.
I would love to offer a single, fail-safe technique to anyone experiencing the despair of childlessness, to get you through this next festive break. The truth is that we each have to find our own way, our own traditions, our own coping mechanisms. Trust me, I have gone through every iteration of ‘coping at Christmas’ from railing against it to bailing out of it entirely, from wholeheartedly embracing it to muddling through it in a less-than-half-hearted manner. And there hasn’t been, like in some Hollywood Christmas film, a direct line of increasingly more positive Christmases. It still changes every year.
What I can say with certainty is that change – and therefore, healing – comes in the (seemingly) small stuff. It’s about noticing those tiny moments that offer themselves as gifts and finding space for them in amongst the maelstrom of emotions that surround us at this time of year. For instance, it’s not yet 8am on Christmas morning and I have a small list of things that have brought me more Christmas joy than an over-filled Santa stocking:
- A Christmas Eve morning swim in the less-than-tropical waters of The Channel – my first sea swim since a hip replacement – my husband helping me to the water’s edge and watching the waves engulf his shoes!
- A Covid secure doorstep Christmas Eve carol ‘concert’ in our cul-de-sac – a reminder of warmth, companionship (even when socially distanced) and the gift that is good neighbours.
- A 5am under-the-duvet text exchange with a beloved friend, sharing our plans for the day and hopes for 2021.
- These precious moments by myself – the gift of time – to contemplate, reflect and write these words down.
- The sun rising through the beech trees.
I have never helped my children leave out treats for Santa. I have never had wide-eyed excited children padding into our room to open their Christmas stockings. I have never sat at the Christmas dinner table and surveyed the family I thought I would have. These are moments that I will always grieve – moments my younger self never doubted I would have. But what I do have has been created with just as much love, just as much hard work and a not inconsiderable amount of self-discovery. What I do know is that I will still have the angry Christmases, the hopeful Christmas, the ‘f**k off!’ Christmases, the ‘I’m just not doing this’ Christmases – and I am completely unapologetic for that. And if that doesn’t fit with anyone else’s Christmas model then so be it. And so, over these last 16 years I’ve found a way of standing up for myself and not conforming to anyone else’s fantasy or image of Christmas. And that has brought me peace.
Wherever you are and however you’re spending Christmas, I’m sending you all love and light and, above all, peace.