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"I felt so under pressure in the first Christmas to keep everything the way it had been before. Such a pressure, but at the time I didn’t grasp it. I had a wee child to think about and John’s family. I couldn’t afford to ‘indulge’ my grief. This is how I felt."
November 28, 2022
My partner John died in an accident at our home. It was a crisp, cold bright Saturday and we were looking forward to spring and the warmth it would bring. We had been together for 12 years and were the parents of a three-year-old child. John was also dad to two older teenage children.
It was a normal Saturday, John was constructing a new garage at home and he wanted to finish off some work on the roof. Just after lunch, I left home, taking our wee one to pick up my parents and bring them over to ours. John’s parents were coming over too - a real family affair. When we arrived home however, John was dead, having fallen from the garage roof and sustained massive brain trauma.
In that instant everything changed. Shock, anger, numbness, disbelief, fear, I felt them all and more.
I think I am a strong person. I am a coper. Sometimes, I can overthink, but in the main I get things done. And I did - for the whole year after John died.
I tried to make sure everyone was managing and coping well, I went to work and I tried to keep everything so normal. Taking care of everyone and everything was how I coped. I knew, although I was unwilling to acknowledge it, that I was pushing my own grief deep inside me. That wasn’t good.
And of course, my resilience was at an all-time low and just over a year after John’s death, I woke up one day and I just couldn’t stop crying. I organised an appointment with my GP, a fabulous man. He knew that I was suffering from Delayed Bereavement Reaction and immediately signed me off work sick and he insisted that I make an appointment with Cruse Scotland to discuss the opportunity for counselling.
Up until then I had resisted counselling because my family and friends were supportive and were providing a listening ear when I chose to offload. Now though I felt I needed to speak to someone independent, a person who would let me be my grief-stricken self, someone who wasn’t also grieving John. I took my doctor’s advice, and I did contact Cruse Scotland. At my initial appointment the staff gave me such a lovely welcome and I felt the counsellor gave me a safe place to be myself.
I will never underestimate the support I received from Cruse Scotland. I would go so far to say it saved my life. There’s no other way to say it. I firmly believe that had Cruse Scotland not given me that non-judgemental space to be myself with my grief, I may not be here today.
I’ve heard anecdotally that some people find the first Christmas the worst. I understand this. Your person isn’t there with you, a gaping hole at a time of joy, peace and good tidings. To be honest, I felt so under pressure in the first Christmas to keep everything the way it had been before. Such a pressure, but at the time I didn’t grasp it. I had a wee child to think about and John’s family. I couldn’t afford to ‘indulge’ my grief. This is how I felt.
I do remember sitting on the living room floor alone trying to build a Scooby Doo mystery house, worrying about setting the Christmas dinner table in time and preparing the food when in fact all I could do was weep. In that moment, my grief pain was as raw as it had ever been, and I did wish that I could be anywhere else but there. Reflecting on this, I think that was my moment of acceptance that John was dead, and our lives had changed forever.
Since then, life has continued, and my life has gone through lots of changes too. My parents, John’s parents and other important members of the older generation are now dead too, so the Christmases we have now are quite different.
The feelings of loss I have are not as raw as the early days and it’s now less painful. I’ve learned to accommodate my feelings of grief and loss and the counselling I received undoubtedly gave me support to move through that dark time. There is still a John shaped hole in my heart, but I’ve grown to bear it.
There is no doubt that any holiday time is difficult when you are grieving someone you love. For those celebrating Christmas, it is supposed to be a happy time and a time of connection with friends and family. I have found that Christmas time has been a sad time. In the early days, I found my own feelings of grief and loss to be hugely isolating even when I was surrounded by loving, caring people. Our grief is as individual to us as our fingerprints.
Our family and friends want to help but they can’t always. When people give you advice about how you should feel, it can be unhelpful and sometimes even hurtful. It’s usually coming from a good place and a reflection of their own feelings of loss. I remember I didn’t really want to hear what others thought and this left me feeling more pressured in case they thought me ungrateful and rude.
That is where the Cruse Scotland Helpline is a fantastic place to call if you’re feeling you want to speak about your feelings but can’t. Helpline volunteers offer a kind, supportive, listening ear and will give you space to help you work out what you need. I know this is the case because I was a Cruse Scotland Helpline volunteer offering this service. I’ve spoken with lots of callers who just wanted to be able to speak out loud about their grief without fear of judgement and to be heard. I would strongly encourage everyone who needs it to either use the Helpline or recommend it to those they know are grieving, especially over the holiday time.
Across Scotland, 300,000 children and adults face their first Christmas without a loved one. No one should struggle alone.
A gift of £20 could cover the costs of five calls to our National Bereavement Helpline – to support someone just like Andrea this Christmas, and £100 could train a Helpline Volunteer who will go on to support 200 people in a year.
Find out more about the services we offer and the bereavement support that’s right for you.