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How To Do Christmas When Your World Has Ended

07/12/2016 16:36 | Updated 08 December 2016
Janneke Heeres via Getty Images

Christmas season has officially begun, marked by festive sandwiches and your perpetually hungover colleagues chugging down Beroccas.

Some people say they hate Christmas, and what they mean is they don't like the commercial nature of it or the present-buying. Or maybe they just really hate tinsel.

Either way, that's not what I'm referring to. I'm talking about world-ending life events that have utterly obliterated any sense of normality you once knew. For some, this means divorce, serious illness. For others - like me - this means bereavement.

Whatever the event is, it's characterised by several things.

One, the person you were before the event no longer exists. Two, anniversaries, birthdays and events can be an unbelievably sad reminder that your life is not, and never will be, the same. Three, when you try to pretend like everything is normal, it makes you feel more alone in your circle of family and friends than you ever thought possible.

Last year, when my husband Rob died, I sacked off Christmas. I didn't buy any presents, I didn't give a fuck about the John Lewis advert and I left the country to spend it in India.

And people, I loved Christmas. The lights in Oxford Circus. Pigs in blankets, mulled wine, all the cheesy jingles Spotify can muster into a playlist.

It was a time when we spent it as a family with my sister and parents, and Rob would cook Christmas day dinner. We'd fight over Strictly and Doctor Who. Our dog Daisy would clamber over all the presents believing them to be hers.

I couldn't imagine celebrating it again without feeling overwhelmed by the absence of him.

But this year, we've decided to spend it again as a family. Mainly due to the fact that my niece Leela is finally old enough to know what Christmas is, and that kid loves presents wrapping paper.

At first, I was dreading it. I didn't want to be pressured into feeling jolly. I didn't know how to navigate it without seeming like I was spoiling the fun for everyone.

As it hasn't happened yet, I still don't know if I'll have a massive meltdown and kick over the tree. But something has happened in the last week, and I'm slowly but surely starting to hope that things may not be so terrible.

So here are five points on how I learned to make sure this time of year worked for me.

It's okay to cancel Christmas

We have a terrible phrase 'but it's Christmas' which press-gangs other people into doing things they don't really want to do. When you're going through a tough time, you aren't being a Grinch by cancelling Christmas, you're just not subjecting yourself to the pressures of keeping up appearances that everything is okay.

Also, in the grand scheme of things, cancelling one Christmas isn't going to have an irrevocable impact no matter how much your family moan about it. There's plenty of time for you to do random crap you don't want to, but this isn't it. My favourite alternative is to go somewhere hot, with a beach and cold beer.

In fact, Christmas can be what you want it to be

I'm not Christian, and many people I know who love the festive season aren't practicing Christians. So Christmas isn't actually about the birth of Christ for a lot of us, it's a concept. And you know what the best thing is about concepts? Things can change.

In the 70s, people ate deep fried avocado with Camembert as a tradition. They actually ate that shit! And now look - not an avocado to be seen in the Christmas culinary line-up.

Decide what you want to keep and what you don't

Although I grumbled at the 'can we do presents' request (mainly because I thought I'd miss Rob too much when it came to exchanging them), I'm glad I agreed. I like thinking about what to get other people and how happy it will make them. But I know I can't go anywhere near the Doctor Who Christmas special. And I don't want to play 'family' games.

Also a new addition: I've made sure that I have one day to myself where I can shut out the noise of the festive season.

Surround yourself with people who get it

This one is particularly for bereavements, but it's really important to have people around you who understand or respect what you're going through. Christmas Day was a particularly painful one as Rob cooked a lamb roast, so my sister said she was going to do her own version as a tribute to him. It turned something potentially sad into honour and remembrance.

It may be painful now, but it gets better (promise)

I'd avoided the glitz and lights of Oxford Circus for a while but I came across it accidentally when trying to find a way towards a bar. Suddenly I found myself in this beautiful avenue of the lights. The air was crisp and cold, the sky was lit in neon, and I realised that sadness evolves and changes. And despite myself, I fell back in love with Christmas.

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