I have survived and thrived this Christmas on my own whilst in the middle of grief because of resilience. I lost my husband to cancer two months ago.
Building resilience from my childhood experiences
I have always been super resilient and this is one of the key skills you need to survive on your own. I have reflected on why this is the case? I am pretty sure it is because when I was a child both my parents were nurses and worked on and over the Christmas period. We never had a huge amount of family traditions at Christmas time, we were usually at my grans place to sleep on Christmas eve (mum and dad worked night shifts 10pm-6am) so we never woke up in our own beds on Christmas morning.
Mum and dad would pick us up from my grans and then drive home to see Santa had been. We would unwrap our presents and my parents would then sleep till lunch time. We would be on our own playing with our toys and then we would go to my dads parents place for a Christmas lunch and stay till mid afternoon/ evening and be home again to play with our presents we received. And that was Christmas done and dusted. It was small intimate and everyone got together for a few hours, but really this could have been any day of the year….
Building resilience from being a step-mum
Fast forward to when I was 22 years old and I was now a step-mum to three beautiful kids. We would have the kids every second weekend and half of the school holidays. Every second year we were lucky to have them stay with us for Christmas, this is where I started learning and understanding about setting intentions and creating family traditions.
Our Christmas day’s were simple yet heartfelt, we never had much but you better believe we spent the whole day together as a family and enjoyed a yummy lunch and played multiple outdoor games together. It was fun and 22 years later I look back on those Christmas’s as some of my most treasured memories. So if I do the math we had six of these “every second year” Christmas’ until all the kids had grown up and left home. Doesn’t seem like much now does it? But it was enough to build lasting, treasured memories.
Building resilience as a couple
Then one year I said to my late husband, I can see it being a strain for all the kids trying to share themselves around on Christmas Day – having to see us, their mum and step-dad and then their partners side of the family. How about we create a new family tradition and have a “Dudley Family Christmas in July”. This way it eases the pressure on the kids trying to fit everyone in and we can make sure that everyone meets up together midyear (everyone had since moved away and lived in different towns).
We decided to start this “new family tradition” and have no presents. Our now adult kids just had to make it home and dad and I would pay for a family outing. Over the years we went ten-pin bowling, go-karting, horse riding, a stay on Fraser Island, we rode tricycle’s on the esplanade, played board games for hours, but my most favourite was just sitting round the fire at home at night just chatting about anything and everything.
So what did Les and I do on Christmas day when we had no one at home with us? We just did our own thing, I would either cook us a yummy lunch and we would play pool, darts or backgammon or we would convince my husbands best mate to have Christmas with us. He also did not have any immediate family here in Australia but was always quite happy to spend the day with himself, now years later I understand why. I must say we also had fun on the occasions when we were invited to friends and family Christmas lunches, so many wonderful memories to cherish forever.
What is the meaning of Christmas?
This year it had me thinking about the meaning of “Christmas”. The Oxford Dictionary’s definition is “the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on 25 December in the Western Church”. I am not a religious person, that is, I don’t prescribe to any one religion however I believe there is a “god, source, universe” whatever you would like to call it. I can never recall apart from religious education in primary school, did any adult actually talk to me about the real meaning of Christmas. Hmmmm, so Christmas is not just about putting presents under the Christmas tree and having a big kick arse lunch? So that we can eat ourselves literally sick and then sloth about for the rest of the afternoon and then eating left overs for the next week?
With that being said I understand why in my heart Christmas Day is just like any other day for me. I have never prescribed to gift giving. I would rather give you a hug and an ear to listen to, be present with you in the moment. And from my own personal experiences “Christmas Day” to me is a day that could and can be celebrated at any time of the year and is really all about connection and being in each others company.
On Christmas Day last year my husband was sick with Cancer and slept till 2pm in the afternoon. I felt like a child again waiting for my mum and dad to wake up so that we could go to my grandparents place for Christmas lunch. Never would I have imagined that this would have been our last Christmas Day together.
Maybe I survived this Christmas fine because I am craving my own time and being around other humans at the moment is too painful for me? I am quite selective who I see as I am learning I need to be around people who help lift me up not zap my energy. I can feel the energy of sorrow others have for me and it drains my energy levels when I have to explain that I am doing ok so that they understand and feel better for me.
I have done lots of work over the years on building my resilient muscles and a lot of this work has come from being a step-mum with no biological children (this is a whole other story to share down the track). I have also been keenly aware my whole adult life that we continually change as we age. I am not the same person I was 22 years ago and when I come out of the “cocoon” I have currently wrapped myself in, my family and friends will see I am not the same person I was before my husband died.
So what did I do on Christmas Day 2021? I hear you ask. I built a new fire pit [laughs out loud]. Well it’s not quite finished as I have to get a special blade to cut the brick in half to finish it off and it rained so I could not test it out yet. But I was super impressed with my efforts and I smiled and laughed to myself because this is the crazy sort of thing my husband and I would do together.
I have always been very independent but my husband taught me so much over the last 23 years, it was like he was setting me up for this next chapter in my life with the skills and confidence I need to carry on without him. I miss him so much and would much rather him here with me in person, but I know he is here with me in spirit still guiding me and showing me the way. I cry on the daily and I am not sure when or if this will ever stop but a marriage built on a deep connection is hard to sever even when your person is no longer with you.
Reflecting back on why I was able to survive and thrive Christmas Day on my own I believe it ultimately was because Christmas is but one day in a year. We have 364 other days to do the same thing everyone does on this one day, but very little do. For me its never been about the religious notion or present giving but the connection with loved ones.
Filling up my cup
Every time I meet with family or friends it is meant to be and my cup is refilled with all that I need till I see them again. I don’t need some grandiose gesture from one day a year to feel connected and loved, just keeping it simple is part of my love language. So to everyone who lovingly offered for me to come and have Christmas Lunch, I say thank you! For those of you who still don’t quite understand my logic and story, that’s ok, you are walking a different path to me.
Grief sucks but it is survivable if you are resilient. Click here if you would like to learn more of how I have managed my grief and for you to also build your resilience muscles. I also have an online signature ‘Life Skills Membership Program‘ that is designed to teach basic life skills needed to navigate life! You can join me there if you would like to spend more time with me and grow your life skills.
Till next time,
Live a Simple, Happy and Healthy Life! x