Celebrating Christmas…Celebrating Life
For all of us Christmas means different things at different times during our lifetimes. For me, as a child growing up Christmas was always a time that I looked forward to as a wonderful occasion spent with family.
As my father was a funeral director, he often worked on Christmas Day. I thought that was pretty normal, and it wasn’t until later in life that I learnt that not that many people work on Christmas Day.
But that was normal when you were a boy living at the rear of a funeral home and your father was a funeral director.
My mother and father weren’t rich; we didn’t have all the material things at Christmas. Sure, we all got gifts, but it was never something our parents went overboard on.
The things that we had in abundance around our Christmas table were much happiness, much laughter, much joy and a tremendous feast. I often look back on Christmas and feel really sorry for my mother. After unwrapping presents first thing in the morning, I remember Mum being in the kitchen for most of the day, until after dinner at night. Dad was always one to have a nap after Christmas lunch either in his rocking chair or on his bed. I can still hear the sound of his loud snoring as if it were only yesterday, although he died in 1998.
After Mum and Dad died, Christmas took on a whole new meaning for me, and yes it was changed forever. Before Mum and Dad were gone all the significant celebrations in the MacLeod family centred around our mother and father. Whether it was for Christmas, Easter, or birthdays – everyone in the family would go home and celebrate together.
Mum and Dad taught me many values about Christmas, and one was that nobody should ever be alone on Christmas Day. In fact as a child growing up, I can always remember different people, often people I didn’t know, being around the Christmas table each and every year. It was a little bit like the United Nations at times. I can remember a Christmas when we had Scottish, Irish and folks from various parts of Africa sitting around our table. Mum and Dad would bring people home from Church, people from work, people from Lions International where my father was a member, neighbours, people that lived down the road. Mum and Dad would always make sure that people had a place to go on Christmas Day.
Now that I am a parent, Christmas has taken on a whole new dimension for me. My son Angus has received many of the type of toys that I had wished for so much as a kid. Many a Christmas morning my wife Louise has had to confiscate a remote control device for one of Angus’ remote control cars from me. Or Louise has had to ask me several times to come to the dinner table because Angus and I are immersed in playing Test Match Cricket, the board game which I so longed for as a child growing up.
Now Christmas has yet again has taken on another dimension. My children are now 15 and 12, so they are way past having me pick out Christmas presents for them, or things that I really desired as a kid. Most of the things I like are so daggy Dad or they tell me you are so from the olden days Dad. The joy of Christmas is just spending time with my kids and my family. As Darryl Kerrigan often said in that great movie The Castle ‘kids it doesn’t get much better than this.’ I think that is so very true. I think we are so very blessed. This was rammed home to me on a recent trip to Vietnam with Ha and Rose Nguyen. Ha is the Manager of Tobin Brothers Asian Funerals.
My family had previously travelled to Vietnam with Ha and Rose in 2007, and had visited the beach from where they escaped Vietnam. On this occasion we were sitting in Phu Quoc – a small island in the Thailand Sea at the bottom of Vietnam. Ha pointed out a boat to my son Angus and I. He told us that boat was very similar, in fact slightly bigger then the boat which he captained and sailed with 74 passengers on board in order to escape Vietnam. To think that Ha was in charge of this boat that his pregnant wife and two children were onboard, with some 70 others in the open ocean and with a 30% chance of survival just amazed me. They spent 6 nights and 7 days at sea, until they reached a refugee camp in Malaysia. As we looked out across the Thailand Sea, watching as a small ship that was passing us struggled in the rough conditions, I asked Ha why did you do it? Look how dangerous it is out there, you knew the danger, why did you do it? Ha turned to me and simply said, I wanted a better life for my children. It is a wonderful story, and in Ha’s story is a wonderful message, Celebrate Life. Ha and Rose are always two people I phone on Christmas Eve each year. When I phone them Ha and Rose along with their family are always in full swing, doing just that, celebrating life.
So, to all those people that have experienced loss this year, who are facing the first Christmas without a loved one, you need to acknowledge that it will be different, and that it will be tough in the lead up and on Christmas Day. You need to acknowledge that is ok. Christmas will not only be changed for this year, Christmas will be changed forever. While there may be times of sadness this Christmas, it is also ok to be happy. It is ok to laugh and it is certainly ok to cry. Below is a helpful list of suggestions that may be of assistance to you this year in coping with Christmas.
On Christmas Day, I always reflect on those Christmas’ passed. In particular, I always think of my parents with much affection. For some years, we would light a candle in memory of them both. But these days I just have a toast and thank them for the many gifts they gave to me, the most important one being life.
SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR MAKING LIFE EASIER WHEN YOU HAVE AN EMPTY CHAIR AT CHRISTMAS:
- Keep Christmas simple.
- Pick your favourite things about Christmas and chose to do those.
- The rest: Delegate, Delete or Do Different.
- AVOID THE SHOPS
Get food delivered: order online or join a food delivery service.
If you feel overwhelmed ask a friend/s to drop off a meal.
Shop for Christmas gifts online.
Buy gift vouchers.
- Get a cleaner just once or regularly.
- Get a gardener.
- Just do the basics.
- Get everyone to help.
- One email rather then cards.
- Decorate to match how you feel. No decorations or the lot – it’s all OK.
- Go away somewhere different.
- Keep everything the same.
- Spend the day out in nature.
NEW RITUALS FOR CHRISTMAS
- Light a memorial candle.
- Plant a tree, plant or a flower.
- Place a favourite flower or object on the table as a centrepiece.
- Observe a time of reflection, silence or prayer.
- Go to the cemetery or a significant place.
- Play a special piece of music or watch a favourite show.
Not everyone will want to do the same things. Make space to honour the different ways of celebrating the loved one at Christmas at together.
- Have special mementos on the tree.
- You may like to have a special piece of art, photo tribute, poem or something to put up for them on the day.
- You may like to purchase a gift to give to someone in need or a not for profit organisation.
- You may like to prepare a special Christmas card in which people can write memory statements.
- You may like to write a letter to children, grandchildren, great grandchildren or a foster child.
- If you can plan ahead, then let others know what you have planned.
- When you feel tired and drained take a break, give yourself permission to sit down or step back.
- You may prefer to go away somewhere quiet. Or choose to miss Christmas at home all together.
- Remember that sadness and happiness don’t cancel each other out. They can live along side one another.
- Have a memory box, or book to spend some time alone or with others on the day.
- Around the table or at another time tell a favourite story about the loved one.
- Have everyone share a way in which the loved one contributed to the quality of their life.
- Write in a journal or notebook.
- Write a poem or story.
- Play music.
Lifeline 13 11 14
GriefLine: 03 9935 7400
Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement: 1300 664 786
MensLine: 1300 78 99 78
Support after Suicide: 03 427 9899
Compassionate Friends: 1800 641 091
SIDS and Kids: 1800 240 400
Road Trauma Support Team: 1300 367 797
Written by James MacLeod - Managing Director, Tobin Brothers Funerals