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Your first Christmas without someone you love – Part 1: Deck the halls with expectations


Your first Christmas without someone you love – Part 1: Deck the halls with expectations

The lights are up in the city.  The Christmas countdown has begun.  Presents to buy, cards to write,  parties to attend, Christmas trees to put up.  Time to start drinking mulled wine and listening to Christmas carols (my fave is Oh Holy Night, not the Mariah version though).   It’s time for you to get ready for the best part of the year.  Right?

Well maybe not for everybody. If this is your first Christmas since someone you love has died you might not be feeling all that excited about it.  You may be downright dreading it.

This is the 1st blog in a series of 5.  The links to the next one will appear at the bottom of each. I would recommend reading through them in order….as many times as you need.

For part 1 let’s talk about one specific thing.  Expectations.

This can be a really tough time of year for you if someone you love died since last Christmas.  You will be getting ready to face your first Christmas without them.  You might be thinking it’s going to be terrible and your (and your family’s) worst Christmas ever.  Or you might be worried that it doesn’t feel too bad….and maybe Christmas day will actually be ok….and feel guilty about that.  (This isn’t uncommon).

Don’t set your expectations about what the day may hold.   Or set them that it could hold anything.   Because if you think ahead of time that it’s going to be the worst day ever, and dread it all month, you set yourself up to experience exactly such a day….even if that wasn’t what was going to happen.

Maybe the day will be awful.  Maybe it will just be a bit difficult.  Maybe it will be ok.  Maybe it will be great.  Maybe you’ll actually enjoy yourself and your family will create a lovely day together with some different traditions.  You don’t know what it might look like so don’t plan ahead that the worst will happen.

Your expectations have a lot of power and if you have already decided it will be an awful day (and that it ‘should’ be) then guess what…this probably guarantees this experience. Don’t put ‘the worst Christmas ever’ on your Christmas list.

And if you are thinking that it should be bad or has to be bad, almost out of respect for your person who has died, then ask yourself this: what type of Christmas would they want you to be having?  Not to say you snap your fingers and go ‘well then, Christmas will be awesome’.  But if you were thinking that it would be wrong to enjoy Christmas then have a little re-think, because they wouldn’t want you creating an awful Christmas out of respect for them. They wouldn’t want to be responsible for that.  Would you want the people left behind when you die one day to have the worst Christmas ever as a sign of respect for you?

If others are telling you how bad their Christmas was after someone they loved had died and how bad yours will be then just nod and smile…but don’t take it on board.  Your experience might not be the same as theirs. In fact that’s usually one thing you can guarantee – that your experience will never look exactly the same as someone else’s.  It might be totally different.

Be open to the idea that it might be a bad day OR a good day.  That there might be bad bits AND good bits.  That you might be missing them and at the same time enjoying the company of other loved ones in a different way.  It will be different is all you can be sure of.  Some bits might be bad-different, some good-different, and some just different-different.

The next blog will suggest some tips for you about how to make the day a bit easier and how better to include your person who has died in it.  But it’s important to start here, with the foundations, with your expectations.  They set the stage for your experience.  So, if you can, catch yourself when you hear the worst in your thoughts or words, and consider ‘maybe, just maybe, it won’t be like that’.

You can read part 2 here: Your first Christmas without someone you love – part 2: How to include them in the day 

To find all the tips – and a couple more – in an e-book for you click here.




Nora December 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Hi Kristie. A very articulate and timely blog post, with crucial information for folks in this situation. As it turns out, a lot of what you say can also apply to people who are away from home for the first time, who cannot get “home for the holidays.” Christmas can hold much of the same potential for disappointment if you can’t have it just like it used to be at home. Another angle on handling this that I learned by living it was to redefine, to come to recognize that my definition of “Christmas” or of “good” and “bad” might be different than it used to be. If you always had expensive matching glass ornaments on an eight foot balsam tree, and now you can only afford hand-made paper rings and popcorn strings and a tree so small it fits on the table, you can whimper “but it’s just not REAL Christmas” or you can say “gee, I made this myself so it’s full of love and hope”. As you say, it’s all about managing expectations and definitions so you don’t set yourself up for disaster and miss the good parts that can happen even if you don’t expect them to! Love and hugs!

Kristie West December 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Hiya Nora, as always you get me thinking and bring something new – thanks! Hadn’t thought of that about being relevant to any Christmas that isn’t going to be the same as you expect. Or anything that changes really.
Love your thoughts on redefining your definition of Christmas.
Hope you have something lovely planned for your holidays!
Much love

Laura December 6, 2011 at 8:44 am

Just perfect timing for my build up to going home – I’ll look forward to the next installment!

Bad Wabbit December 6, 2011 at 8:47 am

You’re right about expectations being self-fulfilling and a good twist is to think about how they would want you to spend the day. Good writings as always!

Kristie West December 6, 2011 at 10:12 am

As I wrote that I thought a lot about you and Zoe and your experience with everybody’s expectations leading up to your 1-yr anniversary. Thanks for the inspiration!

Kristie West December 6, 2011 at 10:13 am

Cool! Watch this space. xx

Celia Pronto December 8, 2011 at 9:01 am

Thanks as always Kristie. This Christmas Day marks the 1 year anniversary of my dad actually being admitted to hospital before passing away on New Year’s Eve, so despite putting up the tree and preparing for Christmas I have also been thinking about him and what last year was like a lot. Looking forward to Part 2 next week – as usual your insight and advice helps me cope with potentially challenging times of year like this one. xxx

Kristie West December 9, 2011 at 8:37 am

Hi Celia,
also let me know if there is any particular aspect you’re worried or thinking about….and I can make sure it is covered. xx

Celia Pronto December 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Thanks Kristie, for me I think it’s the fact it all happened between Christmas and New Year; so rather than only missing my dad I’m also reminded of this being the anniversary of the events leading up to his death. Would be great to get your insights on dealing with this aspect. xx

Kristie West December 10, 2011 at 10:35 am

Consider it done. One of the blogs in the next 2 weeks will be on dealing with this time of year if it is the anniversary too. xx

Rachel Charlesworth December 29, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Thanks for your words which equate to my feelings at the moment. My Dad died last year, and my Mum is away over Christmas on a cruise with friends. I received a text message from her on Christmas Day, and she says she is having a good time. I feel as though Christmas as i know it has gone, as my parents aren’t there ( even though Mum’s alive). What i am struggling with is the Christmas is different idea, as i have children and a husband who struggles with emotion and tends to think i am just in a mood. I should be revelling in the wonderful life i have at home, but feel as though i internalising feelings which are stopping me from enjoying what should be a different and probably better Christmas, (as i havent spoken to my Mum). Do any others feel unable to communiate their feelings, as they feel others may think they are wallowing in it?

Kristie West December 31, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hi Rachel,
Thanks for sharing here.
One thing is to let yourself know that different is ok. Sometimes we get stuck thinking we aren’t allowed to or shouldn’t have something different and that we shouldn’t enjoy it. Give yourself permission for Christmas and this period to be totally different if that is what is needed. And watch those expectations – ‘I should be revelling in a wonderful time’ can be just as unhelpful to you as ‘this will be the worst holiday ever’. Just let it be what it is.

As for not being able to share how you feel with your family……this may seem a daft question…but still a valid one – do you actually tell your husband what you are feeling? Or does he think you are ‘just in a mood’ because you haven’t clearly said what is going on for you?
Also do you share what you are feeling with your kids? Too often we try to hide all this stuff from them to protect them…..but the problem is that all we do is keep death a taboo/strange thing that they should fear, and show them that it isn’t ok or safe to share their feelings (except for the lovely happy ones). It’s ok, and healthy, for your kids to know you feel sad and why. It lets them know they can safely express the same to you when they need to.

But sometimes it can be a case that the people close to us just can’t provide the support we need. There is great value in recognising that the impact this loss has on you is far greater than on some that care about you, no matter how much they love you. There are people in your life who can support you….it isn’t isn’t always exactly who we think it should be or want it to be. Check out this blog around the topic which might be helpful.

It is important that you do express your feelings – so start to journal, and work out which people in your life are good to share your feelings with. Think outside the box – it may not be your hubby but the people who will be good at this for you would already have made themselves known. They just might not be who you think they should be.
And you can always talk to me – I’m just an email away.


Rosemary Grant December 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Hi Kristie,
My daughter sent me this link and I must say I’m glad she did. I list my husband and best friend the end of August and I am still reeling from the loss. I got thourgh some of the tough times so far but of late I am really having a hard time.
I have 2 wonderful daughters both of whom are also having a hard time with the loss of their dad.
I put the tree up in the hopes I would get used to having it up which has worked so far, at least until a couple of days ago. My husband loved this time of year and I am trying to do what I think he would have wanted me to do.
Do you have any comments for wife and mom that will be of some help to get me through this.

Thank you

Rose Grant

Kristie West December 14, 2012 at 2:34 am

Hi Rose,
y advice would be that the more traumatic the deaths feel, particularly when there are multiple ones, the more important it is to come back to the absolute basics. Follow what you ahve read in these blogs…and it’s also really important that you are showing yourself a bit of self-care and self-love through all this too. These things are SO very important at a time like this….though a time like this is often when they go out the window. Just a little shift in how you care for yourself can make a big difference. I have a booklet around looking after yourself that I am happy to send you for free if you haven’t seen it. Just send me an email – – and I’ll send it straight to you.

Jim December 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm

This is my fourth Christmas without my wife – it hasn’t got any better. The first year I shared xmas with my son & his family [they live overseas] and I was still in mourning but, since, I’ve just had to deal with it. In that sense it is no worse than the moments in any other day when you have to deal with memories and try to put aside regrets. Indeed, last year xmas day wasn’t even the worst in the season: it was boxing day for some reason. But that’s OK. Grief is part of the process of living: you experience it, you acknowledge it, you give it as much time as you need, and you get on with what you need to do. If I weep it is because I need to cry. It’s not especially about xmas but it’s about making a new life for yourself where your loved and lost partner is part of your memories and the grief part of who you are: not all of who you are but an intricate and inevitable part of what makes you who you are. And I am the richer and wiser for it even though my wife’s death was the most painful event in my life. I need and haven’t yet found the intimacy and companionship I once enjoyed [it will be a different experience] but I am comfortable about being alone – most of the time. I am lucky I have friends and am engaged in matters that are important to me. Thus loneliness is not the primary condition of my life. Hope someone finds my approach helpful….

Kristie West December 18, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Hi Jim, thank you for sharing with us.
The thing I would really want to share with you is that it does not have to be like this – a coping, a finding a way to manage, a slow passage of time as things feel like they fade (pain fades as memories do) and you are able to focus on life a bit more and move forward a bit more. Though most people, most books and most professionals will say this is exactly what it is about I do not believe this is meant to be the impact on us of those that have loved us and who have died.
If at any time you are interested in positively changing the experience of the death of your wife so you can remember her, talk about and love her without it causing you pain (even around holidays and anniversaries) then get in touch with me.

ROBIN MCDOWELL December 26, 2012 at 12:52 pm

My mom died on Christmas day, morning in her sleep. We had a great Christmas eve together with the whole family, talked about everyone and the next morning she was gone. She showed no signs of anything wrong. I already said how can we ever have a good Christmas again, and my dad said she loved Christmas and would have wanted us to have a good Christmas, but she was the rock of the family and did all the cooking and wouldn’t let us 3 girls do it, maybe just set the table. I am 51, but this is the greatest loss in my life and my Dad is only 73, they both were. How can we help him through this.

Kristie West December 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Hi Robin,

Thanks for sharing your experiences here.
I can see you are very worried about your dad and want to try and help him. The first thing to be doing is to be looking after yourself and making sure you are ok. It can sound like a cliche the whole ‘fit your own gasmask first’ thing – but there is a good reason for it. I often find that people are very concerned with someone else’s pain without working with their own….and it is very hard to give what we don’t have when we aren’t in a great space ourselves. The better space you are in yourself the more help you will be to your dad..

I have a booklet I put together with all my Christmas blogs (plus an extra one) that I think will be helpful for you – let me know if you’d like it and I’ll email it straight to you. I also have a selfcare booklet that I can send you. Just say the word.

The two things you can do for your dad right now are to take good care of yourself and to ask him what he needs from you….and trust that he will tell you. He will be learning a new way of living and being in the world now, as you are, and often we want to save people from that but it is a very important step, and though not always easy, can be very very valuable. It can be tempting to want to step in and save them but just ask him what he needs from you – how much contact? what kind of support? And allow him to let you know.
Much love,

Martin December 15, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Hi Kristie,

Thank you for your website. My father passed away last January. It’s been almost a year. Some day, it feels as if it had happened yesterday. My mother passed away a long time ago. I have two siblings who live far away. We are not very close (geographically and emotionally). I’ll be alone this Christmas. Some people have asked about my Christmas plans. I told them that I would spend Christmas with friends. The last thing I want is to have people feeling sorry for me. As well, finding it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit this year, I don’t want to ruin other people’s joy with my melancholia. Not an easy time of the year for sure.

Kristie West December 18, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Hi Martin,

I turned these Christmas blogs, and a couple of other points, into a little book that I sent out to my community. If you’d like a copy as a gift from me then just let me know and I’ll email it straight to you –


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