#BereavedAtXmas - Tony and Dorothy's experience
Dying Matters and end of life care champions Tony and Dorothy Bonser spent Christmas at home for the first time since their son, Neil, died six years ago. Tony describes the experience, and how #BereavedAtXmas helped.
Merry Christmas. We’ve heard it so often that it stops being a wish and seems more of a command or expectation. And not likely to be fulfilled this year. Almost six years since the death of our son, Neil, Dorothy and I were used to difficult Christmases, but this year was to be the first celebrated at home, with our daughter Sam. The last time, Neil had been with us, very ill, unable to get warm, and the visual memories haunted us all. We had avoided going back to that place for five years. This year seemed the right time to let go.
We weren't looking forward to a merry Christmas
It had been a difficult year. We had at last sold his flat and the estate had been wound up. We had decided to change our wills and write him out. That sounds harsh and final. It felt that way. We weren’t looking forward to a merry Christmas. We just hoped we could cope. What heartened us, and gave us the strength to go ahead, was all the conversations we had had during the past 5 years with many, many people who had confided that they found this time of year really difficult, but couldn’t say so. It just wasn’t done.
We’d heard of an initiative started last year, a Twitter chat-line, #BereavedAtXmas, and had talked about the need to be honest with ourselves, and so I was comfortable with mentioning on social media about our fears, and sharing them briefly on Christmas morning on the Twitter site. I didn’t expect much support. We talk about Neil very publicly all the time. Surely people wouldn’t think we needed help. But we were amazed. From all over the country, in email, Facebook messages and tweets, people told us they were thinking of us, and many shared their own feelings too. We were not alone. It mattered more than we expected.
Some ghosts are laid to rest at least a little
The outcomes surprised even us. Dorothy and I shared on Boxing Day that we had felt able to look at that spot, in front of the fire, where Neil had spent so long trying to get warm. Sam actually sat there, in the same place, and relaxed. Somehow that gave us all permission to relax. No visitors had stayed overnight in the house since Neil died. Sam started the night in her old bedroom, until the cat peed all over her. Then she moved to the guest room – Neil’s room. I really didn’t think she would be able to do that.
It wasn’t easy but we all feel better for doing it and sharing it with others. We are so thankful for the support. Some ghosts are laid at least a little. Next year will be different again. Maybe better. We hope so.
Kate Ibbeson lost both her mum and dad to cancer within just ten months. After their deaths, Kate set up Sheffield Cancer Mafia, an informal support group bringing together people with cancer, cancer survivors, carers, family, friends and those who have lost a loved one: read Kate's #BereavedAtXmas blog