When the person you love has died, seeing the festivities and merriment all around you in the run-up to Christmas – and through the holiday itself – can be a particularly challenging time. We spoke to three people about how it feels to be facing Christmas without their loved one and what they think helps them through such a poignant period.
Stacey’s mother Bridget Horrell was landlady of the Two Bridges pub in Saltash before she became terminally ill. St Luke’s cared for Bridget in hospital, at home and then at our specialist unit at Turnchapel before sadly, she passed away early this year.
Stacey said: “Mum was such an outgoing person and could fill even the quietest room with laughter. She loved being landlady of the pub and was always making new friends. When she was diagnosed, I struggled to believe it at first and was always waiting for someone to tell me she could be treated and get better, but she didn’t.
“Mum was so brave and fought every battle that came her way. We had just eight weeks with her before she died – they were amazing but it was not long enough and losing her broke me and my sister Bex’s hearts in two. St Luke’s were amazing all the all the way through, and I’ll always remember how the nurses were so caring and compassionate. When mum died, our family was around her – we sang songs and there was laughter as well as tears. St Luke’s made that possible for us.
“I don’t know what this first Christmas without her is going to be like. Mum loved this time of year, so I treasure the memories I have of being a little girl waking up super early on Christmas morning and mum getting up with us instead of sending us back to bed because it was only 4am! She’d just let us open our presents and sit there with such joy on her face. When it came to tree decorations, she kept all our handcrafted ones and would hang them up every year – no matter how bad they were, she was proud of our achievements.
“Being without mum is still very raw and Bex and I have good and bad days. We both have a little boy each that we need to be strong for though, and Bex has bought us a robin to go on our trees. Mum always said that if we saw a robin it would be her watching us and looking after us, so this year we will have that to help us remember her.”
Before she died, Bridget was determined to raise money for St Luke’s, including braving a sponsored head shave. Her family, including Stacey, are kindly carrying on the support for our charity through further fundraising, for which we are very grateful.
Maureen Tubman, who lives in Ugborough, is part of St Luke’s Music Group that meets at Turnchapel fortnightly, bringing together those who have lost loved ones to sing and make music together, and find mutual support. Maureen’s beloved husband John, to whom she was married for 62 years, was looked after by our then-Crisis Team (now End of Life Urgent Care Service), who helped make him comfortable at home following a period in hospital. It is almost two years since John died, in December 2017.
“John was a wonderful husband as well as a loving father to our two sons, Jonathan and Jamie. He was what I’d call an ‘old-fashioned’ man, always so courteous, and had the most vibrant, deep voice. His career was in the army, where he was a mechanic, and then in banking and insurance, which really highlights the two sides to him – highly intelligent but also loving to get his hands dirty, fixing engines.
“Losing him was very hard and, nearly two years on, I can still find it difficult living in our home without him, especially after being together for decades. I try to keep busy during the day, and I find that helps, but I feel it more in the evenings not having him with me, and watching the rugby – and other programmes we used to enjoy together – doesn’t feel right without him.
“My sons are a great support to me and I know they will help me through the coming Christmas period, too. Last year was our second without John, and Jamie and I spent Christmas Day with Jonathan his wife Sarah at their home in Cornwall.
“Of course, they were also missing John a great deal so it meant a lot to me that they were so considerate and respectful of my feelings. They knew I didn’t want to make a big deal of Christmas and have any fuss, so we had a relaxed, low-key time together and ate cottage pie on our knees instead of turkey and all the trimmings at the table. This year, we’ll also be together, but we’ll go back to enjoying the turkey together.
“I know it won’t always be easy because of missing John, but I’ll be cherishing my memories of him. Having my family around me, and a faith that comforts me, does help, and I also feel it’s important for me to focus on others and what matters to them. It helps me not to turn inward and to keep moving forward.”
Also, part of our Music Group – where he enjoys playing the harmonica – is Jack, who is in his 80s and lives in Beacon Park. Jack first came into contact with St Luke’s when Eileen, his much-loved wife of 40 years, was in Derriford Hospital following a brain aneurism. A member of our team there noticed he was struggling during such a difficult time and was there to comfort him.
Sadly, Eileen passed away in 2016 and since then, Jack has lived alone. Speaking movingly about his wife, he said: “I miss Eileen very much. She was a quiet person and really caring. She loved cross-stitch and was always knitting for people, too. She made me so many jumpers!
“Eileen was part of a Gingerbread group for people on their own with children and it was on a visit to St Mark’s Church that I first met her. She had six children and when we got married I became ‘Dad’ to Joanne, Paula, Steve, Martyn, Mark and John, as well as my children from my first marriage, Christine and Michael. Sadly, Mark died in his 30s.
“Even having a family who are caring, it can be lonely without my lovely wife, and with all the social occasions at this time of year it’s difficult because I don’t want to feel like a party pooper. Fortunately though, I find most people respect that and know I prefer things to be low key.
“I’ll be at my daughter Paula’s for Christmas Day. It also helps that I’ll be spending time at my church, St Pancras. We have a big lunch thrown open to parishioners just before Christmas, and I’m looking forward to putting on my Christmas waistcoat and bow tie and serving them.
“As always, I’ll be treasuring my memories of Eileen, especially the wonderful holidays we had in Spain and the Channel Islands – we always tried to have the best we could afford. I’ll never forget seeing my shy wife light up when she dressed as a ‘flapper girl’ for fancy dress competition on holiday. She looked fantastic and we had such fun. She was a very special lady.”