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Ashgate Hospice > ‘You don’t have to be happy at Christmas’ – advice from people missing loved ones on new Ashgate Hospice podcast

Ashgate Hospice has released a one-off episode of their popular The Life and Death Podcast exploring feelings of grief, loss and finding comfort during the festive period.

In the 46-minute episode, podcast host and Ashgate’s senior physiotherapist, Stephen Rumford, sits down with Maria Conyers, whose husband died at the beginning of the pandemic, Maddie Zygmunt, who first experienced grief at just five years old and Ashgate’s Reflective Practice Manager, Simon Bell, who shares his expert view and coping strategies.

In the candid chat, 23-year-old Maddie from Blackpool, but who now lives in Manchester, reflects on experiencing grief as a child after her four-month-old sister, Lily, died on Maddie’s fifth birthday, followed by her mother when Maddie was 15.

Maddie said: “Christmas has never been the same since Mum died and for years after I really didn’t like it. I just wanted Christmas to not exist, as all it did was act as a painful reminder of her absence.

“However, during the pandemic last year I wasn’t able to go home to spend special anniversaries with my dad and this made me realise what Christmas is really about. It’s about being with those you love, and so last Christmas was one of the best I have had in a long time, just being able to hug my dad again was incredibly special.”

Sharing advice to others facing their first Christmas after the death of a loved one, she adds: “You don’t have to be happy just because it is Christmas. Allow yourself to feel sad, don’t force yourself to be happy when you don’t feel it.”

The one-off episode follows two successful series from the North Derbyshire charity, exploring frank and honest conversations around death and what ‘dying well’ really means.

Simon, Ashgate’s Reflective Practice Manager, discusses the unique experience of grief for each individual and the importance of strong and consistent relationships.

“Listening to Maria and Maddie talk has been a really profound experience,” he said.

“One thing that was evident in both their stories of loss was the importance of having others around you to support you whilst you grieve. The entire process can be made ever more difficult for people who do not have that support.

“Their stories have also highlighted just how unique our journeys are when we are grieving. Research tells us that typically most people start to recover from the death of a loved one at around six months, yet we know for some this can be much longer.

“Following the death of a loved one, some things in a person’s life change permanently and some things are later recovered. It is all about realigning ourselves to the world we live in, which Maria and Maddie have so eloquently shared with us.”

Simon’s top tips for coping with grief at Christmas:
  1. Be patient, kind and compassionate towards yourself.
  2. Try not to be in a hurry and expect to feel less upset or distressed before you are ready. Grief takes time to work through and strong feelings can come and go at unexpected times.
  3. Try not to put yourself under extra pressure by trying to be ‘cheerful’ when you might be feeling some sadness.
  4. Stay close to the people you love and those who love you. The support of family, friends and colleagues is very important. If you are on your own or don’t have that kind of support around you try and connect with any support services and local community resources such as Ashgate Hospice, a GP, a friendly neighbour, community centre, library or local religious organisation like a Church, Mosque or Synagogue.
  5. It’s OK to take time to remember the person you are grieving. It’s OK to look at photos, to talk to that person and have objects that connect you to them nearby. These are simply things that help us come to terms with loss. Everyone’s loss is unique, and you can only follow your own path to greater inner peace at your own pace.

Maria Conyers and author of Sugar Upon My Lemons – A Testament to Love and Loss Amidst the Pandemic, discusses her first Christmas without her husband, Graham.

“We’ve only had one Christmas without Graham and we spent it together as a family,” said Maria, 65, who also has 35 years’ experience dealing with loss and trauma as a Psychoanalyst,

“We spent the day talking about Graham, laughing at the funny moments we shared and remembering precious memories. We also allowed ourselves time to cry too, which was an important part of our grieving journey.

“Too often we are sold a perception of Christmas, that everything should be joyful and happy and for a lot of people that just isn’t the case. It was important to us as a family that we didn’t get caught up in these expectations and we just did what we had to do to get through it.”

The Christmas episode is available to stream on all platforms by searching for ‘The Life and Death Podcast Ashgate Hospice’.

If you or a loved one, would like support after loss, please email [email protected]

Remember someone special this Christmas and dedicate a light in their memory with Ashgate’s Light Up a Life campaign, go to: