Child's hands decorating a Christmas tree

My Christmas as a widowed parent with bereaved children

Written by Gary Andrews, Winston’s Wish Ambassador

My wife, Joy, died just two months before Christmas 2017. It was a sudden death (a result of sepsis) – totally unexpected and as you can imagine we were left totally stunned. She was just 41 and our two children, Lily and Ben were aged 10 and 7. I remember as that first Christmas approached, I was filled with apprehension. We had always made a huge effort to make Christmas a magical time for the kids – Santa’s snowy footprints on the landing, decorations going up in secret overnight on Christmas Eve, the family gathering together over the holiday and so on. How was I going to make this one magical with such a gaping hole at the centre of our world?

“…what we needed to do was to make some new traditions”

That first year, the answer came in the form of our friends. They had all banded together and bought presents for the kids (and me) and we had a steady stream of visitors over the whole break. Joy’s sister came over from France and took control in the kitchen (where Joy had very much reigned supreme in our house!). I sat and let it all happen around me, lost in admiration at the kindness on display.

One change I made that year was to let the kids decorate the tree themselves. It was… interesting, to say the least, but it was THEIRS. This was something that I took away from that first year. The old traditions had died along with their mum – and what we needed to do was to make some new traditions.…

Subsequent years have re-enforced this. Decorating the tree is now very much Lily’s domain – and she out-Monica’s Monica (F.R.I.E.N.D.S reference!). It’s the most beautiful thing ever.

As the kids have grown older, some things have become a lot easier – not needing to keep up the whole Santa thing (spoiler!!!!) has certainly helped. We can work as a team to make our own magic.

Illustration by Gary

Ben loves Christmas music and wants the radio tuned in to the Christmas channels 24/7! Initially this was somewhat painful but now it’s become a family joke!

I am now the chef, having fallen in love with cooking over Lockdown and I make sure everything is fresh and healthy but still tasty. It’s my style of cooking. I introduced a present system to stop crazy spending on things that would be wasted. Apart from some fun stocking gifts they now get four presents only: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. I found that they are appreciated much more.

Gary illustration 2

“…it would have just felt wrong to let it go.”

We still hold on to some of the things we did together. It was an annual thing for us to go along to the Christmas Carols evening at our little theatre (very much the hub of our lives). The kids have been every year since they were born, and it would have just felt wrong to let it go. I think there’s a comfort in the familiar (despite Joy’s absence), a memory of those good times we had together that gives them a warm glow as they are surrounded by friends who knew and loved her.

Recently, things have changed again as I have fallen in love and we have become a blended family, with all the new traditions that brings (including a younger stepsister). But in spite of this we still honour Joy’s memory and make sure that there are ornaments around that she made or remind us of her – the name helps as Joy is everywhere this time of year! It really is inescapably her season!

My advice to anyone reading this during the Christmas period is to embrace and acknowledge that things are different. Don’t try to replicate what you had before – create new traditions while honouring the memory of previous years.

Gary illustration 3
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How to get grief support

If you’re a young person who is struggling with their grief or you are an adult who would like help to support a child or young person after the death of someone, Winston’s Wish are here to help. Winston’s Wish provides support for children, young people up to the age of 25 and adults supporting them.

You can call our Freephone Helpline on 08088 020 021 (8am-8pm, Monday to Friday), email us on or use our live chat (open 8am-8pm, Monday to Friday). Our practitioners are here to listen, can offer immediate guidance and resources and tell you what support we can offer and what might be most suitable for you.

Our Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger is available 24/7 for urgent support in a crisis. Text WW to 85258.

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