Walter Carter Funerals Managing Director Dale Maroney shares how losing her mother on Christmas Day changed her family’s festive traditions.

The tree is up. The decorations are out. The lights are twinkling. Food is everywhere. And presents are plentiful. Christmas really is a special time of year. I still remember the sense of anticipation that dawned every December during my childhood when the decorations went up in our home.

For my family, Christmas has always been wrapped up in so many happy traditions. Waking up to a stocking stuffed with treats. Sitting around the tree opening our presents one by one (and making every effort to extend the process out as long as possible). Spending the day at Mum’s house and raising a glass to celebrate with family and friends. For me, it’s always been our family traditions that have made Christmas, well, Christmas.

But all that changed in 2012, when my Mum died on Christmas Day.


The moment Christmas changed

There’s a definite line in my life – one that divides the Christmases before 2012 and those after.

Christmas that year was always going to see us break with some of our family traditions. Mum was elderly and had been deteriorating for some months. She had round-the-clock nursing care and was in and out of consciousness, so wouldn’t be joining us. But we still prepared for a day of celebration surrounded by family and friends; I know it’s what she would have wanted us to do. It was the first year I’d be hosting the festivities at my home, rather than all of us congregating at Mum’s house.

My children and I visited Mum on Christmas morning, and we were all able to say “Merry Christmas” and “I love you” to her. By the time we headed home, she was resting comfortably and holding her own. There was certainly no sign that today would be the day she left us. But no sooner had we returned home to get stuck into making lunch for the soon-to-descend hoardes than the phone rang.

It was that phone call.

I’ll never forget my reaction. It hit me like a freight train. Even though I’d known for a while that her death was imminent, the shock was still overwhelming. I guess that’s the difference between understanding something in your head and feeling it in your heart.

My son drove us back around to Mum’s house, so we could say our final goodbyes. In a single moment, we went from looking forward to a day full of joy and laughter to the depths of sadness and despair.


Nothing prepares you

Was it all easier to deal with because I’m the Managing Director of a funeral home? Yes and no.

Ever since I can remember, my family have sat around the dinner table discussing the family business and I’ve spent a large proportion of my career working in the industry. So, on some level, I think it was easier for me – at least on an intellectual level – to deal with all the practicalities that follow the death of a loved one. I knew that a doctor had to certify her death, what paperwork needed to be completed and what the next steps were. I knew what was to happen before and after she was taken into our care at Walter Carter Funerals.

But, on an emotional level, it was no different for me than it is for anyone else. I’d just lost Mum. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in this industry and how much you’ve seen, when you lose someone close to you, it hurts.

In the blink of an eye, I went from being the Managing Director of a funeral home to someone who’d lost their mum and I had to make the mental shift to being a mourner. This wasn’t someone else’s mother that we were caring for. This was Mum. I had to allow myself to grieve.

When it came to the funeral arrangements, I was definitely on top of everything. It was my way of honouring her life. But I also had to make sure I was giving myself time to feel that sadness that sits at the very core of your being when you lose a loved one.


Change is OK

Seven years on and Christmas is still a special time of year for me. It’s still about family and friends and it’s still about joy and happiness. But it’s also a sad time of year, because it’s the anniversary of Mum’s death. From the moment dawn breaks on Christmas Day, she’s in my heart and mind.

Ever since I said a final goodbye to my Mum on Christmas Day, our celebrations (however hard we’ve tried) have simply never been the same. While traditions can help keep memories of our loved ones alive, they can also serve as a painful reminder of what’s been lost.

To help us cope with the loss we feel, we’ve changed our family Christmas traditions.

We still sit around the tree opening our presents one by one, extending out the process for as long as possible. But it’s different because Mum’s not with us. So we light a candle to remember Mum– for us, it’s a way of having her there with us. And having a Christmas celebration at home is a thing of the past. We now go to a restaurant and let someone else do all the hard work, which takes a lot of the pressure off.

Doing things differently helps me to get through Christmas. Traditions are important. But it’s OK to change them. Accepting that things have changed, and not expecting the festive season to be the same as it’s always been, allows me to manage my expectations at this time of year.

Feeling the pain of Christmas without Mum reminds me to truly appreciate the family and friends I have with me and cherish the memories of those I’ve lost.

Be kind to yourself this Christmas.

If you or someone you know need help coping with grief at Christmas, reach out to a family member, friend or counsellor – help and support at this time of year can make all the difference. Or email [email protected] and we’ll help you find the services and resources you need.