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Nicky Marr: Talking can bring comfort during festive period

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr and Norma Higgott
Nicky Marr and Norma Higgott

It has been my privilege these last couple of years to host the annual ‘Light up the Highlands’ service for Highland Hospice. It’s a half-hour online programme of festive messages, interspersed with songs from the Hospice Choir, a school choir, and 2023’s Ness Factor contestants.

There are bagpipes (Highland Cathedral gives me goosebumps on my goosebumps) and poems – this year the words come from the brilliantly named ‘Blister Sisters’ who hiked in Croatia to raise funds to keep the hospice flourishing.

During the recording I spoke to chaplain Norma Higgot, who offers comfort and conversation to people in the care of the hospice, to their families and friends, and to staff and volunteers too.

Christmas can be a tough time for the recently bereaved, or for those who have lost someone around this time of year. It can also be difficult for families to enjoy celebrating the season and all that it brings, if they know this is likely to be their last Christmas together.

Norma had some wise words for people who find themselves in this situation, and her overwhelming message was that there is no right way to grieve. Each of us will find different ways to deal with an empty chair at the Christmas table. And however we cope with it – or not – is fine.

Some might feel guilt in experiencing some of the joy of the season when a person they loved is no longer here, but Norma explains that it’s natural to still feel joy. Would the person we lost have wanted us to be sad all the time? There’s your answer.

Her advice was to take time out of the ‘busyness’ of the season to spend time with your grief, to look back on the happier memories of times gone by, and to talk.

And while it might not be easy to talk to others who are grieving the same loss as you are, there is always support if you need it, whether from the hospice or elsewhere. It doesn’t matter how long ago you were bereaved, talking can bring comfort.

Bereavement might not be the only reason for an empty chair at Christmas dinner. Sometimes family members will be working away, perhaps offshore or in the forces, or on shift in vital support roles. And that’s tough too.

Families split up, and it can take everyone time to come to terms with their new normal.

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Which parent gets to be with the kids when they open their presents can be a source of real contention, and all being together, for even part of the day, might not be something anyone is ready for, either this year, or ever.

The pain of being apart from those we love isn’t helped by Instagram and its frenzy of matching-pyjamas and excess of gifts. Because although that’s not what Christmas should be about, for many, it’s what it has become.

The pressure Christmas brings is – at times – overwhelming, even if you won’t be facing an empty chair this year. But there’s wisdom in what Norma says for all of us.

Take time to be kind to ourselves, focus on what matters, and lean into the love of those who we do have around us.

And try and find a little light. It’s there somewhere.

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