First Christmas (Alone) - Tony Horsfall - Author Blog

First Christmas (Alone) - Tony Horsfall - Author Blog

For Grief Awareness Week 2022

My wife died in July 2020, in the midst of Covid with all its restrictions. We had been married 46 years and had celebrated Christmas together, and with our family, many times, usually in a low-key way.

As I tried to prepare myself for my first Christmas without her, my question was, ‘Shall I decorate the house?’ I knew the trimmings were in the attic and decided a few special pieces would be enough. In addition, a little Christmas tree with lights, to please my grandsons, and a few fragrant candles made the lounge seasonably cheerful, but that was enough.

Evelyn shared the writing of Christmas cards with me, but now I had double the workload, and it was hard going. And where were all the addresses? She would normally start buying gifts in October and wrap them beautifully. I decided I couldn’t compete with that so decided vouchers would be alright and hoped friends and family would understand. I bought toys for my grandsons at my daughter’s suggestion and wrapped them as well as I could.

Covid restrictions meant none of the usual round of pre-Christmas meals, which was a relief. Christmas Eve arrived, and I sat alone and wondered how to spend the evening. We normally opened a few presents, but to do that by myself seemed empty and joyless. I left them for another time.

On Christmas Day I went to my daughter’s and enjoyed being with her family in our ‘bubble’. The boys were lively, loving everything about the special day. We had an amazing lunch, went for a walk, opened presents, and had a really happy time. But we were all conscious that grandma was missing, and I had the usual pang of guilt at enjoying something Evelyn could no longer experience. Returning home to an empty house after tea was painful, and the dark evening was long. Loneliness seeped into my soul, a now familiar but unwelcome feeling as I adjusted to being a widower in a time of lockdown. I consoled myself: I had survived my first Christmas alone, which everyone says is the hardest. I thanked God for his grace and steeled myself for the imposition of even stricter Covid restrictions beginning the next day.

Christmas is a particularly poignant time for those who grieve, a time when we feel the pain of separation most acutely. It is difficult whether we are recently bereaved or have been bereaved for some time. Whoever we have lost, we will likely miss their presence even more; many trigger points will bring our pain to the surface. We should not be afraid to show our sadness, even at such a happy time of year. Your grief is unique to you, and only you know how best to express it. Decide for yourself how much you want to enter into the Christmas spirit, or not; decide when you want to be with people or prefer to be alone. Plan ahead for the period between Christmas and New Year when many experience a ‘dip’. Anticipating what may be difficult can help with coping, but you may still be surprised by what triggers your grief.

If you have family members or friends who are bereaved or alone invite them into your celebrations but without pressure. Give them space when they need it, be patient with them and listen to them. Try to anticipate what may be difficult for them, or where they may need help.

Christmas centres around the truth, ‘Emmanuel, God with us.’ This is the comfort we all need, especially when we are grieving.

Tony Horsfall is a well-respected author and retreat leader who has a lifetime’s experience in mentoring others, including church leaders and missionaries, both in Britain and overseas. His book Deep Calls to Deep was reissued in 2021 because of its emphasis on lament and its relevance post pandemic. Grief Notes is a companion volume, describing as it does the author’s own experience of crying out to God from the depths.


In Grief Notes Tony Horsfall charts the first year of his grief journey since the death of his wife from cancer. Month by month he tells the unfolding story of walking with and through loss, weaving this together with biblical teaching on grief and insights gained from grief counselling. With a poignant mix of honesty and humour, Tony shares the challenges of rebuilding his life and reflects on how he has seen God meet his needs as he wrestled with grieving in a time of lockdown and pandemic.

Buy Grief Notes now

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