Christmas can be a difficult time - Nikki Parkinson with her late mum and step-dad

Christmas can be a difficult time

Nikki ParkinsonLife 76 Comments

I remember the day like it was yesterday.

Sitting at my desk at the newspaper I ended up working at for most of my adult life. Furiously working on sub-editing the next day’s paper.

It was a Saturday. The Saturday before Christmas 1995.

On a weekend shift at a newspaper, the office takes on a different mood. The admin and advertising staff are nowhere to be seen.

Things are business-like but with a more relaxed attitude because you’re there for just one thing – to get the paper to bed – not all the external stuff that can interrupt that flow on a normal news day.

I’d only recently come back to work after the birth of my first son and was working weekends to minimise daycare costs.

It’s not surprising that I remember what I was wearing – I call it ’90s extreme mumsy un-chic: white cheesecloth cotton long shorts with matching white t-shirt – oversized and comfortable on my postpartum body. My style had NOT been unlocked. It was firmly locked away in a vault!

The phone next to my desk rang. This was before mobile phones. You didn’t jump and wonder why a person was calling you instead of texting or emailing.

The call was for me.

At the end of the line was a gentlemen who said he was a policeman. He was calling from the apartment in which my youngest brother lived in Sydney.

The officer delivered me the news that my mum (who had just turned 51) and my step-dad had drowned in a tramping (they were seasoned and experienced) incident not far from Queenstown in New Zealand.

That slow motion thing that happens in the movies? It started happening. For reals.

I think I let out a wailing sound. Any clarity I had had five minutes before, quickly before became a blur.

I remember my workmate Shirl. Shirl, who’d lost her own parents, ushering me out of the building and into her car, comforting me as she drove me the 20-minute drive home.

I remember the numbness.

I remember the devastating looks on my grandparents – mum’s parents’ faces.

I remember the family coming together, not as we should have to celebrate Christmas – my son’s first Christmas – but to organise us all flying to New Zealand (they lived in Invercargill) for the funeral.

I remember all of this EVERY Christmas.

Christmas can be a difficult time - Nikki Parkinson with her late mum and step-dad

My mum Margaret and step-dad Neville were experienced trampers. Here I am with them in 1987 at the start of the Abel Tasman track at the top of New Zealand’s South Island.

Since then, I’ve also come to recognise that this time of year isn’t an emotionally easy one – Mum’s birthday was December 13 and they died on December 21.

I’m not necessarily fun company during this time.

My cluster of emotions presents itself in either a worst-case PMT scenario or a complete withdrawal into myself (highly unusual behaviour!).

But then I remember that I’m not alone. SADLY, I’m not alone.

Right now, people are receiving the same news I received all those years ago.

Others have recently received devastating news concerning their own health or the health of a loved one.

Others are facing their first Christmas without a person who this year they said goodbye to.

Others, like me, recognise the hole left, no matter how many years have passed.

Christmas CAN be a difficult time.

If you know someone who might be doing it tough, please reach out to them. 

It’s now 26 Christmases without my mum and step-dad.

The cliche of time healing is only partially true.

Time does help but for anyone who’s ever lost someone they loved, grief is always there, tucked away in the subconscious ready to rear its head when you least suspect it.

I’ve learned that that’s ok.

I’ve also learned that when I’m having a moment, that it is just that. A moment.

My life is GOOD. It’s very good. I’ve got so much to be grateful for.

That’s why my glass-half-full approach to life will always see me look for the GOOD and ENOY the good.

I hope you can too.

In 2019 I finally made the trip and trek to the site (near Queenstown) where they drowned. There is now a bridge in place at the crossing. You can read about that HERE.

Foot bridge over Twenty Five Mile Creek, Rees Valley, New Zealand

Memorial to Neville Lawrence and Margaret Parkinson | Twenty Five Mile Creek, Rees Valley, New Zealand

Editor’s note: I know this is not the usual post you’re used to seeing here, thanks for indulging me. If Christmas is a difficult time for you, please know that I’m sending you a big, virtual hug. I hope you have someone who you can talk to. If not, I do urge you to contact a counselling service like Lifeline (ph 13 11 14). 

Comments 76

  1. Dearest Nikki, Many thanks for sharing your story. Like you, it was at Christmas when my daughter took her life on the 23rd December 1996, it was a dreadful shock. I understand exactly how you must feel. All the others out there just like us. I ask for all these people, for the Highest Light, Love, Understanding and Harmony, will surround each and everyone. To flow you all bringing Balance and Harmony on all levels.
    Peace and Love,

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  2. My father lost his mother to cancer on Christmas Day when he was 18 years old. I don’t recall ever knowing this until I was in my 30s and it explained so much about his behaviour over Christmas for all those years. You are not alone. c

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  3. Oh Nikki what a very tragic loss for you. I have just read your original post about your feelings at Christmas time without your loved ones. I also find Christmas very difficult without my loved ones. Christmas Eve especially seems to be when i shut down and can become quite sad and distant. It only really occurred to me last year how this has become a recurring theme at that time. I will be trying to change this year by turning this time around to be more joyful. I hope that this trip is a way of settling your feelings and is a reflectful time for you now.

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      Oh Jo, I’m so sorry it’s a difficult time for you too. It has helped me to recognise how I get around Christmas time. Doesn’t take it away but I can better re-frame how I’m feeling knowing the reason for it. Our trip was beautiful, thank you.

  4. What a terrible loss that must have been to you and your family. No, time doesn’t heal completely though it may dull the pain. There’s still a huge hole left and you learn to live your life around it. My son died as a young child 20 yrs ago and Christmas still brings sadness but as you say, we can still find much happiness in life. Thank you for sharing. I wish you lots of happiness this Christmas!

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  5. Thank you for sharing Nikki and I am so sorry for your loss. My husband lost his mum to breast cancer two days before his 21st Birthday in January 1983 at the age of 49. His birthday is still not a happy celebration for him all these years later and I totally relate to your feelings around this time of year. It still is hard with all the milestones that life brings but we always talk about “Nanna” (that’s what we call her even though she wasn’t a grandmother at the time of her death). Even though our daughters didn’t get to meet her they know so much about Nanna and it has been a positive journey for them.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family Nikki.
    Debbie x

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  6. Oh Nikki….blessings and hugs to you and your family. Will say a prayer for you all at Mass on Christmas Eve.
    I also have sad memories at Christmas. Our youngest son was injured staying overnight at a friends house on Dec 21st. He was badly burnt with 3rd degree burns which began 10 weeks of operations, skin grafts and flying to Sydney by air ambulance. While I was sitting with him in Intensive Care The Phone Call came. My mother had died in Melbourne, and being an only child I had to leave our boy and fly down to take care of everything. My husband had to pick up the reins in spite of the fact that workng at a University he was in charge of processing exam results as well as new enrolments…his busiest time.
    So we remember that year, 30 years ago with mixed feelings. Sad to lose my mother at 59 but happy that our boy is now a healthy happy adult .

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  7. I feel your mixed emotions. I lost my dad on the 23rd and still struggle at Christmas.
    I can still remember the phone call to come home, booking a plane ticket.
    To this day I still get teary on take off and landing.
    Big hugs to you.❤️

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  8. Such a sad story Nikki. My father died just before Christmas 40 years ago (my mum had passed away 5 years earlier) – it was many many years before I could enjoy Christmas. Sending you and your family best wishes for this Christmas

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  9. Yes the time of year that’s meant to be joyous is not for many. My brother took his life December 23. Gets easier for me but never for mum.

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  10. Beautiful heartfelt words Nikki, bought tears I’ve been swallowing back this week. I’ve lost my dad and a very dear friends husband to cancer this year. I’ll be surrounding Mum and my friend with as much love as possible. My daughters best friend lost her husband this week in a tragic accident, so we are grieving once again. Wishing you all the best, surrounded by your loving family.

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  11. Loved this post. My mum had cancer for only a short time. We thought she was getting better (or at least stable). Then she went into hospital on Boxing Day and died on Jan 3. The photos we have of her on that last Christmas Day always make me cry. Christmas is a tough time and it’s been 25+ years now. I still miss my mum.

  12. I am sorry for your loss. Such an honest post! It must be a really challenging time of year for you filled with mixed emotions. I hope you have a lovely Christmas xxxx

  13. I am so sorry to hear of such a tragedy in your life, and the sadness that must overcome you at this time of year. Thank you for generously sharing your story. Sometimes people forget that the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ isn’t always so wonderful for everyone. Hope your time with your family is full of beautiful moments and connections.

  14. Thank you for sharing your story Nikki; loved getting to know you a little better. Christmas can be a difficult time for many; I still struggle with mixed feelings which arise from my childhood experiences of abuse. For some reason Christmas always seemed to trigger the worst in my mother and her mental health issues. We are both blessed to have wonderful lives today, but we still miss those who are gone x

  15. Oh the tears are flowing here! What a truly awful experience that must have been. This is the first anniversary (Boxing Day) a member of my family sadly departed, you’re right, Christmas can be difficult in one way or another. May you and your family create some really fabulous memories this year…who knows, your Mum and Step-Dad are probably joining in with you all 😉 xx

  16. I’m so so so very sorry to hear of your loss Nikki. Thank you for sharing it though, it is a truly important message,to really take in and remember at times like this. I’d like to send you and your family love, hugs, and some more love and hugs xxooxxoo Tania

  17. Nikki thank you for your openness and honesty, I know it’s not your usual post but it was real and how you feel. This time of year is the perfect time to share with your online girlfriends. Sending you lots of love at this difficult time, hope you time in Melbourne with you family is filled with love and good memories xxxx

  18. Oh Nikki. As a critical care nurse. i have all to often had to bear witness to many families dealing with tragedy at what it is traditionally a festive time. It makes the anniversary all the more poignant and difficult. My heart goes out to you, as I feel your sense of loss, even now. Thinking of you at this difficult time. Remember though “Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things”. X

  19. My thoughts are with you and your family too Nicki. Take care of yourself. Losing your parents is something you never really get over.

  20. I think it’s lovely that you’re getting together to remember them. My in laws light a candle every family get together for my husbands uncle who passed away many years ago. That way he’s still in the celebrations.

  21. My thoughts are with you Nikki, I too lost my dad that same year and it is still so fresh in my mind but we both have wonderful memories of our parents and I am very blessed that my mum is still on the right side of the grass as she always tells us. I have just returned from having a week with her and it is always wonderful

  22. It’s such a hard time for just about everyone I know. You’re not alone. It’s important to be kind to yourself and each other and try to have a nice time, albeit with moments of reflection. It’s 10 years since my mum died and there are so many things about family celebrations and traditions that just ache cos she’s not with us to enjoy them as she always was. It makes it difficult to continue them. I try to do different stuff all the time. But the kids keep wanting the same old same old. Lol. my Mil isn’t travelling along so well this year, she hubg in there longer than the doctors have told us she would so again it will be a hard on the kids tough christmas without another grandparent to join us.

  23. Such a thoughtful and sensitive post. Big hugs Nikki and to all who find this time hard. Take a moment to remember and also be kind to yourself.
    Actually, everyone, be kind,

  24. Nikki
    Thank you so much for sharing this post with us. I really admire your ability to lead your best possible life whilst also acknowledging what this time of the year means to you and your family in the face of the loss of your mum and stepdad.

    I hope you all have a great reunion in Melbourne to both remember your parents but also to celebrate what you have in each other and your own families. Your parents would be very proud.

    Much love

    SSG xxx

  25. Ah yes, I remember that day, receiving that dreadful news. It remains crystal clear. It was a difficult time, but one of the true positives of that time for me was just how well we children (siblings and step-siblings) got along with one another. We are very lucky. I can’t wait to see you all tomorrow!

  26. So many people will relate to think Nikki…reading the comments of an Oxfam giveaway I did there are SO many people doing it tough. It’s good to stop and be in that moment for a while. Thinking of you think weekend sending you lots of love x

  27. Thanks for posting that Nikki <3. I'm about to go through my first Christmas without my dad which is going to be very different for us all. Memories and feelings are creeping up on me as Christmas approaches, I'm not sure how best to honour his memory without bursting in to tears on Christmas day! Best wishes to you and your family, may you draw comfort from each others presence. xx

  28. Such a lovely post, sorry that you have had this experience. But it’s true Christmas is not happy for everyone, Christmas is never the same for me after losing my daughter, my dad and my grandparents. It is always an emotional time but I still try to have good times with my hubby and other children. Sending you a big hug xx

    1. Thanks for sharing this post.

      I lost my Mum to cancer on the 2nd January 2002 when I was 20. The last Christmas with her was a difficult one, she was so sick but put on a brave face for us. I always thought she would get better.

      Christmas has only got a little easier. It’s still a sad time for me. There’s always the feeling that there is a hole that can’t be filled.

      Thanks again for sharing. Best wishes to you and your family.

  29. I am so sorry for your loss Nikki. I too was at work when i got a phone call to say my Dad was not going to make it in a hospital 4 hours away at the age of 52. Christmas with my Dad was always so much fun so every Christmas day i am pretty emotional. Thank you for sharing your story x

  30. So sorry for your loss and that it falls at a time when there is almost forced celebration.
    It’s been more than 22 years since I lost my father and Mum’s recent health concerns confirm we probably only have a few more Christmas celebrations with her to look forward to in the future. I try to live my life enjoying and celebrating what I have, rather than dwelling on what others have- be it a big house or healthy happy children.

  31. Beautiful post, thank you for sharing. Christmas is like a big fat magnifying glass on whatever emotions you’re going thru. It’s been a tough year due to my mum’s health & all my family being the other side of the world. But with my girls so young I’m able to let the magic of Christmas drown out the sadness. Thinking of you & your family. X

  32. Thank you Nikki – I’m sure it wasn’t easy but thank you! It is a difficult time when you’ve lost people you love because Xmas (for me) isn’t about religion its about being with the people I love most and its very hard for me when some of the people are no longer here. But I focus on what I have & I know I’m very lucky to have an amazing husband & two great kids + wonderful friends and extended family. Enjoy your Xmas xx

  33. I sit reading this on my own in a cafe in Queenstown with tears welling in my eyes. My boys are off zip lining down the mountain. Thinking of you and sending you a big hug. She would’ve been a special lady I know; with a daughter like you. It’s good that you wrote this post. Enjoy catching up with all your close family in Melbourne xx

  34. beautifully written from the heart nikki! … tissues needed!
    you are a lovely person and i’m sending you a big hug!
    yes many people are hurting or doing it tuff these days!
    I love your positive attitude and it’s what I like to have too!
    mum’s birthday was 23rd dec and it is 13 years! I can’t believe it!
    there will be a moment or two where I will still be grieving!
    better out than in! … then letting it go!
    much love m:)X

  35. Thank you for sharing Nikki. I lost my dad this year. Horrible how grief sneaks up on you. So beautifully written. I appreciate your words. Virtual hugs back.

  36. I know the blur the numbness then questioning why are people all happy and the world is still turning, don’t you all know something horrible has happened. Thank you for sharing x

  37. Thank you for sharing your story Nikki. We are facing our first Christmas without my mother and mother-in-law this year and it does help to know that many people are in the same situation.

  38. What an awful experience for you Nikki.

    My dear friend’s 5 year old son died yesterday and I cannot imagine how awful her Christmas will be, and I know that every Christmas in the future will remind her as it does you.

    There is so much spite and nastiness and cruelty in the world at the moment- I see it at work, in the news, amongst people I know, in the comments sections in blogs..

    A little kindness and empathy can go a long way. x

  39. I didn’t realise how close to Christmas you lost your mum and step-dad. How awful Nikki. I’m so glad you wrote this post because it will resonate with so many at this time of year. So thankful Jacob and I have all our parents and grandparents alive. The grandparents are only just hanging on though. This may be our last Christmas with them so we are going to make the most of having them close this Christmas. Sending love and prayers to you and your siblings as you get together this Christmas. X

  40. I like to remember a loved one each year at Christmas by making a donation to the research centre of the hospital where they were being treated. It’s my ongoing gift to them. Hopefully “gifts” such as this will one day lead to a cure, so that others can continue to spend Christmas with loved ones.

  41. It’s my second Christmas without mum. Everyone said the firsts are hard, but seconds, thirds, etc are just as hard I suspect.
    Love to you and your family Nikki x

  42. My work has a ‘Christmas tree of rememberance ‘ project. It’s one of the favourite things I do each year. I set up a Christmas tree in a public space and invite people to write the names of thei loved ones, or notes on little cards and hang them on the tree. It’s a beautiful exercise in ‘togetherness in grief’ & remembering those who we miss at Christmas. You are not alone. Thanks for your words.

  43. Oh Nikki I know that wail too,I’m so sorry that you lost both of your parents so close to Christmas it’s hard enough at any time of the year.
    I’m sending you love and hugs and you’ll be in my thoughts!
    This post must have been so hard for you to write,thank you Xx

  44. Nikki that isn’t self indulgent, it is an important message, thanks for sharing. I am glad you still find some joy at this time of the year. Many people just find it difficult and painful.
    You are right, time allows us to move on but the grief remains. I hope you find some comfort with your siblings get together.
    Love and light to you.

  45. Thank you for sharing, it helped remind me that I’m not the only one Nikki. I lost both my parents three months apart leading up to xmas back in 2008. My Mum’s birthday was also 14th December. Plus being in the military it’s when most of us move interstate with work so to say that it’s a challenging time, is a complete understatement.

    This year is the first year I go back to my home town since they both died. Obviously it’s not ‘home’ anymore as there’s no home to go to or family to stay with. Instead I’m staying with my mum’s best friend and helping her by volunteering to feed those who are alone this xmas. I’m hoping this will help by giving back to my former local community and focussing on what’s really important in life. Helping others who are less fortunate.

    Wishing you a very merry xmas and safe + happy new year Nikki.

    I’ll be thinking of you too.

    Lia xxx

  46. The lead up to Christmas heightens every emotion doesn’t it? And it’s a time of reflection. The presents that aren’t bought and wrapped, for someone we love. Beautiful post Nikki, Kathryn x

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