'I realised it was the first Christmas in 61 years that I haven't had my mum with me.'

Palliative care podcast Room 64 creator Christine Brooks on how to deal with grief over Christmas

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'Grief looks different to everyone but it does affect us all' says Christine Brooks, who has created a palliative care podcast called Room 64.

'Grief looks different to everyone but it does affect us all' says Christine Brooks, who has created a palliative care podcast called Room 64.

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'The weirdest thing about grief is that it sneaks up on you.' How to cope with grief over the holiday season.

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"I think it's the weirdest thing about grief, it sneaks up on you. It just sneaks up on you and it's so hard. It's an awful thing."

In February 2018, Christine Brooks'mother, Evelyn Brooks, was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She spent her final three weeks in room 64 at the McKellar Centre at Barwon Health, North Geelong, Victoria, before dying that May 2018, aged 100.

"My mum was exceptional - nothing short of exceptional. Her family was the most important thing to her, followed closely by knitting. She would knit for all our family and friends' kids and grandkids," Christine said.

"Towards the end, she would knit socks and everyone got a pair. At her funeral, the woman who did the service asked everyone in the room to put their hand up if they'd received a pair of Evelyn's socks and we all cracked up. It was lovely."

After her mum's death, Christine decided to create a podcast called Room 64, after the room Evelyn was in, to generate awareness around palliative care from a patient or family point of view.

"This podcast is trying to encourage conversation through lived experience. It's important for other members of the community to hear about these experiences and see palliative care is not just about old people dying.

"For me, the whole process of Room 64 also helped me overcome the overwhelming sense of grief I had about mum's death," she said.

As well as the need for awareness, Christine is adamant about the need for more conversation around palliative care and death.

"I think we need to talk about [death] more. That's the whole point of Room 64. We need to talk about death and dying more and shift the thinking," she said.

This Christmas, Christine will be one of the thousands of Australians missing someone special over the festive period.

And one of the topics she will be discussing on her podcast is dealing with grief over holiday periods. Here Christine shares her tips:

Remove expectations around what grief should look like

Christine's biggest piece of advice, especially during the holiday season, is for people to remove the expectation of what they think grief should look like, because whatever you think it will look like it won't.

"Grief looks different to everyone but it does affect us all. When someone you love dies, you will grieve and that is okay. You don't need to hold it together.

"In my experience, the one thing that is consistent is that grief just sneaks up on you, and in that moment, you need to acknowledge that you are grieving and that it will pass.

"Whilst I do wonder sometimes if the tears will ever stop, a nice friend said to me - just to go with it [grief] and not try to fight it. When it comes, just go with it, and let it take you.

Create new traditions

Christine says that after a loved one dies creating new traditions if the old ones are too painful can be healing.

"I remember last Christmas, I woke in the morning and I realised it was the first Christmas in 61 years that I haven't had my mum with me. It was awful."

"After mum died, we changed the tradition of our regular Christmas day because we just couldn't do what we normally did without Mum around."

"That is going to be different for everyone. Some people want to continue the tradition without their loved ones, the way they used to do it. We are such a small family and changing the tradition was how we all decided to deal with our grief."

Surround yourself with people who understand and support you

"Whilst we changed the tradition the consistent theme for the day was sharing it with a few close family and friends - people who knew mum, who were close to her and we spend time remembering the happy times we had with mum.

"It was also important that those around us on the day were understanding and supportive of the shared stories and relationships - able to laugh and smile, shed a tear and even feel sad - and know that mum would have enjoyed the day

"The gentle touch of understanding and supportive friends and family makes all the difference on what can be a hard day"

Christine's final words?

"Christmas is hard, as are all the other special days. Their birthday, your birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day and sometimes just every other day. So it's really important to remember to sit with your grief, be very gentle to yourself and go with your own way of coping whatever that may be."

  • For more information on palliative care, including support services for patients and carers, visit pallcarevic.asn.au
  • You can listen to Christine's podcast, Room 64, here.
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