Dear Bel  

Each Christmas, my wife and me spent hours decorating our house with Christmas lights and decorations.

Every year, our goal was to make Christmas joyful for Sarah (47), who had accumulated disabilities since birth. In recent years she couldn’t live independently and needed care seven days a week.

Thinking of the Day 

Even though we live in a world with no ending, it is a world of possibilities.

It always seems like it’s about to collapse

You can’t accept the conclusion of something you don’t understand

We will never stop beginning, insists the author.

Brendan Kennelly, an Irish poet and professor from 1936-2021.

Each week she would visit us and spend a week with us. Our lives were filled with great love. Sarah was a Christmas lover and spent two- to three weeks with us during the holiday period.

Her carer found her at 9am on January 15, and she had suddenly died. The result of a diabetic condition. It was a shock that I can’t describe.

Unfortunately, there were then horrendous problems to do with Sarah’s carers and the actual cause of death — only just clarified. It has created a huge void in our lives. Now, I’m 76 years old and my wife 72. We are struggling to understand a normal existence. Without Sarah, Christmas is a nightmare for us.

One son, a man of 49 years old and one grandson are our children. One son is a Navy submariner, while the other one attends university.

Following two painful divorces, our son started a new life with a woman he loves. We’re very happy with how they are all living their lives. However, Christmas is something we fear.

Sarah loved every second — the lights, decorations, presents, helping with lunch, eating turkey. It’s hard to remember those days without crying. Sarah’s dog, with her for 11 years, is now seriously ill and needs surgery. It’s possible she may not survive until Christmas. So sad. What can we do to make this better?


This week Bel Mooney advises a reader who doesn't know how to get through Christmas without his daughter

Bel Mooney gives advice this week to a reader that doesn’t know what to do for Christmas.

The word ‘heart-breaking’ is often overused (like ‘tragic’, ‘trauma’ and ‘mental health issues’) but here we have a letter that deserves that description.

Even after sixteen years of being an advice columnist, it made me cry. It is certain that everyone reading this will share my deepest sympathies for you and your family.

It would be so nice to just get into my car and drive straight to you.

It would be wrong for me to try to ‘mend’ your brokenness with easy phrases like ‘This too will pass’. The tough reality is that some sorrows never ‘pass’ — no, we carry them in our hearts for ever.

Many people cherish this truth because it has led them to a point from where there is no return, like when a ratchet goes onwards one notch.

The only ‘consolation’ is that deep grief is a testimony to great, pure love, two sides of the same coin, and we would not wish love to be eased into a kind of forgetting. The joy you, Sarah and your wife all shared is untouchable, shining for ever — as eternally beautiful, terrible and out of reach as the stars.

However, what about Christmas? Your grandsons and your sons would love it if you were there. It’s clear you wouldn’t want to feel a burden; on the other hand, you are family so I hope you feel able to talk to your son about your sorrow and this fear of a desperately unhappy Christmas.

Sometimes we bottle feelings up because we don’t want to be a nuisance — but I believe you need somebody to take care of you. Is there anyone you could call on the same day to talk? To share your faith with others, why not a church service

Try to make some plans, but don’t worry about those decorations. In your place I’d buy a very small tree, put it in a corner with some fairy lights and Sarah’s picture — almost like a shrine — and tell Sarah that it is for her. This would be what Sarah would love.

How about that precious and poor dog? Your love for Sarah has been so strong that you took care of her, and now it seems she is going to be with Sarah at her old age. We shouldn’t believe such things. It is my belief.

Let the little dog know she is loved, please don’t subject her to too much veterinary intervention at her age, and try with all your hearts to imagine her waggy spirit fusing with that of your daughter, in a peace beyond our understanding. Your wife and you have had a difficult year. I wish that this season will be easier for both of you.

There will be tears, because you are so burdened. Allow them to go and seek help from others.

You can always make a smile by going to rescue centres and finding a dog that is in need of your care.

Doggy companions can do the same for you. Sarah and her loyal four-legged companion were your teachers. They would like the lessons of love continue and fill a part. Let me know.   

My nephew is forgiveable, surely 

Dear Bel

My nephew was married for 14 years — a brilliant dad to his two children (12 and six) and a hard-working, supportive husband. He and his wife grew into debt, while he lived well beyond their means.

This put strain on their relationship over time. Our family didn’t realize how serious the situation was until my nephew, along with his laptop, was removed from us in front of our two kids. His computer had contained inappropriate photos of children.

A true understatement to describe how horrified we were is the one that I would use. His wife and her children were also horrified.

Up to then I’d been very involved in looking after the children because both sets of grandparents live away. I loved them dearly and couldn’t bear to see them suffer.

Initially, I was very supportive of my nephew’s wife, but knew the strains she’d helped put on the marriage. Although I could understand her anger and bitterness, it was not the reason she promised that they would never see their father again.

Since then, we’ve not been allowed any contact, not even with the grandparents.

My nephew served a short prison sentence and since release hasn’t put a foot wrong. He’s tried hard (through the courts) to gain visiting rights — to no avail.

Many times, a father who has gone missing from their children’s lives (for any reason), leaves the child feeling that loss years later. I want my nephew’s children to understand that he did not walk out on them and hasn’t been allowed back.

We all have the right to a second chance at life, I believe. His actions were unimaginable. He was both a great father and husband. Do I think he deserves a second chance?

His older child has now reached adulthood and I’m tempted to try to reach him. Please help me to see the bigger picture.


As I age, the black and white view of certain issues becomes less appealing to me. Although some are obvious, there may not be many answers. As a Christian, I believe in the forgiveness of sins — but to be forgiven requires sincere repentance.


Bel Mooney’s Daily Mail Column: More

You will know in your heart whether your nephew is truly sorry — and I suspect he is. Many would think that his crime was so vile, that no matter how sorry he may be, he should get everything.

And there are some cases when I’d answer you by suggesting some people’s crimes are so terrible they most emphatically should not ‘be given a second chance’.

Here? It’s not so. It surely doesn’t matter now whether your nephew’s ex-wife added to the strains which led to that appalling brain fog which made him act so horribly out of character.

It was something that most people would find disgusting. His entire family was left with shock, shame, horror and continued to struggle with those emotions. It’s easy to imagine how you, a loving aunt, felt at the time and since; so very hard and sad, and I really do sympathise.

Your nephew is now a successful man who wants to be reunited with his family.

Of course, you understandably wish they could get to know their father now, and recognise that he’s not irredeemably wicked.

You were probably close with the children as they were growing up, so it is perfectly okay to contact them all (assuming that you have real email addresses or emails) after the 18th birthday.

They can decide if they would like to have contact with their father when they turn 18.

Like you, I hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive him — but if they can’t, sadly there is nothing you can do.

Finally… We all have good reasons to be happy

Appreciative reader Eileen writes: ‘Thank you so much for your wise words. I love the quotes you choose and put them with ‘And Finally’ into a scrap book, to reread when I need to.’

Reach out to Bel 

Each week Bel responds to readers’ queries about emotional and relational problems.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email

You can use a pseudonym if necessary.

Bel enjoys reading letters, although she is disappointed that personal correspondence cannot be entered into.

It is a great feeling. I sometimes repeat a quote haphazardly, but other times, such as this week I deliberately do it. I’ve been reading obituaries of the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly, who died of complications because of dementia a month ago. Magically, an anthology of modern Irish poetry (Windharp, ed Niall MacMonagle) on my bedside pile fell open at Kennelly’s marvellous, positive poem Begin. It’s my most beloved of all his work.

I was instantly transported back in time to the summer 1967, when my attendance at the Yeats Summer School on Sligo’s beautiful west coast. It rained so hard! While I was at lectures, my faithful boyfriend waited outside in our cold tent. He also flirted with other boys.

Brendan Kennelly was one of the teachers and signed his book for me as a gift: ‘To Bel, belle of Sligo — Slainte.’ I certainly did have ‘good health’ because at one wild party I disappeared with Brendan and (as my excited letter to a school friend records), ‘we had a lovely, passionate kiss’.

My handsome Kennelly was thirty-years old and my younger self was twenty. My boyfriend and I drove to Dublin with two others students after the course was over. Brendan, a beautiful student at Trinity College, entertained us. There was plenty of sherry, but no kisses. This is a shame.

It’s a jolly memory and Begin is a gloriously optimistic poem. The bedside anthology contains an anecdote that will gladden and encourage the heart. Gay Byrne, an American host, asked Brendan Kennelly what the low point of his life was in 1997. He replied, ‘I don’t think like that. I like that old Kerry saying, “Once you wake up in the morning and stick your old leg out, you should be grateful.” ’