Grief isn't Christmassy. Yet grief is a fundamental part of Christmas for so many people. This may be a despairing, raw grief at a recent death or a silent, lingering grief from a loss suffered long ago. I expected the first Christmas after my Dad passed away to be difficult but I didn't foresee the cauldron of conflicting emotions of the last few weeks.
I was open minded, but couldn't help but feel that the whole experience would be incredibly awkward. Thankfully, Aly and her co-host, Gina Awad of Exeter Dementia Action Alliance, made it relaxed, friendly and thought-provoking. Here are just a few things I learnt in my two hours discussing all things death, dying and bereavement.
Currently, the three people I would like to reach out to, say goodbye to and make peace with before I die, they have gone before me. They are dead. No more explanations. But I am taking their memories with me into every new day. I am trying to avoid repeats by speaking the truth and asking for the truth, even if I do not get an answer, even if the answer hurts.
The rows of cards all about Dads made him smile and reminded him of Roger, but when I said to him why they were all there he fell silent and look tearful. 'What are we going to do if we haven't got a dad?' he asked me. 'I don't know love' is all I could say, wondering what on earth we would do when the day came around.
I'm hitting Australia at the weekend for a 3-week trip, travelling around Melbourne, Adelaide, Cape Tribulation, Whitsunday and with a final night in Brisbane. There was absolutely no way I could head to the other side of the world for an adventure and not use this opportunity to scatter postcards as I go.
Obviously the lion's share of my life has been dedicated to training, pushing my body to its physical limits and enduring all that comes with that lifestyle. Not only has this always helped me stay in shape, it has also helped me keep a clear head, to focus my mind when all around me may be chaotic. This, thankfully, has served me well in the last month.
We knew Dad's illness was terminal, none of us were ready for how quickly it progressed. None of us were prepared to say goodbye quite so soon. When I received the call to say Dad had died, I felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. Nothing you do can steady your soul for that moment, the moment your life changes forever.
My student years in Paris defined who I am today. The streets harboured my surreptitious kisses, those terraces hosted my tears after failed exams and my laughter with my friends who teased me about my Russian accent in French. I wasted my student stipend on Pierre Hermé macaroons consumed between lectures on a random bench at St Germain. It was with a view of the Tour Eiffel that I started my first ever internship at Radio France.
Losing someone you love is difficult enough, living without someone you love is heartbreaking enough, living day by day is exhausting enough without the added frustrations and torments contributed by those who exclude and patronise those living with grief. The patronising comments and exclusion are usually unintended, I know. That knowledge does not make the sting any less, though.