It’s that time of year again isn’t it?
At this time of year my mum would start phoning, asking what I’d be doing for Christmas. Did I want to go to the theatre? The panto? Did the children want to go on the Santa train? I’d typically be irritable. “It’s only November”, I’d tell her, “I don’t want to think about Christmas yet”.
Now, no-one is phoning and, of course, I miss it. When she died, it seems the mantle of responsibility fell on my shoulders. It turns out that if you don’t book the theatre and the panto and the Santa train in November, it sells out and suddenly all of these traditions seem more important. Because these traditions remind me of my mum who isn’t here anymore and they remind my children of their grandma. It turns out my mum wasn’t a control freak, she just wanted to spend as much time as possible with her family while she still could.
So I message my brothers and my sister-in-laws and I liaise with the ex, trying to work out how we can fit it all in and, as I do, I feel a sadness creeping up on me. It’s not a sadness that I seek out, or indulge, it’s just there, like a shadow or a dark cloud overhead. Two years ago, my mum was struggling to hold onto life and on the 10th December she died. Her funeral was on the 23rd, the same day as the Santa train she’d booked. These memories linger.
But it’s not just the looming anniversary. You don’t have to have been to your mum’s funeral at Christmas to feel sadness as the festive season approaches. Christmas is difficult for anyone who has experienced loss. As we go about our business - shopping, planning, booking tickets - it’s like we are accompanied by the ghosts of Christmases past. For me it’s not just the sadness of the last two years that I remember, but the memory of the time when Christmas meant a day spent with a mum and a dad, two sets of grandparents, a coherent family unit. It wasn’t perfect but still, I miss it. Instead I get the joy of watching my two little people open their presents on Christmas morning but I don’t get to share that joy with anyone else and at lunchtime I will wave them off to spend the rest of the day with their dad, his new wife and his family (with mums and dads all in tact) and I will feel sad. I can’t help it. I’m sad because this isn’t the way I thought life would be. And that’s part of the problem isn’t it?
So often, we have an image in our heads of how life should be, how Christmas should be. Families should be nuclear. People shouldn’t die or divorce. Christmas should look like a John Lewis advert. But, of course, the reality is that for most people, families are fractured and heartache coexists with joy. So, I try to practice acceptance and gratitude for all that I have known, for all that remains and for all that is yet to come. I try to blend the old traditions with the new. Last year, it was just me and my kids for Christmas dinner and so we went to the supermarket with a trolley and each bought exactly what we wanted. There were a lot of sweets! We had a great day and there was a freedom to being released from the tradition of the huge Christmas dinner. This year I’ll probably go for a walk where Paul’s ashes are scattered and remember him while I wait for my boyfriend to come back from his night shift and from seeing his family. He’ll probably fall asleep as soon as he gets to me. I wish he didn’t work night shifts. But he does. Life isn’t a fairy tale. There is no happy ever after. But there are moments of wonder and beauty that sit alongside the deepest wells of sadness. This is life. I’m glad I’m still here. Someone has to book the Santa train after all. And as we put the decorations on my mum’s tree, we will remember her and all the love that still remains.