I’m staring at the shiny decorations and colours sparkling on the tree. I love coloured lights – always have. Outside people are dashing around in the frost looking excited and full of that pre-festive buzz. It’s even snowed a little to make the Christmas card effect that little bit closer to perfect.
This year though, things are very different. I’m not observing the scene from my house or even a store. I’m standing in the sun room of the local cottage hospital and in a small room down the corridor, my Mum is terminally ill.
That tiny room became her whole world for the last weeks of her life. Every morning from the window we would see birds fly past in a V formation, off to warmer climes for the rest of the winter. I wished that same sense of freedom and space for her. Instead, the cancer she had kept at bay with such optimism and good grace for the previous six years was finally catching up with her and now she was bed bound until…well, just until.
There’s never a good time to say goodbye but at Christmas it seemed particularly unfair. I felt there was so much more I should be doing. Certainly more I should be saying but we both knew the situation and I didn’t want to dampen my Mum’s extraordinary optimism by talking about it out loud. I couldn’t fully accept what was happening anyway and there was still a little part of me that hoped for a miracle and that things would become more ‘December Will Be Magic Again’ than ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
There are a million memories and images from that Christmas that broke my heart – my Mum smiling and singing along to the carol concert going on in the ward next door that she was too ill to go through and see; coming back from a little break to see her standing waiting for me by the day room – she hadn’t stood let alone walked for weeks but was determined to greet me one more time despite it taking its toll on her for the remaining days; having our Christmas lunch in that bleak little room, me wolfing it down because I hadn’t eaten properly in ages, my Mum barely touching hers because she was so tired and just didn’t feel like eating.
I think she held on just to have one last Christmas. After that, she went into herself more and more and by the 29th she was gone. I stayed right through that last night with her, holding her hand until the morning – sometimes all you can do is hold someones hand. She was there but not there. The heavy medication and pain relief preventing any form of communication. I hope she knew I was there though I will probably never know if she did.
It’s now seven years on and as I write I find myself overcome at times but there are several reasons why I’ve put this together.
Every year I get someone thinking I’m being ‘Grinch-like’ for not throwing myself into the festive season. All I would say to them is, you don’t know people’s back stories or experiences and so think before you judge. More importantly, spare a thought for people who are no doubt going through the same sad experiences this Christmas thinking their world has come to an end. They need consideration not criticism.
Every year I have to deal with the perfect family Christmas on TV, in shops and in everyday conversations. All of them unintentionally saying ‘here’s what you used to have’. It’s unavoidable and everywhere and so it should be. I would NEVER put a dampener on anyone’s jolly holiday. I have had many of them myself. Fragments of a million happy memories come and go but it’s impossible not to be affected – especially at this time of year – by the losses of Decembers past (including my Dad and a close Aunt) and how it affects my life now.
In recent years a few Christmas Day’s have been solo affairs. It’s not how I’d like it to be but everyone is off doing their own family festivities and I don’t like to impinge on peoples plans. I hope I do regain more of the magic of Christmas again though.
We all deserve someone to help us make sense of the world and when you have that you must always appreciate and make the most of it. I am luckier than many and blessed with some great friends.
In the meantime, I like to think that my Mum is flying off with those birds whenever she wants to.