LAST CHRISTMAS

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.

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TEA TOWELS AND TEARS

Spring cleaning time again.

With every move my space seems to have become smaller and my belongings reduced. A succession of clear outs has pared my things down to almost the bare essentials…give or take a treasured knick knack or two.

There’s always a few things that manage to survive though. You convince yourself they’ll be needed one day so you hang onto them for a bit longer.

Sometimes an item you haven’t seen for a while can trigger all sorts of memories.

Having made an unsuccessful attempt to get the hoover right into the corner of the bedroom to tackle a dust bunny or three, I remembered storing away something my Mum had bought because she thought it would make it easier for me to clean the stair carpet.

I think she had visions of me getting all tangled up in the vacuum cable halfway down and having the kind of accident you normally see at the beginning of ‘Casualty‘ where someone gets admitted with an attachment lodged up some unfortunate orifice…

Anyway, it had to be in the spare cupboard that everyone has. That place you shove everything you don’t have another place for.

I opened the door tentatively, worried that an avalanche of stuff would come tumbling out.

I carefully dug under the pile of suitcases, spare duvets and coats, trying to avoid a Jenga-type collapse and there it was…

The mini Dyson.

As I picked it up my eyes suddenly welled up with tears.

‘What are you crying for son?’ I could just hear her ask over my shoulder.

‘It just reminds me of when you bought it. You were so chuffed with it.’

Of course the reality was that the novelty wore off as soon as we discovered the thing ate electricity and constantly needed charging after giving about 5 minutes of suction but, right at that point of rediscovery, it just brought back a happy moment.

It’s often the daftest things that trigger the memories. Every now and then I’ll notice an insignificant item that my Mum bought that I still use – a tea towel, torch or some stationery – and it just strikes me as insane that these everyday items are still here but she isn’t.

She could never have thought, wandering through Semi-Chem or Tescos, that buying these basic bits and pieces would trigger such emotions down the line.

Today (April 14th) would’ve have been my Mum’s 78th birthday.

Of all the many things that I miss in the 6 years since she’s been gone, one of the most difficult to deal with is the loss of that constant anchor figure in my life. Even now, if I’m feeling down or anxious, no longer having that endless, unconditional support is tough to deal with. It sometimes feels like I might drift so far out to sea I’ll never find my way back.

The gradual clearing out of my Mum’s clothes was spring cleaning at its most brutal – every charity shop bag a betrayal.

I was very lucky with my Mum and my Dad and the foundation that they built for me was loving, vast and reliable. Just before the first Mothers’ Day that came along a few months after my Mum died, I wrote down some thoughts and sent them to the editor of a national newspaper in Scotland that I’d worked with in the past.

I remarked how I hated that I was now a member of the ‘dead parents club’. I felt lost that I was nobody’s son anymore. I was 46 and orphaned.

The editor got back in touch and pointed out something so simple it has stayed with me ever since.

‘You’ll always be your parents’ son. NOTHING changes that’.

Happy birthday Mum xxxx