Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy but my dad died on a Christmas Day. Of all the days, it had to be that one.
Losing somebody you love on any day of the year is hard enough but to lose someone on Christmas Day just intensifies the pain. My world was in the bin and it was as if life was taking the piss. I listened to Noddy Holder scream out “IT’S CHRISTMAAAAAASSSS!” and pondered how cruel life can be..
Mum (Ma) and Dad always made a big deal about Christmas. Having three children and not much money, Ma started buying our presents in September. They both worked hard to make Christmases magical. I love them so much for that.
Ma usually put the decorations up (with me hindering her all the way) but one year she allowed Dad to put them up. The result was that our living room looked like Santa’s grotto. He really went for it. We loved it, Ma absolutely hated it. It turned her orderly world upside down. She tolerated it but could have out-smoked Dot Cotton through the stress of not being in control.
Ma loved to remind me of the time I sang Jingle Bells on the bus in the middle of summer and how amused the other passengers were. Apparently I was ‘jingling all the way’ from the bus station to our bus stop. I loved Christmas, you see, and when you love Christmas it’s in your heart.
Once Christmas With Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra hit the turntable, we knew that the boxes of decorations would soon be brought down from the loft. Once opened, they would unleash an aroma acquired by decades of dust and nicotine. I especially loved the fairy lights… I still do. In my opinion, fairy lights should be for life, not just for Christmas.
I was 6 years old when, a week before Christmas, my paternal grandma died. I was too young to understand but now I know how hard it must have been for Dad.
On Christmas Eve in 1978, I risked the wrath of Ma to go downstairs and get a drink of water. Unfortunately I saw Dad putting the presents under the tree. In a moment of defiance, the magic was lost.
I remember my maternal grandparents coming for Christmas…Nan enjoying her brandy (bottle of) and Grandad with his whistling deaf aid and wheezy chest. In 1983, aged 81, the wheezing stopped as his heart gave up. Nan was lost without the man she’d loved for over fifty years. She only lived for three more years before she became unwell. Ma went to look after her and one morning Nan told her she’d had a strange dream that Grandad had ‘come for her’. In the time it took for Ma to go downstairs and make a cup of tea, Nan had a massive stroke and died. I like to think that Grandad was there and it wasn’t just a dying brain playing tricks.
I was fifteen and old enough to understand about death but not the depth of grief my mum was going through. Her heart broke again when Dad died but this time, mine broke too. Now I understood the pain of losing a parent.
Ma never stopped missing her mother and often told me to make the most of her because, one day, she too wouldn’t be here. I always told her that she’d have nagged me to death first…
The surreality of Dad’s death in a hospital ward which was in party mode is something I’ll never forget but reality hit when we returned to the family home to see his presents unopened under the tree and his empty chair. The house felt cold, despite the heating being on. It was as if the house itself was grieving.
Over the next 15 years, Mum came to us (or my brothers) for Christmas. It was never the same, how could it ever be the same without Dad? But we made the effort for her and the children’s sake. It’s what you do.
In 2010, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to have Mum at ours that Christmas. I can’t explain it, I just knew that I had to. She loved being with S for his second Christmas. I held her tighter than usual. When she went home I was overcome with emotion. I lay down on the bed she’d been sleeping in and cried until the tears ran dry. I’d put a letter in her suitcase telling her that she was the best mother in the world and I loved her so much. She phoned me later to tell me she’d found it. She got emotional (it took a lot for Ma to cry) but I put it down to the pain of her arthritis getting her down.
That was the last Christmas I’d ever spend with her because eight months later my beautiful mum was dead.
There’s not much I wouldn’t give to see my parents here this Christmas but I know they’ll be here in spirit. In the spirits knowing those two! And who knows, maybe Mr Kaempfert himself will be serenading them as they dance around the stars.
Life has taught me not to take time for granted. We all think we have lots of time but life just isn’t like that. It sometimes gives a warning before it takes a loved one or it blindsides you on a summer’s morning. What I am trying to say is we should live in the present and make each moment count.
My parents live on in me, my family and the music of Bert Kaempfert.
Instead of feeling sad for what I’ve lost, I am happy for what I had and what I had were the best parents and grandparents a girl could ask for.
When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things- not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness. ~ Bob Hope