The Ghost Of Christmas Past

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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

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31 thoughts on “The Ghost Of Christmas Past

  1. Just so many memories and so much emotion wrapped up in this post Tracy. I can’t imagine losing a parent, I am blessed to still have both of mine right now, but losing one on Christmas Day must be the ultimate in pain.

    Love you honey x x

  2. Oh Tracy, what a love-filled post! I have tears in my eyes now and I’m so sorry for your losses. It sounds like your parents were wonderful though and have left you with years of happy memories to hold close to your heart at this time of year (and all year round). You’ve reminded me of how lucky I am – thank you. Lots of love and I hope you have a lovely Christmas xx #the prompt

  3. What really comes across from this is not the grief your family has experienced, but the loving background you have. I’m sure it’s a value you are instilling in your own kids. Wishing you all the best for Christmas #ThePrompt

  4. Aw. Your posts always leave me in tears! So beautifully written as always – I don’t even want to imagine what life will be like without either of my parents – but I know it will come to us all and, as you say, it’s so important to live in the moment, share our love and lives while we’ve still got them! Your parents sound like such a couple of characters! They are definitely living on in your memories and on your blog too! Thanks for sharing them with us Xxx #theprompt

  5. Such a touching post! My father passed away 5 1/2 years ago, and I spend a week around the anniversary of his death each year feeling depressed. I couldn’t imagine having to celebrate such a major holiday while being extra sad. Take care! x

  6. What a beautiful photo and you and your mum look so alike 🙂
    This is my first Christmas without my mum and it’s still sinking in I think.
    PS…I’ve been stupid and somehow managed to delete all my email contacts so send me email T so I can save you again. And thank you for the lovely surprise – will say more in email. I have deleted all sent emails too so I’ve ‘lost’ you completed.

  7. Tracy that’s such a poignant blog and it shows all the love you have in your heart for your parents both when they were alive and now that they are no longer here. I’m so envious that you can stay positive instead of the self wallow like I do!!! I’m not that bad really and as the years go on it is a case of sink or swim! It’s so bloody hard to have a parent die and when they do it on a special day, it hurts just that little bit more. At least my mum only chose to die on my birthday, so it only effects me but to die in Christmas Day must have made you want to shout at the whole world….”shut the f**k up withe the celebrations! my heart us breaking here”. You have to carry on the magic of Christmas having a youngster and I admire your strength to do just that. If you wallowed in self pity, S would lose his magical days and they could never be replaced. Let’s both me and you raise a drink to our Mums & Dads this Christmas Day and thank them for having us which enabled us to have our families.
    Love you Tracy xxxxxx

  8. Oh, Tracy, you have me in tears here. What a beautiful post, as John says, the wonderful loving family is what comes across in your words. I lost my father when I was 19, so I understand how hard it is; but you are absolutely right that we should enjoy each and every moment, something I didn’t learn soon enough. But, now I make sure that my children know they are the centre of everything and I hope that I leave them with memories as your parents did for you x Thank you so much for sharing with #ThePrompt. Have a wonderful Christmas xx

    • Sorry to hear about your dad, Sara – 19 is a young age to go through that. I was a bit older at 26…
      I’m sure you will leave your children with fantastic memories. You’re a great mum. Xx

  9. Oh, this has me in tears. I know I am blessed to still have my parents, and am so very grateful for that. I can’t bear to think of a time when I’ll be without them, though of course I know it will happen. You are right that we need to love and live in the present. Your happy childhood and love and warmth for your parents comes across so beautifully in this post, and I’ve no doubt they will be there with you in spirit, too x

  10. Such an emotional post. I’m glad you’ve come through the loss to be able to write this in such a positive way. Losing a parent a such a poignant time sucks. My dad died on Easter Sunday and this year his anniversary once again fell on Easter sunday. I cried in church during a particularly lovely hymn. I hope you and your family have a lovely Christmas, toasting those who are no longer with you, but remembering with fondness all the good times.

  11. Oh my goodness, such a heartfelt post. Each year I get stressed because my parents expect me to go there for Christmas Day. I won’t ever take them for granted again. Thank you for a kick up my ungrateful bum xox

  12. It’s wonderful that you can still see the loveliness in Christmas – it takes such a strong and brave person to do that.
    And you are right – your parents will always be with you ❤ and they will be proud that this is an outstanding piece of writing xxx

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