Can I talk to you about Christmas? My memories, my reflections of the first Christmas without my beloved Dad?
“Well, it’s all over for this year,” as my Dad would say. Although I never really agreed. I suppose, due to my job, I feel like I’ve another week and half of holiday yet. It’s not over until I have to get the uniforms ready and my schoolwork out.
Or, I should say, that’s how I normally feel at this point in the Christmas holiday. Last year, my sister, brother in law and nephew stayed a week in the end and it was wonderful – a week of film-watching, game-playing, laughter and good food.
This year feels… Weird.
My sisters and I feel that it’s very important to create new Christmas traditions. We’re not sure what these will be but we know how important they are for us all. As children, we would all descend on my Grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve: my mum’s five siblings and their spouse and children. My sister and I loved it. We haven’t had that tradition for more than twenty-five years but we still hark back to it.
In my teens my Aunty – mum’s single, childless sister – would join us at home and stay over. We loved her being there and the fun she brought. One year my Dad, mum and Aunty were still awake (and drunk) at six in the morning and ended up going back to bed. I think that was the first year I made a Christmas Dinner.
Early in my marriage, my in-laws would come to us on Christmas Eve as we were so conscious of the imbalance between my parents whom we lived with and my in-laws in regards to sharing their grandchildren’s Christmas experiences. Then Dad would cook the turkey and we would have turkey sandwiches for supper.
In the years of my separation, my children would spend the day of Christmas Eve with their Dad before coming home to me and seeing their Nana and her new partner. I’d then spend the evening with my Dad, drinking wine and chatting until it was time to put out my children’s presents. I wasn’t alone, because Dad was there.
This year, for the first time, he isn’t.
This year, I spent Christmas Eve at my sister’s house whilst my children spent their first Eve at their Dad’s. I woke early, walked the short distance to his house and watched them open their presents. It was different but, surprisingly, OK. I then went home alone and started the dinner.
Before rolling my sleeves up and putting on my apron, I sat in Dad’s candlelit livingroom, put on some special music and allowed myself to let go. To think about him and speak to him. I told him how much I love and miss him and how grateful I was for the 38 wonderful Christmases he had given me.
I cried. I smiled. I grieved. But then, as the last song finished, a calm came over me. I can do this. Dad’s with me, one way or another.
There were fifteen people for Christmas Dinner this year. My sisters and their families, my mum and her partner, my ex and his parents. I wanted my house filled with people that we love and this was especially important for my three children who have lived with their grandad all their lives too.
I can’t say that I enjoyed it. But I can’t say that I hated it either. It was numbingly important work: to prepare and cook a meal for my family so that everyone could enjoy the day. I finished the meal with pride that I’d successfully created a family meal for a group of people for whom half were grieving someone important that was missing. For me, it just was. I’d got through it without mishap or breakdown and I was proud of myself as I knew my Dad would be. Sure, there were no annual conversations about who made the best roast potatoes (me) or gravy (Dad, always) but it was OK. I was busy, and my family were content.
Most people left a few hours later until my children and I, and my sister, brother-in-law and nephew were left. Then I felt more settled – perhaps because if Dad was here, by this point he would have settled in his own chair to watch TV, not join in with games like the rest of us. So, it felt normal, and I began to enjoy myself.
By midnight, my sister, bro-i-law and I had settled into Dad’s more cosy and warm livingroom by the woodfire. We’d played games and had drinks all evening: it was nice to sit and chat by the light of the fire and Christmas Tree.
Pretty soon my sister was asleep on the couch whilst my bro-i-law and I – the more seasoned drinkers ☺ – talked into the early hours.
I’m very lucky that I get on well with both my brother in laws and I enjoyed talking to him. Something I don’t seem to have much opportunity to do any more – adult conversations where you can open up and put the world to rights.
We talked of Dad and grief and I was fine. Grief is funny that way – what can destroy you one moment can boost you another. I enjoy talking about my Dad. It brings him near.
We talked about my loneliness and how difficult it is to find real friends and companions in your late 30s. I spoke of my desire to rebuild my life after years of being unsettled in marriage and with Dad’s illness. (My sister is ten years my junior and is just starting her life it seems). My sisters and I have become even closer since I separated with my husband and Dad’s slow decline. But I do worry – I don’t want to be a burden on them. I can’t expect them to always be my social life. They tell me off when I say this if course, which is why I love them as much as I do.
As we spoke of my somewhat sketchy plan to meet more people there was a pause. My bro-i-law began to speak and then paused.
“Go on,” I said, “just say it.” I trust him and know that whatever he was trying to say would be thoughtful.
“It’s just I was thinking that the perfect person for you would be <Lost Soul>.”
This was not what I was expecting him to say. I listened as he explained why he thought we were right for each other. Music to my ears. We then discussed Lost Soul’s recent behaviour at their house. And I admitted my true feelings.
I explained that if Lost Soul told me, openly, that he still had feelings for me and that he now felt in a place to risk his heart, then I would risk mine. That there was too much between us – he was the one that got away and I would always wonder what might have been.
I didn’t get the sense that my bro-i-law has discussed this with Lost Soul and they are good friends. He acknowledged the hints that Lost Soul had made, just as I acknowledged the mixed signals that I had given over the years. Perhaps that the pair of us were too scared to give in to such strong feelings?
He discussed Lost Soul’s relationships over the past six years – not in detail or to betray his trust – but to say that the relationships often ended as Lost Soul felt something was missing and that his girlfriend ‘didn’t get’ him. Not a problem that we had. I can’t tell you how frustrating that is.
So the upshot? I’m no further on. Someone who knows us both well feels we would be good together. But to is unlikely that we will have the opportunity or the guts to see if that’s the truth. This game has been playing for six years and there still appears to be no winner.
I’ve got through Christmas. I held it together. I started new traditions that honoured the love I still feel for my father as well as for my family. The future is the future and it will come regardless of what I want or don’t want.