December hit like a ton of bricks. That first week, when we put up our tree, and started listening to Christmas music, was the hardest we’d found it since the summer. One bad day turned into a worse one, and then a worse one, until we felt like the whole thing had only just happened, and I wanted to choose to curl up into a ball and stay bitter. I couldn’t believe that we’d actually been functioning and walking around, making decisions and doing anything other than grieve for the last six months. But there was incredible comfort in knowing that we HAD been doing all those things for six months, so we rode the storm and waited for it to pass. And it did. After the first week, I woke up and stopped playing the “What would he be doing if he was here right now” mode continually in my head. I just dipped in and out of it occasionally, like I’ve done since we found our new normality. I stopped looking backwards and looked at what was in front of my face – the four wonderful children that are here enjoying the Christmas season right now. I stopped trying to force everything to be happy and Christmassy and worked out what some of the triggers were – Christmas music on repeat was one of them – and I calmed things down a bit. I set my standards really low, bought just one present for each member of the extended family (sorry, no friends this year), a handful each for the kids and Richard, sent about ten Christmas cards to people I wouldn’t see, and that was it. Simples.
Christmas was Scooby’s favourite time of the year, and he was really particular about having things a certain way. So I was really thankful that we got nine Christmasses with him, to enjoy these things that really stick in our minds to make great memories about him. When I think of him last year, I remember how completely and utterly happy he was, despite being able to do so little, and the look on his face when he received the Candyland board game, which he’d wanted for so long, as if he now had all he could ever want, and remember he was content just being a little boy at Christmas. Although we’ve racked our brains since, we can’t remember him identifying what he wanted to be when he grew up, or being desperate to get to the next stage of life (unlike his brothers, who are all desperate to turn twelve, purely because of the amount of new movies and games that will suddenly be available to them). And – the bit I found hardest to handle at the beginning – December last year was the last time we were ever together as a full family at home. On the 1st January, he was then in hospital every single day, till he went to heaven. So although December isn’t the month he died, it is an anniversary of another kind – the beginning of losing him, and I think that’s what made it difficult. But one of the many, many, MANY things God has taught me this year is that gratitude is the antidote to despair. So I am so completely grateful that we GOT last December together. All the months before it had been overtaken with hospital stays, yet in December, he didn’t spend a single night in hospital. Our home was overwhelmingly full with visits from the community nurses, occupational therapists and physios, and helpers from a local charity, but apart from a couple of hospital outpatient appointments, he was home the whole month, and able to take part in everything we did, from his bed, couch or wheelchair. This makes me so happy, and was the perfect gift that we, and he, could’ve had last year.
And so this year, with our bottom-of-the-pit week out of the way, we had a great Christmas. Rocky was so excited to be in his first school nativity, as part of the donkey percussion band, and practised all the songs very confidently at home. Of course, when the actual performance came, he just stood and gently swayed while mumbling the odd word and squinting at the stage lights, but by now I’m used to the anti-climax of the big day, so I was just pleased he enjoyed it. In our church nativity, for me, Ace was the highlight when he decided, as single mother Mary stepped on the stage without her husband (who’d been taken down with earache), to throw off the role of shepherd (which has a Jedi-like status to young boys) and become Joseph instead (previously denounced as a sissy role because you have to be married to a girl). He repeated all the lines whispered off-stage to him loudly, and took great joy in ushering each guest into the stable with a warm pat on the back, and a proud paternal gesture to the new baby. Turtle then had to hold up the shepherd’s role as a solo performance; Rocky took his role of donkey (he actually refused to be anything else, insisting that he’d been trained for the part) very seriously when he started to actually eat the hay from Jesus’ manger; and Baby was a very vocal (if in the wrong way at the wrong time) and beautiful angel. And of course, I’m also proud of my husband, who utilised his Gandalf costume to play the role of lead angel. Really. So proud.
We stayed over at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve and had a fantastic Christmas Day, especially with my husband and my sister-in-law’s combined cooking expertise. We opened presents all throughout the day (instead of cramming the chaos into first thing in the morning) and the kids were all so excited with what they were given. My husband went way over our agreed budget for me, as usual, and I am now the proud owner of a sewing machine, as well as a lot of other nice pampery things.
My favourite day of the year was next, as we gathered on Boxing Day with my dad’s side of the family. We had a few less people this year, because of foreign travels and illness, but it was still amazing. As well as food and presents, we play games all together, and do the actual traditional sing-song thing. My brother gets on the piano, and we work through a variety of favourite carols and hymns, some straight and untampered with (eg Great is Thy Faithfulness) and some we can hardly sing through laughing (eg Go Tell it on the Mountain with a jungle reggae theme), but all loud and with four (and occasionally more) part harmonies.
This annual day for me is a great inspiration and leveller, as it reminds me of why family is so important – because those children who fight and whine and take a long time to grow into maturity will become adults, and hopefully best friends with each other too – and there will be moments like these in the future when you can look back and know that it was all worth it. The other thing it reminds me of is that so many people don’t have this – a place where they feel that they can truly belong, and be a part of something bigger and feel their significance in fulfilling a role that fits in amongst the other roles – and THIS is why we do church, to be that home, and to invite other people to it, and to see them be accepted, loved and part of something special.
So that was our Christmas! Hope you had a good one, and Happy New Year to you all xxxXxxx