Dear Readers, it’s 6.30 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I’m sitting in the office, listening to the thin, sweet song of a robin. Outside it’s still dark as pitch, but a runner has trudged past, taking advantage of the quiet street to jog up the middle of the road. And I have been thinking about Christmas, and how different it will be this year, not just for me but for many of us. This is my first Christmas as an orphan, and the idea is taking some getting used to.
Until a few years ago, the weeks before Christmas were frantically busy for me as I tried to get everything in place for Mum and Dad’s visit. We already had the stairlift so that they could get upstairs, but there was the commode and the reclining chair to get, the temporary registration of the pair of them with my doctor, not to mention the food and the presents and the cleaning. The wheelchair had to be rented and popped into the hall, ready for action. The night before they arrived I would be nervously eyeing up everyone who parked outside our house – we don’t have a car, but it’s a long tradition that you can ‘save’ a parking space by popping a couple of wheelie bins into the road, and with Mum and Dad unable to walk very far it could save a lot of worry.
And then they’d arrive, usually driven down by my brother, and the work would really begin. Everything had to be perfect, of course, just as it had to be perfect when Mum used to be in charge. I wonder why I didn’t learn from the way that she often had a migraine on Christmas Day from sheer stress? I remember one day when Mum was in a particular tizzy about something. Dad was sitting in the armchair with a purple paper hat slightly askew on his head, a gin and tonic in one hand and the cat on his lap.
‘Syb’, he said, patting the chair next to him, ‘Just come and sit down for Gawd’s sake. The brussel sprouts can wait for half an hour’.
‘No they can’t!’ she said, and burst into tears.
And so by the time Christmas was over, Mum was worn to a bit of a frazzle. So maybe it’s no surprise that I remember the days after the big event with particular fondness – the days of eating cold turkey, hot potatoes and pickle, playing Trivial Pursuit and watching the obligatory James Bond film with Dad.
And, strangely enough, it’s not the big things that I remember about the Christmases that I hosted either.
It’s the afternoons when Mum and Dad both had a doze, Dad in his recliner, Mum on the sofa, both of them snoozing along peacefully.
It’s the morning that the great spotted woodpecker turned up on the feeder and I gave Mum my binoculars so that she could see him properly.
It’s the night that the International Space Station went by on Christmas Eve, and Mum and I watched it go sailing past.
This year will be the first Christmas in a long, long time where I don’t have anywhere to go, or anyone apart from my husband to cater for. I am lucky to have him, I know.
The losses pile up, and the difference between the Christmas gatherings on the television advertisements and my quiet, subdued bittersweet Christmas could not be starker.
But I know that I am not alone – for so many of the people reading this, there will be an empty space at the Christmas table that can never be filled. And so this is to say that I see you, and I’m holding you in my heart. Grief is the tax that we pay for loving people deeply, but bereavement is a bitter path to walk, and attention must be paid to what we’re feeling at this time if we’re to bear it. There is a time for distraction, and a time for weeping, and only you will know which you need at any given time, but my advice would be to make room for both.
And unlike so many, many people, I don’t have agonising choices to make about who to see and how. I have not spent the year worrying myself sick about elderly relatives that I can’t see, children who haven’t been able to go to school, or who have gone and then been sent home because of a Covid outbreak. I’m still in work, and still housed. I see you too, trying to make this very different Christmas work because other people are depending on you. Please be kind to yourselves. The brussel sprouts will wait for thirty minutes while you have a cup of tea and watch something ridiculous on the television.
Outside there’s the slightest hint of a lightening sky, and the robin has stopped singing, duty done for another morning. In a few days time we’ll reach the winter solstice, the longest night for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and the light will gradually come back, until one day we wake up at our usual time and hear the dawn chorus, not a solitary robin. The world turns whether we want it to or not, the bulbs are already starting to stretch and yawn in their loamy beds and life will carry on. Let’s take things both lightly and with deep seriousness, with a sense of fun and with a sense that what we do matters, because it does, more now than ever.
Such beautiful words. My only living relative is my step father and he’s in Tucson, 1600 miles away, living alone and not doing well. I’m worried about him and feeling helpless. He is usually with us for Christmas. I feel lucky to have my husband and my teen son to keep me company. My husband is employed and we have been doing baking and decorating and such pastimes as we can do away from other people. Still, even after 9 months during which isolation has come to feel almost normal, the big social occasions of winter holidays bring into stark relief how alone we really are.
Thank you for the writing you do and for the lovely pictures of the natural world that you post on Facebook. These are bright spots in my days.
Ah Shannon, so sorry about your step father, It must be really difficult. I’m glad that the blog helps a little, the writing of it certainly helps me! I hope you have a peaceful Christmas and that 2021 is better for all of us…
I’ve only recently come across your blog and I’m so glad I did – I love nature but also the other bits you cover. Thanks for writing about your thoughts at this time of the year – I’m lucky to have both parents although I won’t see them this year. My husband however has lost both his – his dad just this year – and it’s something I need to be paying close attention to.
Hi Julie, welcome to the blog! So sorry about your husband’s loss, he will find this time of year very difficult I suspect. Sending you both wishes for a peaceful Christmas and a happier 2021.
Yes, it’s the ‘silly’ things that we remember about our parents, but always with great fondness. I can just picture the scene in your household, which must have been and will be repeated in thousands of households across Britain, if not worldwide. But time does move on and you will surely create new memories, if not this, rather strange, Christmas, then over the many years to come.
Such a poignant post . You hit the nail on the head . Our dad would have been ninety yesterday if he hadn’t died two years ago . My phone randomly throws up past pictures and yesterday they were of him . Sad . Yet orphaned in our sixties doesn’t seem too bad when we look up and out and over and see what’s happening . Stay well , keep blogging and sharing nature . Hope & kindness . Pen
Absolutely true, at least we had our parents for a reasonable amount of time and the great blessing for me is that I was able to be with both of them at the end, something that’s being denied to so many people at the moment. I hope you have a peaceful Christmas and that 2021 is better for all of us
A lovely, moving piece of contemplation. I don’t know you personally, but one of the consequences of the way we have been living this year is that people, such as yourself, who we only contact through the wonders of the internet, have become important in our lives. You and your posts are important to me, even if I rarely respond (and am a very irregular quizzer). I hope you know this and can take some comfort and not a little pride in the many lives you touch, to enliven, entertain and inform. Thankyou!
Thank you, Rosalind – writing the blog every day has honestly kept me sane this year, and I love the little community that we’ve built here. Wishing you a peaceful Christmas, and here’s hoping that 2021 is a little less stressful for all of us….
Wise, wise words. I was looking forward to a Christmas of three, My son, who lives in the same town, has contracted the ‘dreaded disease’ so I am not feeling at all festive and probably will not until he is out of the woods. The statistics here are not good as numbers continue to rise – at this time of the year, South Africans tend to be akin to lemmings, trekking across provinces to be at the seaside, or the mountains, or in game reserves or – most importantly – to visit families. We tend to live far away from each other. Nine months of relative isolation is a long time and I am fervently hoping that my son beats the ‘bat ‘flu’ and that my daughter and her family (whom we have not seen for a year) will be able to join us shortly after Christmas. As Rosalind mentioned, you have become a part of ‘my world’ and I shall think of you and your husband during this time.
So sorry to hear about your son, Anne, I hope he makes a speedy recovery. And you’ve become part of my world too! Thinking of you and yours…
Beautiful words to muse on the different way many Christmasses will be spent this year. There are only three of us to worry about, my mother-in-law will join me and my wife as I’ve had no immediate family left now for some years. It will be quiet, but that’s good too.
Quiet is sometimes good, eh..
Well done for putting into words your vulnerability for us all to share. It’s only when we acknowledge our vulnerability that we connect with people. Your blogs are eloquent markers of your life and it is good to see in them your compassion for others and yourself. Each of our journeys is unique, but we must all walk down the same road.
Thanks Ringgi, and you’re right about vulnerability, though it can feel absolutely terrifying..
You are always right on time. My mother died two years ago today and here you are, helping me get through the day. And the sun just broke through the dark gray day–a dove gray one! Thank you.
I wish I knew what to say about your loss but I’m not good at it. I send you good energy and gratitude though.
Thanks Bobbie Jean. I’m ok, just sad. I didn’t know it was possible to be both things at the same time, but it is. Sending you a great big virtual hug…
Three years on from my father’s death, I still find it hard to believe that Christmas can take place without him. Throughout my childhood and beyond, our house was always full of carols and paper lanterns – when Dad wasn’t organising concert rehearsals, he was climbing a step ladder to hang an array of decorations from every wall and ceiling.
In recent weeks, I’ve been reminiscing with my mum about those days. It makes me sad that on Christmas Day – as on every other day since March – I’ll only be able to speak to her from the garden outside her care home, but I’m so grateful that she is still around. I hope you will be comforted by memories of past Christmasses, and that you have a peaceful and stress-free time.
Hi Liz, I was wondering how your Mum was doing…what a year. I hope you have a good and peaceful time too…