Dear Readers, this was my first Christmas Day with just my husband and I, and no one else to care for or to worry about. At times like these, the sheer number of options could have been overwhelming, but as London is in Tier 4 as far as Covid was concerned, it made life a little less complicated. The main decision was whether to go for a walk in the cemetery before we opened the presents or afterwards. At first, I was all for sticking with my family’s tradition of having breakfast and then sitting around and opening the presents one at a time. But the day dawned so bright and cold that it seemed silly not to get out, especially as the cemetery was opening at 9 a.m.
Doing something new proved to be just the right thing. The empty chair where Mum used to sit has seemed to get more and more prominent over the last few days, and the weight of the past can become very heavy without any consideration of the future. As soon as we passed the Cedars of Lebanon at the entrance to the cemetery I could feel myself becoming a little lighter. There is something about the company of the dead that puts things into perspective: those ranks of headstones, each representing people who lived, were loved and died, reminds me that those who mourn are not alone, however much we might sometimes feel like it. Each death is a very individual experience for the people left behind, but it is also a universal one.
Of course, I go to visit ‘my’ swamp cypress. This time, I notice the rather elegant twist in the trunk.
Although the tree is now practically bare, there are still clumps of fine, feathery, copper-coloured leaves attached to a few of the outermost branches. I can really imagine this tree growing in a swamp somewhere, dripping with Spanish moss.
We walk over to Perimeter Road, where the noise from the North Circular Road is so loud that we can barely hear one another. But there are already flowers on the Cherry Laurel in one place, and well-advanced buds in another.
It has been a great year for yarrow, with many of the plants still in flower.
Every few minutes a car whooshes past, en route to a grave. I had never thought about how, for many people, this is part of their Christmas Day – they visit Granny’s grave, just as they used to go to her house or have her over for turkey and sprouts. In many cultures, the dead are included in celebrations – in China there are shrines to the ancestors in the house, and in Madagascar they go to visit the dead and tell them all the gossip while they unwrap and rewrap their bones. I suppose that this is our version, our way of not just remembering those who’ve gone, but somehow being with them. I am struck by the way that many of the people gathered are not sad, but are full of Christmas spirit and bonhomie, and this cheers me – maybe these people have integrated the sadness of someone’s passing into their lives, and are able to think of the good times, to share the happy memories.
I notice the squirrels and the jays looking for acorns that they buried a few weeks ago. The cold weather is making everybody hungry and in need of calories.
And as we pass a cypress-lined avenue, I am, as usual, stopped short by a strange animal perched on a headstone. What could it be?
Well sadly it’s not a baby owl, but a decapitated stone bird that used to hop along the top of the grave. It gets me every time.
And then it’s home, to open our presents, have a bit of lunch and for me to get peeling the sprouts. It does cross my mind that we’re having sprouts even though neither of us really like them, but then some Christmas traditions might take a bit more shifting :-).