I’m adding this post to Tara’s Sticky Fingers Gallery this week, on the theme of Christmas of Yesteryear. I know she will forgive me for the lack of photos.
I’ve been keeping myself busy these past few weeks. Shopping, prepping, wrapping. Getting ready for the two big days that fall at this time of year for our family.
Tomorrow is one of those days – my stepdaughter, Daisy’s, 10th birthday. There will be a blizzard of present-opening, battery-inserting and gadget=playing, followed by the first of our Christmas dinners!
I’ve been really looking forward to it. Not the mess and the chaos. Of course not. But the distraction, the busy-ness. The very fact of having something to do!
This is my first Christmas as a reluctant housedad, and far from finding the whole affair super-stressful, I’ve found the preparation rather a breeze. I’ve been buying presents a couple at a time, strategically shopping for meat, and cheese, and nuts, and veggies. The wrapping’s taken care of. The cards have been sent. The tree bought and decorated. Received cards strung around the living room.
What else? is there anything else? What have I missed?
I appreciate this all sounds rather smug, but the fact is, compared to last year, I’m bored out of my mind. I don’t find any of this stuff that the newspapers rant on about as being super-stressful. It’s all just, well, rather tedious.
But compared to last Christmas, that is very much a Good Thing.
Last Christmas was insane. Last Christmas was surreal. Last Christmas was all about clashing emotions and ludicrous logistics.
I remember it in monochrome, not just because it snowed, but because it was like a movie of someone else’s life.
On December 18th, I saw my Mum in the nursing home where she had lived for a year. I put her there. She had advanced Alzheimer’s and had become a danger both to herself and to my ageing dad.
It was both my duty and responsibility as the oldest of four brothers to step back, see what needed to be done, with a clear head, and at the time, what felt like a cold heart.
My brothers could not believe the dispassionate way in which I dealt with the authorities and then drove her down to hand her over to strangers.
They’ve never blamed me for it. In fact, they’ve since told me how much they admired my strength of purpose to do what needed to be done. But sometimes I’m hit by a wave of guilt, and the antidote to that is to keep busy.
But I’m not busy now. I’ve got time to dwell, to reflect on that week of madness. It puts Christmas shopping-and-present-wrapping-stress into perspective.
On December 19th, I went to Number 3 brother’s wedding, a wonderful occasion, marred only by the absence of the one person who would have really got the most out of it.
On the 20th, I drove back to London from Mancehester, carving through perilous snow banks on the M6 and M1, to arrive home.
On the 21st, I received a phone call from Number 4 brother. Mum had died. Dad had been with her half an hour before she passed away.
And so on the 22nd – my dad’s 74th birthday and my stepdaughter’s ninth – I drove back to Manchester to be with the family that needed me more.
On the 23rd, I made the arrangements – the funeral director’s, the registrar’s – then spent the night with my dad and a bottle of whisky going through old photos (to make a collage to display at the wake) and Mum’s favourite songs. We had a dark laugh together about going for Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (because she was being cremated) but decided against it, choosing instead Matt Munro, Engelbert Humperdinck and Nat King Cole.
On the 24th, I headed back down the motorway and back to my ‘other’ family.
The second I closed the door, I burst into tears.
I hadn’t had time until then.
Busy, you see.
It’s a Good Thing.