Grief triggers and Christmas… They’re as tightly entwined as holly and ivy. I can’t seem to catch my breath at the moment. The closer we get to the 25th December the more I stumble; the more those memories breach my defences.
My father was a larger than life character. I grew up to the raucous sounds of my parents’ Christmas parties. ‘Carols From Kings’ was on constant repeat. I remember how we used to try and out sing each other during the chorus of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’. Afterwards he’d turn and wink at me, the easy winner every time. Now, my radio is permanently tuned to Classic FM. It’s like i’m welcoming in my grief. It’s like I need it, the same way I still need him to be a part of my Christmas, even though he’s not around anymore.
This is our first Christmas without him. Five months have passed since he left us but my sadness is still ascending like the lark from his favourite Vaughan Williams. I don’t know why it’s hitting me so hard… Perhaps, in light of my own cancer diagnosis, I’ve been too busy grieving for myself and now it’s dad’s turn?
I find myself keeping to old traditions. I trawl the TV listings to find out when National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is showing – his favourite seasonal film. Other times it catches me unawares. I make a list of all the people I need to buy presents for and discover I’ve written his name down too. I pick up a book in my local Waterstones and think how much he’ll love it. I request an extra ticket for my daughter’s nativity play in the hope that he’ll make it. But he never will.
It feels so final. The end of the year. The end of an era. For the first time since my diagnosis I’m not waking up and thinking about cancer, I’m thinking about him.
I’m not going to pretend how hard Christmas Day is going to be for all of us but we’ll make the best of it. That’s just the sort of family we are. We’ll concoct his favourite smoked salmon mousse and devour seconds and thirds. I’ll light a candle for him that will burn and burn, and when we attend the Nine Lessons & Carols service I’ll sing my bloody heart out to ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’.
It’s my own personal tribute.