Saturday, December 29, 2007

A different kind of Christmas

It was a different sort of Christmas this year: how could it be otherwise, when Mum wasn't there? I remembered her in a hundred different ways in the weeks coming up to Christmas. So did everyone else in my family; every present bought, every plan made, ached a little, because of her absence from this family feast.

J and I spent the weekend before Christmas with Dad and my family in Norfolk. Her presence, reminders of her were everywhere. Mum loved Christmas, really loved it, and there was much remembering about last year; how, after the Christmas Eve midnight service we came back and got into bed and as we fell asleep, heard Mum on the stairs, clip-clopping coconut shells together and making farting noises - pretending to be a reindeer accompanying Father Christmas as he left presents. Stifling her giggles, as the Christmas stockings she loved to prepare were left outside every child's door, though the children she left them for were all grown-up now.

I will keep that tradition; stockings from Father Christmas stuffed with small and silly or useful presents - nutcrackers, face flannels, miniature of whisky, things for the kitchen, a paperback book, a satsuma and a bag of chocolate coins left in the toe.

As children of a vicar, we had a different sort of Christmas to our schoolmates: the family Christmas could not start until lunchtime, when Dad got back from all the Christmas morning church services. The stocking, left at 2am by an exhausted parent back from midnight church on Christmas Eve, and opened in bed on Christmas morning by an excited child was a way to keep us happy, until the real present-unwrapping could begin - after lunch, and after the Queen's speech - a long time to wait when you are small, but now I see a delight in anticipation, a stretching-out of the joy.

The night before Christmas Eve this year, Dad had a drinks party for friends and neighbours and parishioners, and so we decorated the house that afternoon, unpacking boxes of wreathes and cribs and baubles carefully labelled in Mum's clear writing. J put up the tree, my sister hung it with the trinkets accrued by the family over forty years. Dad mulled wine, and I heated up canapes and we handed them round. And afterwards, when the dozens of people had gone, had admired the house, drunk and eaten their fill and wished us a merry Christmas, we said to each other 'Mum would have approved'. We had kept the show on the road. We had thrown open the doors and shown the world that we were coping, that the house was still full of light and music and good cheer. We were all right. Don't worry about us, we are doing fine.

But it was too much to try to recreate Christmas Day without her at the family table. J and I went back to London, to have our first married Christmas alone together and the rest of the family went to the Lake District to have Christmas away from home.

I am still feeling my way: making my own Christmas traditions, thinking about what I will do for my own children, if I am lucky enough to have them, holding the thread that connects me with my mother, and her mother before her. I know that Mum, and her mother used to listen to King's College carols whilst wrapping presents on Christmas Eve, and so I did that this year, as I have done for the last twenty years, even when I was in another country and listening on the BBC World Service. That solo chorister's voice singing the first verse of 'Once in Royal David's City' still makes my skin goosebump, still makes my eyes well up, still means that Christmas is almost here.

Now Christmas is gone, and the ache of missing my mother is still here. I wanted to tell her about the Christmas lunch I prepared, ask her advice on whether to mix sausage meat into the stuffing, whether to cook it inside the bird or on a tray. I wanted to call her all the way through Strictly Come Dancing final and Christmas special; we used to watch it and call each other to discuss each dancer when the series started this year. I miss her. We all do, her brother, who moved from the Lake District to Norfolk to be with her in his retirement, her other children, my brother and sister, my sister-in-law. But it is so much worse for Dad. He and Mum were always together, day and night, for thirty nine years. Whatever my own grief is like, it cannot match the visceral pain of his physical separation from her.

Sometimes grief is a thump in the gut, a tear at the heart, sometimes my eyes well up without warning and my throat aches. Often I am angry. Sometimes it comes in the middle of the night, when I can't sleep, or when a nightmare wakes me, but usually it is when I do something, see something, think of something and want to share it with her, and realise that I can't, and I never can, never will again. I want to cry for her; I want to cry for my whole family. I want to cry for all of us, but mostly I can't cry at all. There have been too many times in the past when I would not allow myself to cry, and now that I need to, I can't.

She used to read this blog, every word, every comment, which is one reason why I haven't felt like writing it much these last few months.


Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Oh Rachel, my heart goes out to you. I wish I could show how much this post moved me by returning words of comfort in similar measure, but I can't, so I'm sending you a virtual hug instead.

December 29, 2007 12:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a terrible thing to say, but I'm jealous. I wish I could feel the pain of loss that accompanies loosing a parent. My mother died last year, but by then I hadn't spoken to her in five years because it became to painful. Perhaps I did my mourning for someone I wished she was a long time ago. This year I missed my nan, Christmas was such a big occasion with my nan.

You have my utmost sympathies, I can only imagine what it must be like to loose a mum you cared for so much and for something so big to be missing from your life. I hope the pain lessens and the good memories brings a warmth to your heart like a good slug of brandy.

Wishing you well for the New Year.

December 29, 2007 3:59 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Once in Royal David's City always reminds me of my mum too. She would be making the mince pies in the kitchen and would stop and make some tea and we would sit down to listen to the carols on her Roberts radio. It was always the best part of Christmas.

December 29, 2007 8:11 pm  
Blogger Em said...

Rachel, it is good to see you posting again.

This was a wonderful post and your mother continues to inspire others through your memories of her.

Many of us, as we read your post, will be feeling as proud of you as your mother surely was with every post she read.

How wise of your family to decide to have a different Christmas this year - perhaps just the sort of "adjustment" your mother might have conjured up herself.

I know this year may seem a case of "on the earth the broken arcs"... I hope 2008 brings you a taste of the "perfect round".

December 29, 2007 9:23 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks for dropping in and for the kind comments and emails.

December 30, 2007 11:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes it is good to see you posting again.

I'm glad you made the best of Christmas and best wishes for the New Year

December 30, 2007 6:54 pm  
Blogger zoe said...

you've been strong, rachel, your entire family has and for that, i admire you all. when people say that you 'have to move on' it is so much easier than the actual motion of 'moving on'.

keep up your faith and love towards your family and the pain will ease - and in time, lessen.


December 30, 2007 7:02 pm  
Blogger Kate said...

Thank you Rachel, you always say things so well.
Love to you and your family. xx

December 31, 2007 11:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time definitely helps with grieving but we never ever stop missing our loved ones that are gone ahead of us. I am sure your mum was looking down on you all, happy that you did what she would have wanted - move on and have Christmas with her in all your thoughts. I hope 2008 brings you some peace and allows you to move on a bit and remember she will always be with you in your heart x

January 01, 2008 9:14 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Sad for you Rachel. My Mum died the day after Boxing Day, after collapsing on Christmas Day.

January 02, 2008 1:31 am  
Blogger Paul Linford said...

A beautiful piece of writing, as ever.

Your childhood Christmases and mine sound very similar Rachel. My dad wasn't a vicar - far from it actually - but I was a choirboy and Christmas didn't really begin until I was back from singing my last service on Christmas Day. And my mum did that reindeer hooves thing too....

January 02, 2008 1:26 pm  
Blogger granny p said...

Rachel - have come to this very belatedly after my own being maternal Christmas. But you express it all so beautifully and it rings so many bells. Those first Christmases without someone are so painful - sweet pain now and then but mostly just pain. My mum died over forty years ago. But still each year where-ever I am I turn on the King's College service, settle down to Christmas cooking and remember her and I doing just that together all those years ago and weep a little for and with her as the boy starts 'Once in royal....'It's precious and sad and means the loving and missing both do not die. Which is important. I think of you - and your dad and your family in this new year. (Oh and love to your cat too...)

January 02, 2008 2:47 pm  
Blogger Debi said...

Only just got here, but wanted to say I hope being able to put the feelings into words as well as you do, brings some measure of comfort.

January 11, 2008 6:39 pm  
Blogger Penny Pincher said...

I'm so sorry rachel. Loss is so hard to come to terms with. I'm not sure we ever get over the loss of our mothers. My Mum died 1965 and i still shed a tear sometimes when I think of her.

January 14, 2008 5:11 pm  

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