A Christmas journey through grief
“We called him Mr Christmas because he loved it so” was the opening line to a blog I tried to write in December 2014. After I’d written this, I could write no more and the blog was never finished. I tried to finish it in 2015 and again in 2016 but failed both years. It was too hard to write, especially at that time of year, before Christmas, when it felt as if I was walking along a tiny path, with black grief just waiting for me if I faltered or fell to either side.
But this year, I’m going to honour Mr Christmas and I’m going to finish the blog. This Christmas will be our 8th without Nico and this year feels different, for the first time since he died. I’m still sad and I think I always will be sad. I still miss him more than I can put into words and I think I always will. But our life with Nico and all the Christmases we had with Nico and even the time since his death, are all part of my structure now. The loss of my son and my journey through grief have absorbed to become another part of who I am.
For some of you this is a much earlier Christmas without the person you love, and you will be having a very different experience. I know that experience and how awful it is and now as I look back at it, rather than be living through it, I feel the need to write about it as part of honouring Mr Christmas.
I have no memories of the second Christmas without Nico. Of the third, it was tied up with memories of the traumatic 3-day inquest 10 days earlier. The next two Christmases I wrote about in blogs, writing about the various ways you try to trick your grief, while somehow holding it together to make a merry Christmas for your family. I also wrote about the small things which can really make a difference like someone thinking to include Nico’s name on a Christmas card to our family. At the time that seemed like a bright light shining in a very dark world.
The first Christmas without Nico was always going to be awful. There was no way that it could not be. So many of our family traditions were bound up with Nico and his total adoration of all things Christmassy. I dreaded that Christmas and wanted to hide from it, coming out only when it was over. We did a minimal amount of decorating, we wrote and sent no cards that year and after opening the first card and seeing that Nico’s name had simply been left off, I opened no more. It seemed he was already forgotten by the family or his death had become an embarrassment.
Nico’s dad became obsessed with finding ways to get through the day and I let him because, to be honest, anything that helped him get through was fine. He planned the day in detail, trying to control everything and leaving nothing to chance. He decided the best way was to do everything differently and we even had different family members with us for Christmas Day that year. For some reason I cannot recall neither my father nor my brother came, so it was only my partner, myself, Nico’s sister, her partner and his brother who was living with them at that time. His brother was a waster, an unpleasant cokehead who moved to England under the guise of furthering his career, but really because he was running away from a girl he’d got pregnant in his hometown. My daughter couldn’t stand him and wished him a million miles away from our first, difficult Christmas without Nico.
The day didn’t start well. At 10.30am Nico’s dad had scheduled all of us to eat bacon rolls and drink champagne (even though my daughter’s a life-long vegetarian), but even though they only lived 20 minutes away, my daughter, her partner and his brother didn’t turn up till 11.30am and it was immediately apparent that the brother had absolutely no interest in having to spend his first UK Christmas in our company and in our house. The bacon rolls had spoiled by then and had to be thrown away. Nico’s dad was already incredibly tense and almost on the point of walking out. We left for the posh pub where we were going to have our first paid for and cooked by someone else, Christmas lunch. It was over-priced and not very nice. The brother just pushed his food around and loudly commented on how rubbish English food was – which frankly it was. Nico’s dad drank steadily and silently throughout the meal and even I had a couple of drinks, which immediately went to my head. Everything started to feel rather unreal, with a strange dreamlike quality.
We went home to unwrap the presents. I have no memory of what I bought for others or what they bought for me. After the presents were unwrapped Nico’s dad suddenly become very animated for the first time. While examining my daughter’s gift from her partner, a music speaker, he turned to me saying I didn’t understand everything that it was. He went on and on about it’s amazing qualities and repeated to me over and over again “it’s magical, it’s magical, don’t you understand, it’s absolutely magical”. I stopped breathing – could it be real, could it be true? I asked him in a quiet, shaking voice “is it really magical?”
He suddenly looked at me, as if for the first time, and his animation dropped away “well, it’s a very good speaker”. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t control my shaking as I quickly left the room and ran upstairs.
My daughter found me in my bedroom. I had sobbed off all my make-up and was almost beyond being able to speak.
All I could say was “he said it was magical – it was magical and so I wished and wished on it. But it wasn’t the right kind of magical”. I saw her heart break into a million pieces and there was nothing I could do.
Even sharing that story now, years later, it has the power to make me cry all over again. So that was the “first Christmas” and it was awful but at the end of the day we went to bed and when we got up it was over. During the second, third, fourth and fifth Christmases we gradually found ways of coping. We found ways of getting through Christmas and of making it bearable. By the sixth year we were trying to find ways to make it enjoyable, but differently enjoyable to the Christmases we had with Nico.
So now we are at year eight. Nico is included in every possible way in our Christmas. He has his own decoration, centre stage, on the tree. We play all his favourite Christmas songs on our special Christmas playlist and all the cards and tags he wrote to us over the years are on display. His home for the last 8 years has been a glass fronted cabinet in our living room which is filled with lovely photos of him and of the people he loved. It’s filled with objects and pictures he made or loved and for Christmas it is probably the most highly decorated cabinet in the world. We always have a saying “never mind less is more – we say MORE is more!” and we’ve certainly gone with that theme. Everything Nico loved about Christmas is front and centre of our Christmas now – the lights, the decorations, the music, the special TV shows, the presents and all the people he loved most in the world, enjoying Christmas together.
“We called him Mr Christmas because he loved it so”.