Marking the cards

After the “hell of a week” I decided that I’d take yesterday off.  Of course that didn’t really work out.  Thanks to my mother I’ve been brainwashed to think that if someone writes to you and you don’t write back promptly, that’s rude.   Unfortunately my mother’s brainwashing was in a world before Twitter, so the idea of taking a day off really didn’t work out that well!

After spending several hours on Twitter (attempting to reply promptly to everyone who had written to me) I decided that it was now or never for “operation deck the halls”.  We’ve never decorated the house for Christmas this late.  The pressure is so on and once we began we realised the extent of the pressure.

Buy a tree, decorate a tree, clean the house, decorate the house, write cards and send, buy presents, wrap presents. Buy food. Buy a lot of batteries.

Because on a very primal level, my dear MN actually wants to just go and live in his man-cave till it’s all over, where he can drink and cry for his boy alone; he is distinctly lacking in the ho-ho-ho.  He announced quite curtly that he was off to get the tree and even that was loaded with symbolism.  We always went as a family to choose the tree and Nico always did the actual choosing.  That is why, inevitably, we ended up with the lop-sided tree, the tree with the missing top branch, the bald tree, the droopy tree – the tree that no-one wanted, which most needed a home.  Nico had an uncanny instinct for spotting the person or the thing that most needed love, and then giving it.  As a consequence, through the years we have had to be extremely creative in using lighting and glittery things to cover up tree defects.

But this year the MN made sure he went out alone to buy a tree quickly and without fuss or even very much “choosing”.  Just before he went out the tension ramped up as he started reading some of the tweets sent to me yesterday morning.  Because we still find it hard to tell each other when it’s just all got too much, instead our distress became a ridiculous argument about batteries.

After he left I decided that this was not going to be the theme of my day.  I made a large cup of tea and scrolled down to “Christmas” on the iPod.  With carols blaring out I started cleaning with a will.  Tree and MN (and many, many batteries) came home and there was hugging and some tears.  The rest of the day was me on tree decorating and music choice, him on lighting in all downstairs rooms.

If I’m honest, owing to my current sight problems, the perfectly formed little tree is rather a homage to past, Nico chosen trees, as I have missed bits and misjudged angles resulting in some curious tree stagger and some bald bits.  But hey – I like to think it’s exactly as Nico would have wanted it!

I then turned my attention to cards.  I’ve made a list for this year and I also found last year’s list.  I used to be a huge card sender.  I loved picking the right card for the right person and each of my messages were individual and carefully thought out.  But last Christmas was the first year after Nico’s death that I even sent. It was hard. I made no attempt at words really.  I just put their name at the top and “from the Reed family” at the bottom.  It was the most I could manage.

This year I’ve done better I think.  For a start I bought all my cards from Mencap because I wanted to give something back to a charity which did so much for us last year.  I’ve also written individual messages and perhaps most significantly, for the first time – I also wrote our names at the bottom.

This is significant because it’s very much the reason why I stopped writing Christmas cards.  Christmas 2012 was less than 3 months after Nico died.  I sat with my pile of cards and I realised I couldn’t write a single one.  I simply could not bring myself to write our all names at the bottom as I had for over 20 years, and miss one of those names off.  We wrote our four family names, with love.  Now suddenly to write just three and leave a gap was more than I could bear.

I didn’t know how to write the word Merry or even the word Hope.  I just sat for one utterly miserable afternoon just looking at a pile of cards I couldn’t write on and I couldn’t bear to touch.  In the end I just picked them all up and put them back in the box.  We sent no Christmas cards that year.  

The following year my MN wrote the cards and it was he who came up with the idea of writing the slightly less painful “Reed family” at the bottom, so last year I did the same.  I don’t know how he feels, but I still want so very badly to put Nico’s name on as well.  He hasn’t stopped being a member of this family.  He’s still my son.

This year I’ve also done something I haven’t done since Nico died.  I actually read some of the cards that were sent to us.  A few have thoughtful messages full of love and remembrance. Others are dashed off, obviously with the same words that were written to all on their list.  As I read them I wondered how many of the writers had thought about us when writing those cards, really thought about us when they had that flash of memory and remembered not to add on Nico’s name.

In the week before that terrible Christmas of 2012 I received a card from a lady called Sarah.  Although we always exchanged cards I hadn’t seen her that year.  So she wrote the card she had always sent – with all our names including Nico’s and all 4 kisses below.  I loved that card so much.  I held that card to my chest and I could hardly breathe.  In the sea of misery which was our first Christmas without Nico, I loved that one card because it was ordinary – a card from simpler, happier times.  A card written to a normal, happy, loving family at Christmas.  I still have that card and I still put it out.  Thank you Sarah.

Sometimes you need to remember happier times at Christmas.