It’s a cruel time of year if you ever lost someone in December. As soon as the enforced Christmas build-up kicks in, constant reminders of past grief are inescapable: they are everywhere, filling the very atmosphere.
Recently I was reminded of how I used to dread the oppression of December, when someone asked me if I go over to my mum’s for Christmas.
I think back to a cheerless suburban winter. Upstairs, my mum was dying a bit more each day, and we had stopped mentioning Christmas.
She wasn’t lucid any more and couldn’t walk. Some days she drifted out of the darkening bedroom and became a child again, babbling about something or other. I encouraged her, giddy to meet a happier version of her from before we came along.
But she’d just drift back into her sad thirties, wheezing in pain.
She died, the opposite of peacefully, a few days before Christmas. I changed the tags on her presents and gave them to her mother, my gran.
I have no memory of that particular December 25th, and it took more than fifteen years before I could put any effort into celebrating Christmas again.
But then I had another blip and thought: is there any point to it all without children?
When you’re a childless-adult guest in someone’s family home at Christmas, on your own, you can feel as peripheral and incidental as a stick of furniture.
You think: this is not mine. This is someone else’s Christmas.
I’m OK with December now. You just need someone like-minded to spend Christmas with, and if you have the wherewithal, you can spend it absolutely anywhere you like.
But when the melancholy December days start to close in on me I float – untethered, free from domestic distractions – back to that darkening bedroom, and other thoughts of loss are not far behind.
The most innocuous-seeming questions about Christmas can make people embarrassed and tongue-tied, like I was in those days.
So I just ask very vague questions about Christmas plans, or none at all,
in case they had a sad December once too,
or are having one now.