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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Best of Worst

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