Christmas can fuck off this year. Yes, I know what the true meaning is, and it’s not really about fairy lights and presents, but our God hasn’t exactly been my best friend for the last few years. Still, I’m massively overcompensating for the children’s sake by putting fairy lights EVERYWHERE. None of us is really feeling it at all, though, and just want this difficult time of year to be over.
We often used to go abroad at Christmas. We were self-employed business owners, and those two weeks from Christmas into January (when bugger all business happens) were a sort of enforced holiday with little – if any – money to be made. Neither my husband nor I really liked the over-commercialisation of Christmas, and preferred to use the time to be together as a family, rather than blow hundreds of pounds on gifts. Since my parents are divorced and my husband’s two adult children refuse to speak to each other, it suddenly made perfect sense for us to take ourselves out of the equation, and spend our present budget on heading off to sunnier climes instead. For the last three Christmases, though, this one included, we’ve had to cancel our planned trips abroad, and are staying put at the Costa del Cancer.
Last year, my husband was waiting for news of a clinical trial which could have prolonged his life by several months. This year, I’m waiting for a mastectomy and further treatment, and probably won’t have a reconstructed boob until this time next year, if not later. Christmas has been shit for quite some time now, but I have to remember that it’s not Christmas’s fault. Still, when your husband needs to have scans done and get himself signed up for clinical trials, it’s pretty frustrating to have his life hanging in the balance when the world shuts down. When you know, with all certainty, that the new year you’re meant to be celebrating is the one which will be written on his headstone.
Last year, my husband was told that he’d know by New Year’s Eve which trial drug he’d be getting – the brilliant new one, or the crappy old one – and then at noon on New Year’s Eve the fucking randomisation machine broke down so we had to wait four more days, only to be told he’d got the shit one anyway. The year before that, he’d spent New Year in hospital, with an infection that his chemo-ridden body couldn’t fight off. Christmas Day last year was hard work, too. My husband knew it would be his last, and – with his inimitable good humour – made it clear that presents would be fairly pointless, but seemed to take genuine pleasure in the fact that so many people would have benefited from money donated to various charities on his behalf instead. He cuddled and comforted us on the sofa in the kitchen as the boys and I cried, when it should probably have been the other way round.
And now, to this year. I’m lucky. Firstly, because I found out a couple of weeks ago that my cancer is still contained. It hasn’t spread, and I’m not terminal. So that’s a good, but strange feeling. I’m not celebrating this news, because my husband never could, but I’m pleased to be able to bring up our boys when he didn’t get the chance to finish the parenting job that he loved. I’m lucky because the boys, my Mum, Stepdad, and I have been invited to spend Christmas with dear friends who live up the road – one of whom helped to carry my husband’s coffin into church only eight months ago – and who didn’t want us to be sitting around the same old dining table, but with an empty chair, on Christmas Day. I’m also lucky because people have continued to send us Christmas cards. This may not seem like a big deal, but judging by the posts on the widows’ forums that I read (and yes, there are such things,) bereaved people seem to be forgotten at Christmas. People don’t know what to say, so to avoid the issue, they say nothing.
THIS IS THE WORST FUCKING THING YOU CAN DO.
Did you know, you can actually get bereavement-specific Christmas cards? Nor did I. Well, you can, and we have several. We’ve also had lots of little messages inside ordinary Christmas cards, from people who want to say that it must be hard; that they’re thinking of us. Not all of them know about my diagnosis – they just know that it’s the first Christmas without my husband, and wanted to tell us that he – and we – are in their thoughts. It may have taken them five seconds to write; it may have taken them several attempts to find the right words. I’ll never know. The point is, though, that they took the time to say something. It matters.
We can all feel lonely at Christmas when it seems as if the rest of the world is being swept along by the excitement, the hysteria, and the figgy fucking pudding. It’s probably mainly bollocks anyway, and in the same way that people only put the edited highlights of their shitty mundane lives on Facebook, these “magical Christmases” are usually the same old crap with people they can barely tolerate, filled with gifts they’ll quietly put on eBay next week, but with an extra portion of pigs in blankets. Knowing they’ve still got their awful bloody families, though, when yours has been ripped apart, is still really hard. In my case, I’m petrified of leaving my husband in 2016. While we still live in the same year, I feel he’s still here. When we move forward, I’ll be condemning him to history, and that’s the last thing I want to do.
If you know someone who has been bereaved, either recently or a long time ago, Christmas and New Year will be a bit tough for them. It just will. If you haven’t sent a card, or a Facebook message, or a text, to say that you’re thinking of them – please, just do it. It will mean the world to them. There’s only one thing worse than saying the wrong thing to someone who’s grieving their way through the tinsel and the sparkly wrapping and the fairy lights. And that’s being too afraid to say anything at all.
Love Fanny x