Death, Christmas and a different sort of day

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Pyre at Christmas

Lying back into Steve’s arms, listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes around a beach fire as new and dear friends danced around in the sand under the starry sky, I smiled and started to think that perhaps Christmas could be okay again.

Then, out of the shadows, appeared a girl crying to one of our friends: “You have to come, quickly, your dog just killed another dog.” The animal I had been stroking just moments before had attacked a holidaymaker’s pet. It died on its owner’s leash. Chaos ensued, tears were shed, and the owners decided to use the beach fire as a pyre for their deceased pet.

Together we built up the flames, and the party became a funeral. For me, this wasn’t the first time that death had come at Christmas. Just three years ago, my Mum died on Christmas Day after years struggling with MS and repeated chest infections. Three weeks later, my Nan died too. The holiday season passed in a blur of tears, heartache, exhaustion and despair. It was the year it snowed heavily in England and while everyone played, I swept the street so the hearse could reach my home.

My Mum, Dad and I on holiday in Ibiza back in the 80s
My Mum, Dad and I on holiday in Ibiza back in the 80s

The following year, as Christmas approached, tunes played and decorations appeared whole months before the day –every bauble and festive scene a reminder of the previous year’s pain. Grief is always present, whatever the time of year, but those days of celebration – birthdays, successes, weddings and anniversaries – have a way of heightening the sorrow.

The big day

Christmas has always been a big deal in my family. My Mum was the youngest of six and every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, the whole family has gathered at Nan’s house to exchange gifts and celebrate the holiday together. It’s always been my job to dress as Mother Christmas and distribute the presents from around the tree. I couldn’t be there in 2009, but I went back the two years since – my Mum, Dad and Nan’s absence felt heavily in the heart. There are lots of children in the family so the mood was lifted by their joy, but it can never be quite the same.

Christmas at home
What Christmas normally looks like at home

This year I decided to stay away for Christmas – partly due to financial reasons, but also to try something different – to take a break from the traditions that no matter how enjoyable in the present will always be laden with loss.

Christmas in San Pancho

Two weeks before the day, a Christmas tree appeared in the plaza next to where I teach yoga. Gratefully, I realized the festive season had arrived weeks, rather than months, ahead of time. Steve and I had originally planned to spend it alone, perhaps treating ourselves to a luxurious stay on a tropical beach, sipping cocktails in a jacuzzi, but in the end we stayed in San Pancho – a place that’s quickly become a home. We’ve been in the village a month and already feel part of the community. The shopkeepers know our names and friends pop round daily. We even have a dog that likes to come and say hello.

Secret Santa time at our house
Secret Santa time at our house

Among our friends, we have the most chairs so it was decided that Christmas would be celebrated at our house with a pot luck lunch and secret santa exchange. What started as nine eventually became 30 and our roof terrace was filled with smiling faces, great food and a statue of baby cheeses.

Although I thought of Mum and Skyped with family, the sun and situation meant that Christmas became something different that day. None of us had our parents with us, our personal traditions were far away, and instead we were enjoying new connections and creating something fresh. It was unrecognizable from any other year.

The best Christmas yet?

Many people who joined us declared it their best Christmas yet, even with the exclamation mark of the dog’s funeral at its end. For me, I could never say that. It was one of the best days I’ve ever had but Christmas abroad felt incomparable to Christmas at home – they are totally different things. It’s what I needed this year and I enjoyed it wholeheartedly, but I won’t be missing the festivities at home all the time – no matter how painful the memories can be.

Family Christmas wishes
My family made and sent these Christmas wishes on Christmas Eve. It made my day.

Ultimately, I was bought up to see Christmas as a time of family. Despite my parents and my Nan having passed, many members still remain. It’s hard for all of us, missing those who aren’t there, but we support one another and, like every other day, try not to dwell too much in grief. My Mum suffered with her illness for a long time, but she was never one to complain. She would smile and say things like “at least I’m not in a war zone”.  Similarly, I may have difficult associations with Christmas, but at least I had an amazing Mum who taught me how to deal with that.

Life can’t exist without death, and that final breath can come at any time. It’s our job to make sure we ensure the ones we do have are worthwhile.

For Mum, who continues to inspire me every day. 

Me under the Christmas tree
Despite the difficulties, Christmas can still be a good time

19 thoughts on “Death, Christmas and a different sort of day”

  1. Wow, after reading Flora’s post about christmas and her mother yesterday and then this today, I feel like I need to give my mom a great big hug.
    Christmas is such a weird and complicated thing isn’t it? I’m lucky to still have my parents but it doesn’t mean the holiday is without weird family dynamics and mixed emotions. It felt nice last year to skip out and have christmas just with Mike in Ecuador.

    • Yep, I think Christmas is a weird one for many people. It’s always fun to try something different, whatever your reason may be. And yes, give your Mum a hug. I think that’s something everyone should do more often.

  2. You’re amazing. I’m glad you managed to enjoy a different sort of Christmas. I love the montage your family made for you too. Hope you have a brilliant New Year’s Eve, I can see 2013 is going to be a great one for you xx

    • Hey Vicky, Thanks for the kind words as ever. I love the montage too! I hope our paths cross again in 2013. Take care, Victoria x

  3. Such a lovely post Victoria and I really like the way you distinguish that whilst your Christmas was great, it wasn’t the ‘best you’d ever had – just different’.
    And as you say – we can’t have life without death though it’s sad you had to experience it at the holidays when the message is all about ‘life and family’ etc.
    My family tradition is usually going to my Auntie’s where there is about 9-11 of us but this year, as I’ve not been well, mum decided to break tradition and keep me home as there were potentially going to be 15 of us and she didn’t think I would cope. So we stayed at home alone…went for a walk in the morning, had a lovely dinner, watched movies together and had some drinks…it was different and I loved it!
    Again, such a nice post!

    • Thank you Toni. I’m pleased you had a lovely Christmas and hope you feel better soon. Your blogs are beautifully honest. Thank you.

  4. I just came across your blog and this post was just beautiful. It is of course unbelievable sad but your optimism and positivity that comes through is beautiful. I was able to spend this Christmas with my Mum after being apart from her last year and it was something I appreciate so much. Hope you have a wonderful 2013!

  5. Wow I can relate to your story very well. My mom Rita passed away Christmas morning in 2002 from cancer. Hospice was there the night before examining her and saying she may not make it through the night. My mom coming from an Irish family LOVED Christmas and even more so if we had a white one here in OH. She too is the youngest, and the youngest of 4. Every year I’d drag the tree and put it up and the 2 of us decorate it. Since then I have not cared for Christmas plus I never had kids (my decision and to add I took care of my parents all through my 20’s) I’m sure me working in customer service with different catalogs don’t help the fact I don’t care for this holiday. So really there are a few factors. Anyway I read your story and wanted to comment my similar experience. Sure over the years it gets a little better. But really there’s only those who have endured this kind of loss who could truly understand this. Take care. And Merry Christmas.

  6. I know this is a relatively old post now but I just wanted to comment and say I’m so sorry about your mum! I actually lost my own mother following her 20 year battle with MS just 5 weeks ago, the day before my little sister’s 15th birthday, and so reading this post quite literally sent shivers down my spine and tears in my eyes.
    I won’t say I know what you’re going/went through because nobody can comprehend, but I imagine you have a fair idea of what I’m about to go through. So I just want to thank you for writing this and making me believe that I will come out the other end of this, as you already have.

    • Hi Rhiannon, Thank you so much for your comment. And I’m so sorry to hear about your Mum. Like you, I won’t say I know what you’re going through, but you’re right, I do have an idea. It’s a difficult road ahead and sometimes it’ll feel like it’s never-ending, but believe me, it will become bearable eventually. For now, just let yourself feel all the things you need to. Sending love xxx
      P.S. It’s quite an amazing coincidence that you came across this blog post, plus I think you’re in Wales and I’m in Bristol. Let me know if you’re ever in the city and you fancy meeting for a tea.

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