2 days ago it was the first anniversary of my dad’s passing. It loomed ahead in my calendar – unmarked and yet highlighted in my mind. I decided to tackle it with my usual pragmatism. After all, we’d got through the first Christmas only a few days after he’d passed, life has moved on and yes, the grief still comes in waves, but they are far less frequent or overwhelming. My dad was 89 when he died. He’d had numerous challenges in his life (as you might expect for a pioneering Pakistani who came to the UK in the 50s and married a white woman) but the last 30 or so years at least had been pretty good, loving and comfortable and he’d been well cared for in his final days.
More than anything, I knew that I had to be there for my mum. She’s been amazing and I have nothing but admiration for her – but losing your partner of 60 years is never going to be easy and she has a fondness for nostalgia. So I’d made a plan. A gentle day with the girls, dressing the tree and a simple lunch out at a local café. Low key and forward looking.
But I wasn’t prepared.
I wasn’t prepared for the nightmare about not being able to find him a couple of days before, or for the dark dreams spent searching for my children in the aftermath. I wasn’t prepared for the heaviness, an energetic weight that has made everything else this month just a little bit harder than it needed to be.
And I really wasn’t prepared for the gut-punch that came at the end of the day with the realisation that having got through this day was insignificant – that the markers are meaningless. Getting through a day, a month, a year is nothing in comparison to understanding that gone really does mean gone; that there will be no more hugs and shared crosswords and arguments about whether there really is life after death.
I am glad that this day has passed. The weight has lifted and I feel lighter, even though my sorrow has revisited and stayed. I am, in all honesty, more nervous about this Christmas without him than I was last year when I was in the midst of “pulling myself together” about it all.
I know that I am not alone. That there are thousands of you who feel the same.
For whom, amidst the festivities, sharing and happiness with those who remain, there is an invisible but very present space in at the table, a dearth of small but handpicked gifts and an imposter in their favourite chair – whose genuine smile and laughter is dulled by a weight in the pit of your stomach.
I want you to know that I see you.
Whether you have physically lost someone or grieving the loss of a relationship or job. For those of you whose chemotherapy trips continue or who drive loved ones there and sit with them whilst it’s going on. For those of you whose years have been tough, who have battled depression or addiction, poverty, abuse or illness.
I see you.
I see your attempts to cope, not to bring others down, even to celebrate with others whilst all the time battling dread and fear.
You are not alone.
And whether you are meeting one of life’s challenges for the first time, or dealing with its aftermath – this is not forever. This may be part of your story – but your story is not over. This too shall pass. Maybe it will never go completely – I think loss changes you forever – but as we pass through the winter’s solstice, we can remember that the light will shine again. It gets stronger and so do you. The time will come when these challenges dim and your enjoyment of life grows.
Here’s to you. Each and everyone of you. You are amazing and you’re doing ok.
With love, at Christmas and always.