It’s the Most Wonderful Time of Year…Until it is Not
As I try and find a moment this week when my children are not glued (superglued) to my side, in order to simply wrap their Christmas presents, I remember what the lead up to Christmas used to look like. I tend not to look back at what used to be, because I have little interest in being consumed by grief. That is not to say that I don’t acknowledge my pain, sometimes many times a day, but I just know that finding light and hope works better for me. But then comes the Christmas and New Year season and its *joy ‘BEEP-ing’ joy* – ChickPea yells BEEP in all swear words in songs.
Christmas and New Years celebrations are pain and joy smashed together, coated in sugar and drowned in champagne. This whole season, where beautiful and awful co-exist, is just so hard and anyone who is grieving will know only too well the experience of fixing a smile (of sorts) to ones face, attending *all of the things* and just trying to stay afloat in a sea of sadness. So at this time of year I do allow myself to sit with the sadness of having no one but me to wrap the presents and write the cards.
Before he was a town planner, Dan was an offset printer and his ability to wrap presents and deal with cards, ribbons and *stationery in general* was epic. He had a particular fondness for a weight of paper I now sadly can’t remember, but it is fair to say that he was very particular in the way he wrapped presents and wrote on cards with only his engraved pen (which I have since lost), and I was happy to leave this to him. This year I am going to try and write on cards for ChickPea and PudStar. Since Dan’s death I’ve only been able to write their names on gift tags stuck to the presents because ‘love from mummy’ is way too hard to write when my hand naturally writes ‘love from mummy and daddy’. In fact, the first Christmas without Dan I didn’t even bother with gift cards – I scrawled names on presents in thick black Sharpie #thehorror. Why oh why was I so hell bent on not doing the whole Santa thing?! Dan was totally keen on gifts being from Santa (‘the magic of Christmas Megan! You’re such a grinch Megan!’) but I argued long and hard that ‘children need to know we are the suckers that sourced the gifts, paid for them and gave them with love. Also…Santa is creepy and our children will never be sitting on some strange red mans lap…just so you know Dan’. Despite Dan having a tin full of Santa photos from his own childhood, he complied. I thought I knew so much back then about the ‘right’ way to do things in order to raise well-adjusted children.
Losing my brother, my favourite aunt and my husband in a few short years has rather made Christmas something to be endured. We tried to go to Bali for Christmas the year Dan and my aunt died mere weeks apart – but there was a volcanic eruption in Bali – of course there was! We switched our tickets to Noumea at the last minute because none of us could bear the thought of Christmas at home without Susie and Dan. While the French bakeries were epic and the weird mash up of French and Island culture was fascinating, we ended up on an island with hundreds of deadly sea snakes literally everywhere – of course we did! A dear friend of mine who has a particularly wicked sense of humour has let me know that she’ll probably never walk into a church with me as God is sure to strike us down. I started writing this post yesterday, and a tree from the neighbours garden fell ON MY HOUSE. Of course it did! I am now writing this to the dulcet sounds of a tree loper wielding a chainsaw and stomping around on my roof. The neighbours were mortified of course and sent me very nice flowers – I just keep reassuring them that I found the whole thing rather amusing as it was the least of my worries. It is a very good thing I have a sense of humour – black as the darkest night style humour. I also have a very tight circle of friends who also appreciate dark humour and sometimes the texts we send late into the night are epic.
I tend to take myself off social media at this time of year as it’s just too hard to see intact, happy families. Of course those families should post those beautiful pictures and I want them to – there is so much devastation in the world right now, we need all the happy family snaps we can get. I also understand that social media is only the highlights reel of ones life. I mean my social media looks like my life is full of music gigs, book launches and small people reading happily – which for people who have dedicated non-reading small people is, I’m sure, as hard to see as me looking at pictures of intact families. We all have our battles and we’re all just doing our best.
If grief is your companion this Christmas and New Year season, just know that there are, or will be, pinpricks of light in the darkness. I promise the light is there but I’m also not going to say anything naff like ‘just look for the light and you’ll find it’ because, frankly, I want to slap people that reduce my reality to a ridiculous throwaway line meant to soothe. When you are deeply grieving, you don’t have to do a thing. You just have to exist. You just have to breath. The light eventually just seeps back in if you sit and wait long enough. For so long grief was like a heavy blanket around my entire being and I thought I would never, ever be okay again and my children would certainly never, ever be okay and the whole thing was just Not Okay. Granted it wasn’t okay, but now I look at us and mostly think ‘we’re doing okay’. Grief is now less a heavy woollen blanket and more a soft silk (preferably sustainable Indian silk) that floats around me, sometimes close and brushing my face and other times way above me giving me space to breath.
I don’t have any wise words of advice or simple answers, only my own story – this post here has snippets of advice and lots of must-have books on grief. The stories of others have helped me so very much and I share mine in the hope that they do the same, even for just one person. I explained to a group of small children at my workshop at Indooroopilly Library yesterday that a blog was a personal diary that you shared online with the whole world. As their faces squished up in expressions of ‘well that’s just weird’ I had a moment of realisation and thought to myself ‘gosh it is a bit weird’. I don’t know why I write a blog…I really don’t. It’s probably self-indulgent of me to even share my story in such a public way, but I don’t do it to garner sympathy or support – I think I do it because stories, of both the beautiful and awful, make the world go round. I think I just like stories and so I blog to add my story to the millions of other stories out there. It’s a unique and lonely journey, but I found immense solace in reading the stories of others in the online space. My ‘favourite writings on grief’ (there’s a cheery term to search!) are:
Emma Grey: Emma is a YA author (see here) but also a widow who posts about grief unbelievably eloquently on her private FB page and in Her Canberra. We have finally met IRL and she was as excellent IRL as online.
Lisa King: Lisa would have no idea how much her blog has helped me through some of the worst times. For many, many months it was all I read.
DC Widow: Marjorie lives on the other side of the world but her words have so echoed so many of my own thoughts, fears and silent howls.
Just a Dad: I’ve never met Chris but he says all of the things I want to say but am too polite to say. I am a librarian after all…
My own ramblings on grief are summed up (sort of) here.
Now I shall get back to parenting – PudStar has gone from a stomach virus to bronchitis – this is my actual life – of course it is!
Thank you for reading my words this year. Thank you for your support of Children’s Books Daily. Thank you for loving ‘Raising Readers’ and posting photos of it all over social media. I cannot adequately express in words how much my online tribe means to me. I hope you feel loved and safe throughout this Christmas and New Year season. If this is your first year without someone you deeply love – you’ll be okay. Promise. You just need to breath. See you on the flipside…