Christmas is a time to think of loved ones and to miss those who are no longer with us.

I lost my Mum in 2009 and my Dad in 2012. I seem to have moved to that stage of grief where you enjoy the memories so much that the pain is almost cancelled out.

Christmas at home. I miss it. I was the baby of the family by 16 years and for many of my childhood years my two brothers lived elsewhere as young adults.

I loved the magic of Christmas and coming down and finding all the presents. There was always a huge pile. Weirdly I remember very few of them – the doll’s house my Dad’s friends made and a doll that tumbled after hours of Dad trying to get it to work. I got to open my presents first as we always did it in age order. The gifts were piled on chairs rather than under the tree.

The tree was the same one every year with decorations going back to the start of Mum and Dad’s marriage in 1950. It was a green and silver affair that always went up on my birthday with me seeing it as the treat of year to decorate it. It was also my job to put up the Christmas cards. I took both of these tasks incredibly seriously. Things had to be just so – an example would be some system that meant a Nativity Scene was followed by a robin was followed by a snowman and so on. I am sure nobody else card but I did.

My uncle bought me this marvellous Nativity set in a lovely pale wood. I loved arranging the figures and that Jesus was not put in his manger but miraculously appeared by Christmas morning.

Church was a huge part of Christmas whether Midnight or morning mass. Mum dressed me up as if I was a doll and I once famously caught fire when I got too near the candles in my fur coat.

I got used to waiting for a knock of the door on Christmas Eve. Often there would be a family drama with someone turning up in a crisis that my Mum and Dad would sort out. You just hoped that two warring family members would not both turn up with their tales of woe at the same time.

My brothers would come for Christmas although my oldest did not always do so and this broke Mum’s heart. It is always strange how the one who absents themselves seems the most loved of all. My Uncle would arrive in his sheepskin coat with presents wrapped in gold, silver, red and green shiny paper. His were always the best wrapped and the most unusual as he lived in London and travelled overseas a lot too.

Drink would flow. My family always had a drinks cabinet with a whole host of stuff in it including gin, dark rum, brandy and Dimple. Dad was well respected in the business world so used to arrive with bottles from organisations throughout December. My parents were not really wine drinkers till later in life. Sherry was the first tipple of the day and as I got older I liked the tradition of trying it in a special glass whilst not really enjoying the taste.

Mum spent most of her time running in and out of the kitchen. As a cook by trade, she loved showing just what she could do at this special time of year. If I am honest I think we were guilty of leaving her to it. Several years later, she downed tools so that she too could enjoy Christmas and we started dining out on Christmas Day. I have always admired her for that.

What do I actually remember of the lunch? I always had Heinz tomato soup as a starter by request. I can’t remember much of the main course apart from sprouts which I loved then and now. I was never a fan of real carrots, bread sauce or Christmas pudding all of which you had to eat at Christmas.

In the afternoon, there would be lots of playing with cards and draughts, sometimes chess. I remember getting Operation and that causing a lot of hilarity.

I think it is interesting to reflect on what I miss about Christmas at home.

1. The things that were the same every year from the brown soup bowls to the oval plates and the pink and white tureens filled with vegetables.

2. My plastic stocking with pictures of Christmas trees on it. This came out every year and there was always a coin at the bottom of it. I went mad when Mum did not put it up the year I started university.

3. I miss how Mum would go wild spray painting Honesty gold and silver as decorations.

4. I really miss that feeling of a community where generations had lived for years so people knew not only each other but also family histories. There was a sense that people knew where they fit. I think we lose that when we leave our home towns. I often question whether I might have been happier staying put. For us the community revolved around the Irish Nash Club, the Parochial Hall, church and the school.

5. I liked how I would be teased in little ways like when my brothers and uncle convinced me that the lemonade they gave me was actually a gin and tonic.

6. I miss the table and its white tablecloth with patterns in embroidered by my Mum.

7. I miss standing together in church as a family and how my Mum loved the carol “In the Bleak Mid Winter” and how we both loved “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”

8. I miss how daft Mum and Dad could be so we had so much laughter and fun interspersed with the odd drama to keep things interesting.

9. I miss how Mum always banned us watching the Queen’s speech.

10. I miss the days around Christmas. Boxing Day often found us at the coast with biscuit tins full of sausage rolls and Mum bringing a bottle of brandy out of her handbag to add to our coffees to warm us up. I miss going to see Auntie Margaret, Uncle Cyril and Sean and how Mum used to secretly enjoy how Margaret never could do the kitchen stuff anywhere near as good as Mum.

I find it enlightening that I do not remember the presents really but rather the time put into making them. I miss the people, the love and the laughter. How quickly it is gone. How naïve we are about that which is why it is so important to make great memories and ongoing traditions. And let’s look after Mums at Christmas who usually drive themselves into the ground to make it just as perfect they can.

I was such a lucky girl. And I realise as I write this that one day one of my children will also be remembering our Christmases and how the best things of all were the things we did every year or the things that cost nothing.

I will round this off with a little conversation between me and Him Indoors on Christmas Day.

Me “You are daft you are”

Him “So are you – that is why it works!”

Dear Dad

It is your birthday today.  87 years since you came along to Harriet and Charlie.

I thought I would check in with you.  Can we take it as read that you have port, mustard, honey and a good book to read?  I may well have cake with the children tonight to honour you and let’s face it, it is always any excuse for a tea party here.  Perhaps we should go to the sea this evening.

So we have moved and keep passing places that you were in when serving in the Royal Navy in the forties.  I feel certain that you have brought me here for a reason but am not yet clear on what that is.  I like the countryside down here and the sea of course.

It feels that I am getting a little more freedom as the children get older.  I still rail against how all the drudgery type stuff seems to fall on women.  I understand mum more and more every day.  I hope it all changes before my daughter grows up but I fear it won’t.

I am going to do some voluntary work in the local town after the school holidays.  I wish that opportunities had an aura round them so you knew which choices are the right ones. I wish people were the same so you could identify potential friends easily.

Him Indoors is doing OK.  Still has a more than a touch of the Victor Meldrews but you know what he is like.

Luke is doing well in his new school, one of the very best parts of us moving.  I think he can thrive here.  It is a bit of a shock that he is nearly 14 and has chosen his options.  It all suddenly seems very grown-up stuff and I don’t even feel grown up myself yet half the time.  He is turning into a man with all that entails and frankly it terrifies me.  How can I hold onto that sweet natured boy we know and love?

Laura is having a difficult time.  She is so very unhappy at her new school and wants to leave.  I certainly don’t want her to stay there is it is going to make her miserable every day.  That is no way to live a life.  I have had a meeting at school today and have asked for another.  She is shy and sensitive but also bolshy like me and Mum so is having her say in perhaps less than ideal ways which is not going down at all well.  I wish you were here so we could talk it through. You always had wise words and made me think there was a way forward whatever the challenges.

Louis is his usual self, taking things in his stride, trying new things and seizing every day.  He made me laugh today when Laura was refusing to go to school saying that you would say it was “not on”.  He remembers you so well.  As I write your memoirs, I see similarities in your natures, that ability to take on the world and to get on with things.

I am feeling a bit old.  I think some of that comes when you lose your parents.  I guess I am next!  I am not sleeping well at all waking up every hour most nights.  I need to get healthy eating and exercise in place and stop messing about.  I have the usual ambitions and still procrastinate way too much.  I annoy myself so much.  Always talking, never doing.  Still trying to get things right, be vaguely good at something and so on.

News you will love is I am going on holiday with our Charles to France.  I asked him as I felt it was about time he got back to holidaying.  He misses you Dad. Obviously I love the idea of getting away too.  Nobody gets the missing you as much as he does.  We are going for just a few days and if that works, perhaps we can look at a longer break in the future.  We are taking our Luke and I am going to try to get him to use his French.

Oh, here I go, getting all tearful imagining us going out for lunch today and then returning with treats of eclairs or scones.  And then the children would sing to you and we would eat the cake.  Happy days – much missed.

Happy Birthday Dad.

Even if I cannot hear your voice and all that.

Make what comes next a bit clearer to me please.

Cath x

 

 

 

What I learned at BritMums Live 2014.

I was keen to be in room 4 for all the workshops on offer at BritMums Live. I want to become a published writer. I know that video is probably the way forward but have bottled it to date. I know I could do more to understand technical issues.

I understand the speakers themselves and/or BritMums will be sharing the lessons from the individual workshops but these are the things I picked up that I hope will help me move forwards this year.

1. It is not unusual to put off writing when you love writing. You must find ways to actually write if you are to be successful. Some ideas will just come to you but others will take more work and people-watching.

2. You have to approach a literary agent in a business-like manner making it obvious with your first line and a few chapters on why they should take you on. Being different will help. You may need to be flexible and not react aggressively if agents and publishers suggest changes to your first manuscript.

3. Video is possible however inexperienced you are. You should experiment and see what works best. You can try things out on your family first before taking the leap into letting the general public or your blog readers in on the act. Keep videos short and engaging and don’t forget you can edit them. Be aware of the distracting mess in your background – oh that’s just my rubbish housework standards then! Just as in blogging, you are allowed to be you and to vlog it your way. There is good equipment that can help and there are generous spirits like @nigelcamp who are keen to share their tips.

4. You can acquire free pictures to use on your blog and thereby avoid allegations of photo theft.

5. Self-publishing is much more accessible and affordable than every before. I came away determined to write and publish an e-book and to see where that journey takes me.

6. You don’t need to be scared of the tech stuff – you just need a kind soul to explain it to you. Some of it is really important. I was not doing quite a lot of it! For me, it is always about the words but I have realised I neglect tech stuff to my peril.

7. Niche blogging can lead to success. I know this is true and plan a niche blog sometime this year. Having said that, I have managed to find work, readers and awards without having a particular niche apart from the life and times of a moody, middle-aged mum. I think sometimes being you works best and only you have the niche on that one! They say cream rises to the top and I think good content and genuine hearts do too.

8. I was reminded by Emma Freud that anything is possible if you work hard enough, use your creativity and resourcefulness and sometimes blag it a bit too.

9. Benjamin Brooks-Dutton described so well how very complex and fascinating journeys of grief can be. I agree that laughter is as much a part of it as the tears. Our lost loved ones must always be our lips.

10. The bloggers’ keynotes reminded me that life is a series of big ups and deep downs for lots of us. So many work miracles all the time. Let’s celebrate strong characters who keep on keeping on in good times and bad.

So as ever at BritMums Live, I learned things I did not know, I gained practical tips to move me forwards and I left humbled and that bit better in myself than last year.

So we have moved. I was so giddy about the move but right now I am just not feeling it in terms of being positive. I hate this in myself but I hope blogging it out will help.

Maybe I have relocation stress syndrome.

I think I am a bit battered and bruised by the last year. So much bad luck in recent months, one thing after another. I remember feeling a bit this way after I was royally dumped on by my ex boyfriend. Not quite trusting that anything good can turn up after so much angst. I also realise that people have far bigger problems than those we have faced so I start feeling guilty for not counting my blessings.

We did the move ourselves surrounded by pets and children so it was not the easiest and we moved hundreds of miles too so it was a bit of a challenge all round. We don’t have a ready support network of friends and relatives to help. My brother said how Mum and Dad would have pitched in to help and I am reminded as ever of how much I miss them. It bothers me that they will not visit this house tumbling in with bags of sweets and toys for the children and outfits for me that I would probably not want to wear. That’s the thing with grief – you even miss the bits that used to wind you up.

The new house is nice enough. I was relieved as I agreed to take it without seeing it. It is smaller so less of my hated housework and gardening. The neighbours have spoken to us but I know from experience sometimes they are not friendly but merely checking you out. The area is beautiful but the town/village is a bit spread out so there will be a long school run which appeals to me not one bit. We know there is space for the children in local schools but are waiting for confirmation on start dates.

I do feel at home in the house but the town/village feels like a stranger as does the area generally. It is not a county I know and I feel bit lost. I remain isolated too but that is nothing new. I think I am a person that people just generally do not take to for whatever reason.

The children went out and made friends in the street on the first day we were here. My husband has work colleagues. And then there is me.

I hope to change the isolation but that will be a bit easier once the children are in school and I can look into local opportunities for volunteering, study or whatever.

It is rotten but I put a lot of work into holding things together in the last year. Trawling job sites, helping with job applications, trawling accommodation sites, trying to tell everyone it would be OK when I was not sure of that myself.

We have ventured out about 4 times in the last week to eat or to check out the shops. It has been OK and sometimes fun but yet I sense something is missing.

It seems to me I have spent the whole of the year trying to sort stuff out and I would just like a period where I can relax and enjoy myself a bit.

Relocation Stress Syndrome

I am not down as such.

I just feel a bit fed up and want to get out the various frustrations out of my system. Blogging always helps me deal with my feelings and sometimes work out what to do next too.

I am miffed that having helped loads with the great job search for my husband, he has started the new life but myself and the children are left behind. I know it has to be this way but I still don’t like it much particularly when I think about all the adventures waiting for us once we can manage to get moved.

He has come home for weekends. It is good to see him but also feels odd as I am already developing my own ways of doing things. I sense we are both less patient with the other person’s flaws having lived without them for the first time in many years. This may be good in the long run but that impatience is hard to contend with when dealing with limited hours together.

There is also that bit that always spoils Christmas Day a little that there seems to be so much resting on it. You have planned and looked forward to it so you have to make it extra special regardless of realities like not feeling well, having a fall or whatever. Plus we have all the practical things to discuss and sort out.

I am also fed up that no matter how much housework I do, it mushrooms at such a speed and needs doing all over again. I try to put systems in place but to be honest I don’t really want to do housework every day but know that it is vital to keep on top of things. I still can’t work out why the woman all too often ends up with this as her role despite others living in the house. I am well aware that makes me a bad wife and mother in some people’s eyes but I am probably at core a very selfish person.

The grief thing keeps coming up particularly as I go through a lot of Mum and Dad’s things as I attempt to declutter knowing a move is coming up. I am alright. Life goes on. Time does ease things a bit but there is this angry voice inside that says loud and clear that I do not like life as much without my parents in it. It feels like crossing an ocean and realising there is no way back.

I am getting older. I have not done much with my life really and that frustrates me. I get annoyed at myself because if somebody is to change things, it will have to me but sometimes I can’t even remember what my hopes and dreams were or are now.

Even blogging is under question for me right now. What is the point bleating on? It makes me feel better but does it actually help me move forward. Then I question why am always wanting to strive and move forward. Perhaps I should just learn a level of self-acceptance.

Fundamentally, I wish life came with a manual because sometimes I really don’t get it at all.

And yes I am OK – not depressed – just frustrated and a bit sad about some things.