Throughout my life, I’ve almost always been with my parents at Christmas time.
In common with many people, I spent all the Christmases of my childhood with my family. When I was at university, I always came back home to see them. And then when I was living in London in my twenties, and my mum and dad separated for a few years, I would be with my mother at Christmas, and my dad and siblings would come around too.
When my parents were in their 60s and 70s (having long since reconciled) they had what Mum once described as the best time of their marriage. Christmas 1990 was particularly memorable for them because they were in Australia with my aunt and cousins―alas, I was in London with a viral infection, laid low for 3 weeks. My ex-husband made Christmas dinner for himself and his friend, and I couldn’t eat a thing.
A couple of times I spent Christmas somewhere more exotic than dull December in England– once with a boyfriend in Corsica, and in 2007 I spent a freezing 3 days with a friend in Prague; I haven’t been as cold before or since, but we found a terrific bar which played Aerosmith and where they served amazingly cheap brandy!
Everything changed for our family in 2008, when my mother developed Alzheimer’s―this was the beginning of 4 very difficult years for my dad; it’s not easy to suddenly become a carer when you are in your eighties. I went to see them every Christmas, but as far as Mum was concerned it might have been midsummer; her perception of time and place was one of the first things to go. Life is almost always very tense when you live with a person who has Alzheimer’s because their moods can vary between aggressive, frightened, argumentative and even violent, and you can’t always reassure and calm them.
In 2012 Mum went into a nursing home, the delightful Westgate House which we chose with great care. For the next 5 years I would always go and spend Christmas with my dad – unlike my siblings, I wasn’t married and had no children, so it was easy for me to do so. We’d visit Mum, but of course she didn’t understand it was Christmas Day.
I loved those quiet Christmases with Dad―up early to go to Communion at the lovely local church, home to open a few presents and telephone relatives, lunch, visit Mum, then Christmas dinner that we’d planned earlier, usually ordered and collected from Waitrose or M&S. Then an evening of Morecambe and Wise, or possibly Inspector George Gently or Last of the Summer Wine.
Dad’s idea of pushing the boat out was to buy a large bar of Green & Black’s chocolate to share over 5 days; my parents, having been teenagers in WWII, still had the attitude that one mustn’t be self-indulgent―I’m the only person I know who habitually lost weight over Christmas! There was something I loved about the safety and predictability of it all, and I told Dad that, as long as he was still around, I would always spend Christmas with him. Now and again, I would think about how lovely it would be to go away somewhere, to a really nice hotel, maybe even abroad; I asked Dad if he’d like to go away for Christmas, because he loved hotels, but he said he didn’t like to leave Mum, even though he knew it was all the same to her, and she was well looked after.
In September 2017, Dad died suddenly. 2 years later, I still feel an enormous hole in my life, and I miss him terribly. Exactly 18 months later, Mum died peacefully in her care home. I had visited her there for the 2 Christmases before, and last December she recognised me and gave me the most wonderful smile, which is one of my most treasured memories.
And now, of course, I can travel anywhere in the world the fancy takes me for Christmas – apart from the one place I really want to be.
Me and my family 1994