It was always going to be a different Christmas, with me in the UK with my dear Dad, visiting Mum in the care home, and my family in New Zealand thousands of miles away. Leading up to Christmas Day we were planning how we’d spend the day. My Dad, sister and I all wanted to visit Mum, but the care home had a policy of only two visitors in her room at a time – so we were going to take it in turns, with one of us waiting outside in the car. I had bought Mum a new teddy bear and my sister had bought her a soft blanket. We’d been watching the André Rieu ‘Christmas in London’ DVD with her and had put up some decorations in her room, to give her something different to look at.
Meanwhile hubby, Dan, was sending me sunshine photos from New Zealand, our three daughters preparing for Christmas and celebrations for our daughter Sophie’s 16th birthday.
It was going to be a Christmas with hearts and minds connected over the miles. But as the days in New Zealand grew longer, the days in England were getting shorter. Autumn was rolling into winter and Mum was fading like the light, passing away a few days before winter solstice, on the 17th December. The night before she passed I noticed the little fairy lights I’d put in her room had dimmed. I turned them off, to save the batteries, and made a mental note to return with fresh ones the next day. Only Mum had passed away in her sleep that night and instead of returning with new batteries we returned with boxes to clear out her room.
She had been fading throughout autumn, as the leaves on the large Oak trees in the garden of the house she’d lived for forty two years dropped to the ground. Dad and I had spent hours together raking up the leaves. The day after she passed away there were hardly any left. She’d drifted away as a leaf on the wind.
I went for a walk on winter solstice at sunset and found myself talking to my Mum, imagining her in the air and all around me. The few days after she’d passed away had been spent making funeral arrangements, barely a thought for Christmas.
My Dad, sister and I had planned to visit Winchester on 23rd December, for a performance of Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Ceremony of Christmas Carols’ at Winchester Cathedral, but that was organised before Mum passed away. We’d spent five days coming to terms with her passing, making a start on funeral preparations, paper work and notifying family and friends. Christmas cards were strung up on one side of the living room and on the other was an ever increasing collection of sympathy cards and flowers. In the end we decided we needed a break from it all and decided to go to Winchester. We walked along the crystal clear waters of the River Itchen, taken by surprise as a kingfisher swooped along side us, following the pathway into the historic city.
The Christmas market was on and we recalled fond memories of visiting with Mum. The service at the cathedral was beautiful, with the boy and girl choristers singing, accompanied by the hauntingly soothing sound of a harp. We sat in peaceful reflection, absorbing the music and enjoy some moments of solace.
Christmas came and we spent the evening before talking to Dan and the girls in New Zealand, via a video call, watching them begin their Christmas Day celebrations. There was a beautiful concert on ITV Christmas Eve, with this very touching performance that so many people could relate to. It’s been a hard couple of years for many people, missing loved ones or loved ones passed away.
Our Christmas Day was spent in peaceful reflection. We had Classic FM playing throughout the day, made a start on a jigsaw puzzle and watched the Queen’s speech in the afternoon, after our Christmas dinner – we pulled an extra cracker for Mum. She felt very much with us in spirit, which was something we knew we’d have to slowly adjust to. The Queen’s speech was extremely touching as she spent her first Christmas without her beloved husband.
The following day, Boxing Day, my Dad, sister and I went for a beautiful 8 mile walk in the winter sunshine, carrying the memories of Mum and the many miles she walked in her lifetime in our hearts.
As we walked we thought of Mum being free and no longer trapped in a room, in a bed, with her mind clouded by the tangles of Alzheimer’s disease. The pain of her passing was still very raw and we were missing visiting her, holding her hand and seeing her beautiful blue eyes, but we were also so relieved – for her sake – that she is now at peace.
Grief is difficult to process, it’s a haze of adjustment, looking backwards at all the memories, processing all that has been, in order to step forward, always carrying the person we’ve loved in our hearts and minds.