We’re always told Christmas is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year – but that simply isn’t true for so many people, and I include myself in that group. I am lucky to have a close and loving family, but I lost my dad on New Year’s Eve, 2019 and it still feels very difficult. I miss him terribly, especially at Christmas.
My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2019. One of the first questions he asked the respiratory oncologist was if he’d get to see his first great-grandchild – due the following February; the consultant said they would do all they could to ensure he did. We dearly hoped he’d make it, but he didn’t, and it broke my heart. Dad had a routine appointment with the practice nurse at his GP surgery and she suggested he have a flu jab. Dad had never had flu in his life, and he had never had a flu jab, so this was his first one. A few days later, he collapsed due to a reaction to the flu jab and ended up in hospital. He had IV antibiotics and was discharged a few days later. He couldn’t wait to get out! However, he collapsed again, and was once more rushed into hospital, onto the men’s respiratory ward. This was at the beginning of December and he never left. He died on New Year’s Eve, with just me at his bedside. It was, without a doubt, the most heart-breaking time of my life (but one that I would not hesitate to do again), to see a parent you love die in front of your eyes, for them to take their last breath with you in their presence. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through it would understand. When my dad’s breathing stopped, I called out to him, ‘Dad, Dad’, and he started breathing again, then a few seconds later, his breathing stopped again. Once again, I said ‘Dad, Dad’, and he started breathing again, but I suddenly realised it was time for him to go, and for me to let him go. I kissed him on the forehead, told him I loved him and not to worry, the family would all look after each other. I felt as though my heart had been physically ripped out of my chest and what was left was a gaping wound.
Five weeks later, Jessica, his great-granddaughter was born, with me still grief-stricken. My daughter-in-law, Anzhelika, is Ukrainian and she had no family whatsoever in the UK at the time of Jessica’s birth, so I moved in with her and my son for a few days after she left hospital to help take care of them. I slept with Jessica so that Anzhelika could get some rest. I would get up in the middle of the night to feed her, and I would talk to her and tell her how much I missed my dad, my eyes streaming tears, and her eyes would fix on mine, and this calmed me. Holding her warm little body next to mine, my heart ached for Dad and the fact he never got to meet her. Spending time with Jessica helped heal me after his death, and she still has this effect over three years later. She has brought such joy back into my heart, even though there isn’t a day that passes when I don’t think about my dad.
I want to share this story because while Christmas is portrayed as a happy time, it isn’t that way for everyone – it can be a tough time too. Christmas can bring back memories of Christmases past. I remember the happy Christmases spent as a child with my parents. Since Dad’s passing, whenever I hear any of his favourite songs on the radio, I can’t stop the tears streaming down my face. Dad always came to us for Christmas, and we loved his dry sense of humour. It’s tough not having him there to join the celebrations now. Each year gets a little easier, but when I look at Jessie growing up, I see my dad in her features and in her character, and this makes me smile – I know that my heart will mend; it will just take a little more time.
If, like me, you spend Christmas without a loved one, then my heart goes out to you. Over time, I hope that Christmas (and other special occasions that bring families together) can take on new meaning, as a way to honour those we have lost and celebrate the happiness we shared with them. I am lucky to have Jessie to help me do that.
Please remember to look after yourself, and to go easy on yourself if you find it a struggle during these times. Remember that there is no right way to celebrate Christmas and other family occasions. If you are not prepared to celebrate, remember that it’s perfectly okay not to.
However you decide to mark Christmas or any other family occasion, I wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy and relaxing time.