When there is no normal.

There’s never a good time for bad things to happen. There are, however, worse times than others for them to happen. Christmas is one of those times. Everything is geared towards families spending time with their loved ones. Everyone sat round the tree exchanging gifts. Crackers being pulled at the table. The whole family. Nothing shows the harsh reality of a family that can’t be together. Rarely is it shown that some people have worked tirelessly in the run up to the big day, or in fact that someone might not be there due to the fact they are still at work, doctors, nurses, police…. Never is it shown that families may not be complete at Christmas because of a family member passing away.
This is my second Christmas without my sister. Growing up, Christmases consisted of visiting one set of Grandparents and usually having the other Grandad over for Christmas dinner with my parents, my sister and I. My sister and I always giggled at Grandad falling asleep after eating. When Grandad passed away it was a change for us all. As we grew older, and I left the family home and then my sister also left home, we started to do our own thing on Christmas day with our own families, but one tradition remained. We all saw each other on Christmas morning, kids and all.
Christmas Day 2013 was the last time I saw my sister. My last memory of her is thankfully a funny story that I’d like now to share. My sister and I shared a love for Matt Cardle, who won the UK X Factor in 2010. In 2013, I was lucky enough to meet him. With a renewed love for him, my sister leant me her copy of Matt’s winners story book. I was busy at work in the run up to Christmas and didn’t get round to reading it. She kept asking for it back and I kept laughing it off and joking that I was gonna keep it. On Christmas eve, I said to my son that I was going to wrap it up and give it back to his Auntie and pretend it was her main present. Silly. But our family down to a tee. So, on Christmas morning we were all round at my parents. We were taking it in turns to open presents. When it got to my turn, my sister gave me mine. Opening it, I saw she’d managed to get me a copy of the very same Matt Cardle book she’d leant to me. How I managed to keep a straight face, I’ll never know. She’d managed to track one down on eBay for me and made a point of saying that I now had no excuse not to return her copy. It made what was about to happen even funnier. So, my turn to give a present. I made a huge speech about how this present for my sister had taken a lot of thought, it was a special present from me to her. When she opened it, her face was a picture. She didn’t need to say anything and the whole family laughed. To anyone reading this, I guess you had to be there. For our family, this tickled our sense of humour. It was set to be a story we’d talk about every Christmas. Little did we know that three days later, my sister would leave us all. Where’s the TV advert that shows that scenario? I know I’m not the only person on the planet to lose a family member, but no one talks about the pain of going into a card shop to buy the families Christmas cards and seeing the sister ones when you no longer have to buy one. Trust me, it’s hard. I can’t imagine how my mum feels when buying just the one daughter card. I wouldn’t talk about it, apart from right now in this blog, but it gets me every time. You hear that time is a healer. I’m not sure how much time is meant to heal but clearly two years is not enough. This year I have buried my head in the sand and let Christmas creep up on me. I worked 9 days in a row before Christmas Day. Work was being difficult with my requests about having just a couple of days off together, not to celebrate, but to be there for the ones that needed me. Not for myself. My own enjoyment of Christmas was not even a concern. I didn’t ask for a single present. There was nothing “physical” I wanted. I wanted some kind of “normal” Christmas for my son, equal time spent between two now separate families. And I wanted to be there for my parents if they needed me. Most of all, I wanted them to see that I was ok. Earlier this year, my son broke my heart by asking my mum if I was going to go the same way as his auntie. He asked this because her marriage had also broke up and she was stressed. With my shop closing down and the exhaustion of covering other stores for three months, I think my son saw me at my worst. This completely flipped my world upside down. I needed to show my strength. The only way I could do that was by pretending Christmas wasn’t a big deal. Almost pretending it wasn’t even coming. Hence, buried my head in the sand. Silently took note of the things my son said he wanted. Didn’t feel the slightest bit Christmassy. Christmas was never going to be normal. My closest friends and work mates know everything that’s been going through my mind as I can’t hide my emotions to those who see the most of me. My face gives me away every time. However, I was determined not to let my parents or son know how I was feeling. Being able to talk to my girls and for them to talk sense and reason into me helped tremendously. The new relationship that started for me in August came at exactly the right time. I’d met someone who didn’t know me the previous two Christmases. Of course he’s been told, but the only version of me that he knows is the one that’s been through the crap and come out the other side. He has nothing to compare me against. No previous experience of what I was like before the very real realisation that life is too short.
So, going into Christmas day was a mix of emotions. As a mother, I was waking up to my son for the first time in three mornings as he’d spent quality time with his Dad in the run up to the big day, and I had to be ok. As a daughter, I had to make my Mum and Dad feel proud of me and more importantly, laugh. As an Auntie I had to see my gorgeous three nephews and hide the hurt of their Mum not being there to see them rip open presents. As a girlfriend, I hid the disappointment of my partner being changed to a late shift on Christmas eve meaning we wouldn’t see each other, and then feel the elation getting a text on Christmas Day saying he’d see me that evening. As a sister…… I’m writing this blog as a nod to her. She’s not here to share the hidden pain that I know everyone in my family was feeling. If we were filmed for a TV advert geared towards Christmas, you would certainly think we were all happy and enjoying ourselves. If I’m honest, we all did, but we also each had our “off camera moments” that the others didn’t see. Mine happened first thing Christmas morning, before my parents picked us up to go see my nephews. The fact remains that there is no normal anymore. At a time when we should be celebrating all those that we hold dear, we are instead, helping each other to get through the fact that someone is missing without even realising it. In two days time it will be two years since my sister passed away. Every month there is a “memory milestone” for us to overcome, but the anniversary will always be the hardest. This will happen every year. Time won’t heal. We’ll all just get better at preparing ourselves for it.


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