Tag Archive | Christmas

Its the most wonderful* time of the year..(*Difficult)

6th November 1974- 28th December 2013

Every year this is it. Since 2013, I have dreaded the run up to Christmas. A time of cheer for most people. 

6th November is when the build up starts. Almost two months of not knowing how I’m going to feel one day to the next. 

6th November 2017 was my sisters 43rd birthday. 

Except she wasn’t here to celebrate it with us. Instead, she’s permanently stuck at 39 years and a little under two months old. The age she was when she passed away on December 28th 2013. Those of you following my blog know the story. After seeing her happy and well on Christmas Day, three days later she was gone. Suddenly and without warning. This is the fourth birthday she’s not been here with us. Each year I feel the need to write something. They say that time is a healer. Time hasn’t changed the way this day makes me feel. It has however, changed the way I deal with it. 

The night before, I signed off social media for 24 hours. Not only as a mark of respect, but because I couldn’t handle seeing people post birthday wishes on my sisters timeline. I didn’t want them not to post. I’m not offended by them. Its quite the opposite. I’m proud that my sister was such a loved person, that people still want to pay their respects in such a universally accepted way. So many people, all over the country, have held my beautiful sister, and myself and our family too, in their thoughts. I did read the messages, but the following day. Not on the day. Its also not because I didn’t want to cry. I cry too easily at the best of times. I didn’t want to see them because I didn’t want to see it in black and white that so many people are hurting that she’s not here. I still question how and why she had to go. My sister was a kinder, more gentle and loving soul than me. I’m no saint, my sister was. Hated conflict, not a bad bone in her body and loved hard. Probably too much. She was selfless and never put herself first even when we told her she should. 

I took the day off work, as I have done every year since she went. This year however, was the first time the day hadn’t been planned out. I knew only one thing when I woke, and that was that at some point today I’d be seeing my parents. 

My son going off to school woke me, and after a garbled, half asleep goodbye, I lay awake in bed for at least another hour. Eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Not happy. Not sad. Nothing. Just numb. I thought about my three gorgeous nephews. I wondered if they’d be reminded of the date. Unfortunately, family politics means I don’t see those amazing boys anywhere near as much as I want to (not a situation I’ll ever cover in a blog). I do know that they are thriving, and when I do get time with them, I cherish it.  They are a credit to my sister. Grounded boys who appreciate what they have and never take anything for granted. I love them with all my heart and I wish things could be different, but I am immensely proud of them. 

I got through the day, so did my parents, like we have done every year since we lost her. We have to. We have responsibilities. I have my son. I don’t have the luxury of being able to lie in bed wallowing all day. And nor do I want to. My motto now is life is too short. It really fucking is. By taking the day off work I worry I give people the impression that that’s exactly what I do wanna do, waste the day being sad and upset. The day before I had lots of messages of well wishes on Facebook, but only a couple of people contacted me on the day. Yes, I may cry when I talk about my sister on her birthday, but its OK. Its natural. Its healthy. You don’t have to feel guilty for mentioning her. I haven’t and don’t want to forget about her. I take the day off to respect her memory in my own way. I want to laugh and I want to cry. When I laugh I don’t want to feel bad about being alive and enjoying life. When I cry I don’t want people to feel its got me down. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate someone’s life.  Just be. Whatever I did or felt on her birthday was right for me. 

I got taken out for lunch by my other half. 

My son and I visited my parents after school. 

Life carries on for those of us carrying the memories of her. 

Nothing spectacular happened. Nor was the day wasted. It was just normal. Our normal. As normal as it can be when you can’t see your sister on her birthday. 

However, as I said at the start of this post, this marks the start of the Christmas countdown. Christmas Day 2013 being the last time I saw her. And then the anniversary of her passing on 28th. These days are the hardest. These days are the ones I dread. Please also remember, just a little under a year later, my marriage broke down. My already small family was decreasing by the year. Still an act I’ll never quite forgive. Hindsight means I know the marriage was stale and no longer making me happy. However, to end it under the circumstances he did, in the run up to the year anniversary, was cowardly and nasty in equal measure. Despite that raw emotion, I know that facing and getting through that first anniversary without him showed me that the strength I had to get through losing her in the first place was all mine. He was never really there for me. I thought I needed him. I saw what I thought was support, when in reality he was already writing a story to use against me. And an accusation that I was using her death as an excuse for too long. An excuse for what, I never did find out.

Christmas day is awash with well wishers. My real emotion gets hidden by a pretty dress and perfectly applied make up. Make up that gets reapplied several times as the tears wash it off as soon as its applied. By the time I’m ready to face the world on Christmas Day, it will be blissfully unaware of the routine I’ve just put myself through. I worry that pictures I post of a happy, smiling family will be seen by the wrong people, who will snidely comment that we “look fine” and if we say otherwise, we are playing the victim again. I’m not a victim. I’m strong. And I will fight for my honour no matter how many times I’m knocked down. 

I don’t claim that my life and what I’ve been through is worse than anyone else’s. I know there are people who have, and still are, dealing with worse than me. My life is OK in comparison. I just have an overactive brain that struggles to deal with so much in a short space of time. I kinda wanna talk about it over and over yet not speak any words at the same time. Verbally I can’t find the words. I guess that’s why I write. 

Today I told a colleague that I wish I could remove my brain and rewire it to neutral before putting it back in. I sometimes wish I didn’t feel. I always wish I didn’t over think. I’ve been broken. I have my weak points. 

I guess the point of this blog is just to explain a few things. At this time of year, I may look like I’m coping. Essentially I am. I get up, go to work, cook, eat, clean (I’ve missed out sleep on purpose. Sleep is a luxury my brain never allows me to have much of). But I’m struggling too. Silently. There’s always something going on in my head. And shall I be really, really honest with you all? Sometimes, it really cripples me. I mean physically, too. My paranoia heightens when I feel like this. I want to be out enjoying myself, making the most of every single day I’m alive. For about 90% of the time I do, but it takes effort. The other 10% of the time it completey consumes me. I lack motivation from the second I wake. I’ve wasted days doing nothing. Staring at my phone.  Binge watching series on Netflix then realising I haven’t a clue what’s going on as I haven’t taken in the dialogue. I don’t want to see or speak to anyone. Yet I crave attention, a text, a message, something to remind me that I’m not burying myself in a hole to the point where noone else can see me, and they eventually forget about me and move on without me, and stop asking if I’m OK…

I get invited out to things, and I want to go, I really, really do, but sometimes the effort involved to slap on that brave face is harder than just being honest and saying “I’m not up to it”. I don’t need to lie, I’m hoping those asking understand all this anyway. When I’m feeling like this, it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to go out drinking all night. I want to feel. I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to think. I just hope my actions don’t kill any friendships I have. Offer me coffee and cake and mindless chatter.  A movie night in. Come with me to watch a live band where conversation about how I’ve been is impossible. I don’t need you to ask how I’m doing. I just need you to be there. I can’t talk about it. All this that I’m writing doesn’t come out when I speak. You’ll only get ” yeah, you know, I’m OK”.

I don’t want drunken nights out where you can’t even remember how you wasted £30. I want to make sober, new memories doing things I love with people I love. And absolutely not talk about me.

A phrase I hear a lot these days is “It’s OK to not be OK”. Mental health issues are understood a lot more these days than ever before. Again, as previously mentioned, I don’t claim to have depression or a mental health concern, but I can relate to the quote above in regards to it. We all deal with things in our own way. There is no right or wrong. After the initial numbness of the morning of 6th November, I remember laughing to the point of tears at lunchtime. That doesn’t mean I was “over” it by lunchtime. It wasn’t disrespectful to my sisters memory to laugh on that day. Anyone who saw me laughing could be mistaken for not believing that I carry such weight on my mind 24/7. My pain isn’t physical. Search and you’ll find no scar. Ask me any day of the year if I have any siblings and I will always tell you I had an older sister. “Had”. The hardest word to speak. It will never sit right with me that now, at the age of 40, and every birthday I celebrate from now on, I will be older than my older sister. That’s not something you can explain to a stranger, anyone you meet for the first time when they innocently ask. Human nature means most people feel guilt when asking a question about a partner/relative/friend to find out they are no longer with us. The automatic response is ” I’m sorry”. Don’t be sorry. I’m not sorry I had a sister. You weren’t to know when you asked. I don’t mind talking about her. I just can’t talk about how I still feel years after losing her. 

So, again, my yearly reminder. You can talk to me about anything you want. I can hear you, I just may not feel very chatty with my response. Be patient with me. I’ll come for that drink when I’m up to it. There’s no need to ask me if I’m OK, I’ll only tell you that I am whether I am or not. I deal with things in my head. I just need to know you’ll still be there when my brain takes a break. I don’t need you to try and fix me. I just need you. Be there on the rare occasion I do talk, but more importantly, be there when I say nothing at all. 

Finally… To all the people I’ll encounter in my job over what’s meant to be the happy, festive season:- you don’t know me. I don’t know you. I am just doing my job. Shout at me and I’ll be civil and polite and professional back to you. Just rest assured, if you push my buttons on a day where necessity means I have to slap on that brave face when I really want to be in bed staring at a screen, on one of those “10%” days, I’ll be crying in the office after. 

You’ll never see it. You’ll never know. 

Be kind.

Always.

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Christmas Misses and New Year Kisses

Christmas. A time of cheer. Eat, drink and be merry. Spending time with your loved ones-the very people you work your butt off for so that you can do wonderful things with when you get some much needed time off. Precious time.

Unless you work in retail. Then its a case of “what time?”.

OK, just to summarise, I have always work in retail. In every job I’ve had, I’ve ended up in a management roll. I’m used to working every Saturday. I essentially enjoy the job, the team spirit, the customer interaction. Never though, have I ever HAD to work both Christmas eve AND Boxing Day. 

Until this year.

For most people, Christmas is a time for all those things I mentioned above. For my family, its about those of us that are still here, being together. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that we lost my sister just after Christmas 2013. Then just before Christmas 2014 my husband left me. By a long stretch I know there are people out there who have even more upset associated with Christmas than us, but we have had it pretty tough. If I am able to have two days together to get through Christmas, and the day we lost my sister, I can go into work, do my job and not let it affect me. That was taken away from me this year. The greedy, greedy world of retail took over and I was powerless to respond.

December was looming and I was mentally having to prepare for being forced, by the company I had previously worked four successful christmasses for, to work both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. Something I have never ever had to do in my whole working life. Now I accept that retail over Christmas is unsociable, however at Christmas, having two days off together has always been assumed, a given. Leaving my very capable Assistant Manager in charge in my absense, a job she does all year round on my two days off a week and to cover my holidays, has always been the obvious choice, and a proven success on the day I don’t work. For four years, it worked. Why change this year? We never really got an answer. 

Throughout December , my well practised “brave face” went on. My existing assistant manager handed her notice in for reasons heavily influenced by the Christmas working conditions. Issues in my private life unfortunately reared their very ugly head again, threatening to ruin the little free time I was getting over the “festive” season. The thought of someone else spending more time over Christmas with the son I’d been looking after practically full time since the summer, was killing me.Trying to get on with my life after everything myself and my very small family have been through, was seeming impossible without the interference of people who, quite frankly, gave up their own right to interfere. I’ve since realised that its  very hard to let go off something that doesn’t seem to realise you’ve long given up the grip you ever had. Drama I neither wanted nor created followed me around all month, when all I wanted to do was spend the time I had away from work with those I love and love me back. I made a very big stand, and handed the baton of responsibility that I had somehow unwillingly ended up holding, onto those who should be stepping up and taking control of someone that should mean more to them than that someone now means to me. The past is the past for a reason. 

For probably only the second time ever, I let a customer reduce me to tears. No, its not very professional of me as a store manager, but yes, I’m only human. She was a vile human being who threw my goodwill back in my face leaving me wishing I’d just stuck to the law and “company” procedure and sent her on her way. Its not like the company valued me going over and above to offer customer satisfaction, and she certainly didn’t. I dealt with the whole situation whilst wearing a Christmas hat. The hat did not remain on my head after wishing her a Merry Christmas and leaving the shop floor. 

I felt compelled to say sorry to my staff that witnessed my upset.They, of course, thought nothing of it. They knew what I was going through.  Hey, they were going to see more of me this Christmas than my own family. As part of our job, we are expected to greet every customer within a minute of them entering the store. When it is busy, and there are only a couple of us working due to hours allowed, its hard, but we manage. When I say “greet”, I just mean a simple ” hello”. My already fragile mood would get even more delicate every time our “hello” was responded to with “I’m just looking” and a roll of the eyes as if we were pressure selling! The amount of times I had to stop myself from saying “and I’m just saying Hello”……

When returns from the website and other stores kept bringing my till figure down and we were on the receiving end of the grief and anger caused by the reason for the return which wasn’t our fault, my brave face struggled to stay put. It did, but it was a struggle. It was easy to identify those had never worked in retail in their lives…. there anger was personal towards whichever unsuspecting member of staff was polite enough to greet them when they entered the store. The phrase ” I don’t get paid enough for this” went round in my head so many times.

I was suffering. I struggled to stay “upbeat”.

I clung to the days off with my son and the occasional evening with my Mr Amazing as if they were as precious as the first and last moments on earth. Both were my rays of sunshine. They were like my own personal bookends, holding me together from either side.

Days off flew by and days at work dragged along. I started to dread the 7.15am alarm call. Each morning  I got closer to Christmas, I hit the snooze button one more time. Each morning leaving the house a few minutes later, to start the cold twenty minute walk to work. I didn’t want to go. It felt unfair. One day off for Christmas. Well meaning friends would shrug, say that’s harsh but put it down to ” being retail”, until I pointed out that I’ve worked in retail 21 years and have never had to do both before. My other half told me he was only working three days the week up to Christmas, leaving me silently reeling about the missed opportunities to spend time with him. He works at a supermarket, an area of retail way busier than mine at Christmas, and he was getting reasonable time off! He was my angel, a true life Godsend, taking me into town on my last day off before the big day so I could buy all my families Christmas cards, because the half hour lunch breaks I’m allowed at work were not enough time to face the card shop madness. Then on top of that was my annual “accidentally end up in front of the Sister cards in the shop because noone would move and then have to leave that shop and go to another before I burst into tears that I no longer need to buy a sister card” scenario. It never gets easier. 

Christmas eve arrived,along with instructions to open all day and stay after closing to launch the “SALE”. I was dreading it. I wanted to be at home with my son and my other half who was finishing at midday. I struggled to find something to wear as I’d been reluctant to spend my evenings doing mundane housework and washing in between 9 hour days at the shop, so I cobbled together an outfit that was sold by my company but wasn’t technically current stock, or therefore ” accepted uniform requirements “, but I had no other choice. Passing Costa on my way into work , I grabbed myself some brain fuel and headed for the shop. I would be working the whole day with my newly appointed Assistant Manager, a member of my team who was a friend of mine long before she joined my team as a part timer. 

We planned out our day, and my wonderful friend and colleague managed to make me smile all day long despite my absolute adamence that I didn’t want to be there. We were busy, we had a good day. Did the manager HAVE to be there? No. Nothing out of the ordinary happened that needed my presence over my assistant manager.

I couldn’t sleep Christmas eve night. Not in a ” I’m so excited” kind of way. More a “I only have one day off for Christmas, and that’s going to be a busy day so if I can’t sleep tonight I’m going to be shattered Boxing Day and I can’t even get drunk” kind of way.

At 7am on Christmas morning, I was up putting the turkey on. I didn’t even have to. My son was still fast asleep. Retail ruined me. I couldn’t even have a lie in as my internal body clock was screaming at me to get up like every morning of the week leading up to this one day. I was not rested. I was not relaxed. Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling Christmassy at all. If I didn’t have places to go and people to see, I would’ve spent the day like any other day off. Pottering round the house, housework, listening to music. Noone wants to do housework on Christmas day, and this year I was working so much that I was having to keep working when I got home to get the house “Christmas ready”. The money grabbing fat cats don’t think of that. When are us lowly retail staff meant to do the normal mundane stuff? Days off were the only chance I had to shop. Evenings were spent cleaning, tidying, sorting. I was physically burning the proverbial candle at both ends. And even round the sides. I’ve said in a previous blog that there’s no shame in letting the people around you help you, be it emotionally or practically, and I am blessed with people in my life that want to make me happy. So, for them, I plodded on.

And BECAUSE of them, I had the most wonderful Christmas day in a while. The morning was spent with my son, my parents and my nephews. Then just my boy and I had a perfect dinner together. The afternoon I was able to put my feet up for a couple of hours while Mr Amazing and my son battled it out on Lego Dimensions, and the evening, although sober and short, was quality time just my boy and I. Although I couldn’t, and didn’t, forget that I was back at work the next day, every single person I saw and interacted with made my “One Day Christmas” the best it could’ve been. From seeing the gratitude and appreciation on my boys face when he opened his gifts, to the thoughtfulness behind every single present Mr Amazing got me, and the clear plates at dinner time.  

Boxing Day at work was achieved with the company of my two part timers who had both had Christmas eve off, so were relaxed and raring to go. Their enthusiasm got me through again.  Another busy day, but again, nothing that needed the managers input. 

My next day off after Christmas was the anniversary of when we lost my sister. My feet hadn’t touched the ground and I wanted, and deserved to sit and do nothing all day. However, lunch with my son and parents was on the agenda, and rightly so, to remember her. 

New Years Eve we managed to close an hour early. My colleagues went for a drink to celebrate. I went home, to make the most of an extra hour with my son. 

2017 was seen in the only way I wanted to,  with my boy and Mr Amazing watching movies.

New Years Day, the shop was closed. I happily spent the whole day at home and didn’t do a thing. A full on no make up day. The washing was piled up around me. The plates from the previous nights tea still in the sink. But I had nowhere to go and I fully intended to benefit from it.

So, remember, when you have the luxury of a day off in the run up to Christmas, and can browse the shops at leisure and clean your house in between knowing that you have at least two days off together to enjoy all your hard work, there will be staff out there that don’t have any choice. 

Don’t shout at them. Don’t be rude to them. They are doing their job so that your Christmas with your family goes as smoothly as it can. Yet all they desperately want is the time with their family that you have. Its not about the presents. Its not about the food and drink. Its about the precious moments with friends, family and loved ones.

This year, I’m so very grateful that my work colleagues fall in those categories. Without those girls, more tears would’ve been shed.

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.