I can't believe that Christmas will be here in less than a month.
That means I haven't seen him for almost a year.
It means that I have spent the better part of a year waiting for him to come home.
It only seems like yesterday ...
It seems like a millennia ago.
The Santa's that he put up last year are still up ...
I still can't bear to take them down.
Last Christmas we went everywhere (at the last minute) to buy a Christmas tree, and failed. It was the only Christmas we didn't have a tree. Perhaps it was meant to be. I can't imagine how painful it would have been to take it down again on my own.
We both so loved Christmas trees and went to the same place every year to buy a Norwegian Spruce. Every year I'd insist on a certain tree and Cliff would tell me it was too large, but I would maintain that it was the right "one" and he'd pretend to get grumpy before agreeing to buy it.
And each year when we got home, sure enough he'd have to saw at least a foot off the bottom.
We'd dress it together, and when he was alive, our dog Hammer would get excited, because to him, Christmas symbolized new toys, sweets, fun and lots of cold cuts of meat.
We have strings of white fairy lights (that can play Christmas tunes), and ornaments (red, gold and green baubles only), wooden ornaments, red and tartan ribbons, matching tinsel, the fake snow, and we finished it off by tying red, green and gold Quality Street sweets to it.
The smell is wonderful. Fresh pine.
I loved piling the gifts up under the tree a week before the day. Cliff always did his shopping on Christmas Eve and put his gifts next to the other offerings fairly late on Christmas Eve. I can still remember the champagne stirrer and the earrings we exchanged on our first Christmas together. Over the years we spoiled each other, buying presents that we didn't need but knew each other would like. Safari and J'adore perfumes, Harry Potter memorabilia, jewellery, a Scalextric set, a bright yellow sea scooter, a saxophone, a telescope (which I inscribed with the words - "You have given me the world, so here is the moon and the stars") ... wonderful memories. We both got more excited about giving each other stuff than we did receiving it.
He'd make cocktails and I'd be preparing for dinner the following day. We'd put snacks out - sweets, crisps, fruit, nuts (which he'd have to crack open for me), mince pies, sausage rolls, and I'd always make a real fresh trifle (faithfully following my own mother's recipe). He always said it was the best trifle he'd ever tasted. We always had an open house over the holidays. Sometimes friends stayed for days.
I can remember sitting on his lap (two years ago), drinking a (half) bottle of champagne through a girly pink straw, surrounded by friends, dogs, music, laughter and love. We were in our bar-room which was decked out like Santa's grotto tastefully, but like Santa's grotto nonetheless. The lights were out because all the fairy lights provided adequately. I remember feeling so happy. I was oblivious and clueless.
Hammer would snooze with his head under the tree, happily dreaming of the meats which permeated his doggy dreams by wafting up his nostrils. Each year, instead of a fairy to top the tree we'd buy a reindeer, santa or other soft toy ... which Hammer would be given when the tree was taken down. After he died we stopped that particular tradition, opting instead in sticking the oversized fairy/angel somewhat irreverently on top of the tree, as pictured.
That dog died in my arms under the Christmas tree - the lights dimmed - surrounded by the smells of meats cooking ... warm, loved and safe. He'd opened his presents, but had no appetite and waited till the early hours of boxing day to go. It broke our hearts.
People used to say that our tree was the nicest they had seen.
We have a couple of beautiful photos of us in front of our tree, two years running (in a frame). I can't find it at the moment, and it's upsetting me. I keep remembering Cliff getting annoyed with me because he wanted to capture the same scene each year, and that particular year, we hadn't got around to it and so the tradition was broken. I'm annoyed with myself too now. I wish I'd taken the time to stop and have the picture taken instead of worrying about mopping the floor or whatever I deemed so important at the time. Each year (apart from the last one) Cliff seemed to have to work until Christmas Eve, so when I left work, usually a week before, I'd kill myself, work myself to a frazzle cleaning and tidying the house, shopping etc etc. In the end I'd get irritable and tired ... until Christmas Eve itself arrived, relieved that I had accomplished all my self-imposed chores. Then the mood would lift and I morphed into a 3 year old. When I find the photos, I'll upload them here.
We have loads of Santa's - one is a ZZ Top style one that is fibre optic and waves, another one hangs from a parachute and kicks his legs, shouting "ho ho ho", another climbs up and down a rope and has a bald patch on his arse where Barney managed to nip him, to mention but a few. We also had chaser lights (one of which he woke me up wearing around his neck the day that he had his stroke), as well as fibre optic angel, church, Peter Pan House, dancing snowmen and santas that we'd put up the staircase. Special candle holders, and endless other items. We were both such big kids about Christmas, and I think the ones I spent with Cliff were equally as magical as the ones I had as a child. Even better actually. We infected each other with the magic, excitement and anticipation. We even had stockings. We preferred to spend the day at home, just the two of us and our dog(s).
Cliff and I would watch, without fail, Chevy Chase's "Christmas Vacation" every single year. We'd sit together and clutch our stomachs laughing at all the same old scenes - and we both agreed that it wasn't Christmas until we'd watched it. This year he'd planned to cover our roof with white fairy lights (just like in the movie) but I know that they'd have worked perfectly.
At exactly one minute after midnight we'd open our gifts. Taking turns - dog(s) included. Last year we didn't buy each other gifts. Cliff had been working so hard to finish the house (I now realize why) so money wasn't so plentiful. We were okay, but couldn't risk buying gifts and being frivolous last year mainly because we had stood as guarantor for his daughter and she had defaulted ... which meant that any spare money had to be set aside, just in case. But he put up some tinsel and the Santa's and I cooked a Christmas dinner for us. It makes me sad because he felt bad about it. The other difference was that instead of taking leave before Christmas, last year I decided not to wear myself out preparing for the day, opting to take a week off after Christmas. Thankfully. Otherwise he'd have been alone when he had his stroke. I can't even bear to think about that scenario.
I now think that it didn't matter to him that he didn't earn money last year. His priority was to finish the house. He knew that it would be paid off when he left. I just don't think he knew how close the day was. He was very fey and in touch with his body and I think he knew that time was running out, slowly.
We bought each other cards though, of course. He kept telling me that he wish he'd got a nicer card. He usually took ages choosing his. Beautiful words inside. He kept telling me, "next year I'll go back to that shop and get you a proper one. It's important." Weirdly, we both selected cards with two dogs depicted on the front ... which he kept commenting on.
We had an argument in the run up to last Christmas. One of only two or three serious rows we ever had. Because we were both feeling a little resentful at not being about to revel in the season in the manner to which we were accustomed. We both screamed stuff we didn't mean, but we also cleared the air. He was so stressed and defensive about the guarantor issue biting us in the arse, and just went on the offensive - there was no need - I didn't blame him. How could I? But I did blame him for going on the offensive, to me of all people. I cried. He cried. We held each other and cried. And I shall never forget the look on his face, how deflated he appeared when he received a nasty text from his daughter after Boxing Day, attacking him for not buying presents for her children. How could we? It broke my heart to see his face like that.
I held him and told him the best present was being with him. It was. I realize now why I got so excited about Christmas. It meant that I had time with him. Uninterrupted time. Lie ins with him. Lazy breakfasts. 24/7. He knew that too, thankfully.
Christmases prior to last year were so wonderful, fun, and he always came into his "own" - a superb host, gregarious, social, funny, witty, fooling around, magical. I shall wrap myself in those memories for all the Christmases to come. But that last Christmas was tender. Almost as though we knew. Everything re-prioritized and put into perspective. We had the gifts we needed - our love, each other.
And so to this Christmas ... I have had invitations from family and friends alike, yet remain undecided. I feel as though I don't want to ruin anyone else's day, even though I am mindful of the fact that they are well aware of how I will be feeling and wouldn't have extended an invitation to me if they didn't truly want me with them, and I love them all so much for it. I think I need to wake up in our bed and go back to sleep in it on Christmas night, which discounts travelling too far. I know that wherever I go I can cry, but to really cry, I need to be at home. I know I'll need to do that ... and if I'm staying overnight somewhere I'll refrain, only to have to contend with it afterwards - and that outcome is always more painful.
So, I'd better tell my lovely niece and my sister that I'll spend next year with them instead, hoping that I may be a little stronger. I hope they understand. It's hard to understand when you haven't lost your soul mate yourself ... and I don't want to hurt them. Don't want them to feel that it makes them any less important or special, because they are. It's logistics not a reflection of how much they mean to me.
Which means that I need to decide between two friends - so I shall have to mull it over more.
I know that we have to have a plan, us widow/ers ... and I shall incorporate some of this into the big day this year. But even so ... it doesn't detract from the pain. I wish I could just cancel the whole thing this year, but that's not an option. Well, I could ... but if I don't get back on the horse now, I know I never shall. So I shall. But it'll have to be low-key. Think I've just made up my mind ... let me sleep on it, then I'll let them all know.
One thing is a definite though. I now understand why my Auntie Paula requested that we didn't send her a card the year Uncle Peter died. "Send me a postcard," she pleaded ... we were spending the holidays in the Dominican Republic. I get it now. And am following her footprints on her own Widow's Walk this year, requesting that no one sends me cards or gifts. Not this year. Opening a gift will open up the scars around my heart and will only serve to break it into more pieces. And I have no stomach for Christmas shopping ... nor can I sit and write the customary 100 cards and sign them from myself ... not from us. Not yet. I'll do it next year. NOT YET.
It'll be lonely this Christmas, even though I am fortunate enough to have the wonderful family and friends who have opened their homes and hearts to me. I could be in a room full of people that I love, yet I will still yearn for the one person who shan't be there ... and shall feel completely alone.
I shall miss him wrapping my gifts up in the kitchen and thereby banning me from the room, whilst I am desperately attempting to get everything prepared ... and shouting through the hatchway, "have you got some sellotape there?" (or a pen, or scissors ....)
I shall miss watching his hands wrapping sausages in bacon.
I shall miss peeling all the potatoes.
I shall miss him selecting the cheeses, meats and biscuits.
I shall miss screaming for him because the oven mitts aren't doing the job they were bought for, and him calmly picking up red hot trays with his bare hands, without flinching ... and being in awe of the fact that he can do it.
I shall miss sampling the new cocktails that he would have created this year. Especially the one that had coconut, cream and icecream in it and was artfully made PINK, just for me.
I shall miss cleaning up the armageddon that he created when he made the cocktails.
I shall miss him buying himself cigars and smelling them when he lit them up.
I wouldn't mind rewinding a few years and re-run the Christmas we spent in bed with bird flu. The one where we microwaved a can of ravioli and dropped one of the bowls on the floor - and left it there for 24 hours - because we both felt so weak. So we shared one bowl. The one where he said to me, "I'm really glad you're not as ill as I am ... because I don't think you'd survive it" and I wanted to punch him but couldn't even lift my arm because it felt as though it was made of lead and I ached all over.
I used to say I knew Santa existed because I lived with him.
Santa is dead.
I know this. Accept it even. But doing it will be fucking hard.