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Dublin: 13°C Monday 25 October 2021

Column: The Ghosts of Christmas Past – dealing with loss at Christmas

Mum’s kitschy Christmas apron that we used to slag her mercilessly about. Her make up, hurriedly applied between basting the turkey and topping the sprouts. All that is gone now. And God, how I miss it.

Claire Micks

CHRISTMAS WITH MY mother feels like a million years ago to me now. Like we shared it in a different lifetime. When I try to remember back to before 2007, it feels like one of the 1970s home video reels where the picture keeps jumping and flickering and going out of focus. Perhaps because remembering can be just too difficult at this time of year, and my survival instinct kicks in to stem the melancholy. Onwards and upwards with Christmas 2014. No time for the ghosts of Christmas past as we celebrate Christmas present. Because there’s nothing festive about grief. ‘Tis the season to be jolly and all that.

But some of the memories are still there, buried beneath all the present day festivities.

The kitschy Christmas apron we used to slag her mercilessly about. Her make up, hurriedly applied between basting the turkey and topping the sprouts. The bitching and moaning about being dragged out of bed and frog marched down to Mass. The Christmas Day curfew where post 2pm there was an unwritten rule that no one left the house until the annual Stephen’s Night booze up the following evening. The arguments over who washed up and got possession of the remote.

All that is gone now. And God, how I miss it. Much as I moaned and groaned my way through it at the time and raised my eyes to heaven over the annual traditions.

Because once the Christmas ringleader was no longer with us to marshall the troops, Christmas was never quite the same again. The linchpin had vanished and whilst her spirit is most definitely still felt each Christmas, probably stronger than at any other time of year, it will never, ever be the same as having her here with us to share it.

So, in her absence, how to fill the gap? To all those out there who similarly may be experiencing a ‘Merry Xmas’, where a part of it is conspicuously absent, five small suggestions which may help along the way.

1. Visit the grave if it helps. Or not. They’d want you to do whatever gets you through the day, not what tradition dictates. You don’t necessarily have to pay your respects to a lump of marble for them to feature in your day. In ways, what could feel more lifeless and lonely than that? Ever the pragmatist, I cannot imagine my mother would wish that upon me, no matter how much she liked a ponsietta at Christmas.

Shanganagh on Christmas morning is a profoundly sad and poignant place, as families try to reach back into the past and reconnect with those whom they lost, in whatever distant way they can. Some years I have the stomach for it. Others not. Some years I draw comfort from the experience. Others it simply overwhelms.

2. Maybe light a candle for them instead if the graveyard is more than you can bear. Cheesy, but comforting no less. There’s something intangible in the life of the gentle flicker of the flame in the corner that makes their presence felt, however subtly.

3. Curl up on the couch with a blanket and sole possession of the tin of roses and watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or something equally sappy and sentimental. Take comfort where you can and don’t apologise for it. Think ‘mind yourself’(whatever the hell that means).

4. Lap up the love and cuddles wherever you can find them. If you’ve little people around, all the better. Gorge yourself on the company and affection of those who are left behind.

5. Accept that you might feel a little more tired than usual or than you would expect. Feeling loss at Christmas is like dragging Santa’s sack around with you through all the festivities. It takes energy whether you choose to acknowledge, bury or all out wallow in it.

Now all that’s left is for me to head off into this Christmas mayhem and follow my own advice instead of beating myself up for having the odd ‘moment’. To all those out there in a similar boat, Merry Christmas to you and yours.

And most of all, Merry Christmas to you, Mum, wherever you may be.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for TheJournal.ie here

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Claire Micks

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