My mother died in January. This was the first Christmas without her. And I enjoyed myself. I felt a wee bit guilty afterwards, so this article can be my self therapy. A way to tell myself that I am allowed to have fun.
Since my mother’s death I have found out a lot about myself and my family. I am accepting the fact that as children my sister and I lived in an atmosphere of control which continues to influence our lives. Together we are working through our past to understand our thoughts and behaviours and to change them. We are making progress.
This could not have happened, for me anyway, whilst my mother was alive. I remember that whenever I met a new therapist or psychiatrist I would be asked about my parents. My response was always that my family life was a loving and happy one. The only concession I would make would be to say that my parents were a little overprotective, but under the circumstances it was understandable. End of conversation.
And I believed it.
Until my mother died. By this time I had already repaired the fractured relationship with my sister. We had spoken about our childhood and things which had been said and done, and though my brain believed, understood and agreed, my heart always sided with my mother. I found excuses for her behaviour, but towards the end of her life these excuses were more difficult to hold on to.
My childhood beliefs, put there by my parents and which I am beginning to challenge, include:
Only perfect is good enough (and even then there’s something slightly wrong and it isn’t perfect after all)
There is only one way to do things, anything else is wrong
I am different
I am not important
I am not capable – of anything
I am responsible for other people (their feelings, behaviour, words, everything)
I am not likeable/loveable
I am not allowed to tell people my problems, because they won’t be interested/won’t want to be my friend
There are more, but you get the picture.
This is how Christmas used to be. A few weeks before Christmas my mother would tell me that I was invited to my sister’s for Christmas. My sister and I were estranged and communicated through my mother. I would send my acceptance in the same way.
Christmas Day would be, not awful, but moments of joy interspersed with moments of awkwardness and anxiety. And thoughts of “when can we go home?”. Drinking didn’t help me either. I would be on my best behaviour, a don’t show myself up in front of the family mindset. My alcoholic brain would be saying more, more, I need more. My anxious side was agreeing with this sentiment, get drunk so that nothing will matter any more. But I was fighting these feelings and trying to moderate my alcohol intake – it’s too soon to have another glass of wine, it’s not polite. It will look bad, mum will get upset. It was uncomfortable. And since my sobriety everything was the same except for the alcohol battle. This was replaced with trips to the garden to smoke. Which were similarly disapproved of. I still felt shameful.
This year was different. My sister and I discussed the arrangements together. I offered to supply the crackers and the chocolates. We agreed that Dad and I would get a taxi to her house and back home again. Which I arranged. (My dad’s driving is his lifeline, but I know that he struggles with it, even if he doesn’t acknowledge this himself). This also made things easier for my sister. She was concerned about having the family over and all the stresses that entails for her, so having a fixed time for us to leave made her feel more comfortable.
Christmas Eve was a late night for me. I was up till 2am finishing presents. Christmas morning I dragged myself out of bed, had a shower (I couldn’t justify not doing so, however hard I tried) and got ready. I was at my fathers house half an hour before the taxi was due. The taxi arrived early and the driver helped me load the presents in the boot. Once dad was ready we set off. And the taxi driver was so lovely. He was helpful and he knew where he was going and how to get there (believe me, this isn’t always the case). He also helped with the presents at our destination.
A little side note here. My father is hard of hearing. One to one conversations are generally not too bad, although if he can’t understand what I’m saying he sometimes says random things like “why are you talking about bananas?”. I wasn’t. In a group of people he finds it even harder to follow the conversation. He has a hearing aid for each ear, but doesn’t like to wear them because he says that the background noise is annoying. I could have suggested that he take his hearing aids, but based on previous experience this would most likely have produced an annoyed grumble which could have spoiled the whole day. So I didn’t, and the result was that he didn’t interact with us much. I feel a bit bad about this but he knows where they are and is capable of making his own decisions…..?
Where was I? Oh yes, at my sister’s house. The day was lovely because everybody was relaxed and happy. There was no tension, no doing what is expected of you. It was perfect because we weren’t trying to make it perfect.
Everyone helped my sister with the cooking (this is not normal) and my sister enjoyed her dinner (I don’t remember this happening before). And the best bit? The crackers. Inside each cracker was a wind up Santa. There was a board with starting positions and the aim was to release all the wound up Santas at the same time and see which one reached the North Pole first. It was hilarious!! Some of the Santas went everywhere but the North Pole, and the ones that did reach their destination carried on walking away from it. My sister and I were laughing hysterically.
If someone else were to tell me that they were worried because they had enjoyed their first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, I would say, “but you are allowed to enjoy yourself. It doesn’t mean that you are not sorry your loved one is not there”. Telling this to myself is hard. I know it is true but I have trouble believing it in my heart.