The Unchristmas

I’m not ready for Christmas this year.

I never am by this stage; one of the (dis) advantages of having an early-December-born child is that you can legitimately put all things festive behind a sort of tinsel cordon in the middle of the month. And in some ways I am more ready than usual: presents mostly bought, if resolutely unwrapped.

It’s just that I don’t really want it to be Christmas at all.

I’ve been so lucky in my life. Those whom I’ve lost, till now, have been, for the most part, at the end of well-lived lives. Along with the sadness is the solace of memories, the comfort of knowing that suffering is at an end. A sense of a rightness in the transition of generations, as of the changing of seasons.

I’ve always, till now, known grief as something clean. White hot, perhaps, but something definite, a cauterising of before from after. Then from now. A blow to be recovered from, a sorrow to mellow over time, not this insistent, bowing weight whose even presence is its own form of witness to what’s lost such that you can’t even hope for it to lift. Not this dirty, festering guilt, this sadness, this fear. Not this changing of the past as well as the present and the future.

I find myself looking at photos, and calculating the “how long till”. I scrutinise groups, expressions, gaze into eyes frozen in time; hunting for a hint of foreknowledge, a clue as to what would happen.

What still might.

This Christmas feels stripped, raw. Gone is the luxurious wallowing weeping at carols. Gone is the illusion that cherishing what is precious confers any protection from losing it. Gone, I suppose, is the innocence, replaced with the haunting, inescapable knowledge that love as you might, you’re never more than a heartbeat away from everything falling to pieces around you, everything changing, forever. Every time I pull someone  precious close to me, I feel the empty ache in the arms of those who no longer can.

We’re still “doing” Christmas, of course. The tree will go up, Santa will come, food will be eaten and thanks for what is still our great good fortune will be given and heartfelt. I suppose that in time the sturdy stock poignancy of the whole season will bring its own comfort and relief again, but not this year. This year the lights glare, the sounds jar. Peace is something to pray for; joy still too closely intermingled with pain, for without one, the other cannot be. Love and life,  as fragile and as beautiful as glass baubles on the tree. And as great an act of faith.



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