(Trigger Warning: Discussion of death and loss)
As with all experiences that I encounter as a single parent, they will never be exactly the same as another single parent, they may not even be remotely similar but often it’s the emotions that we are left with that we can relate to.
For me, Christmas had always been a difficult time. My Nana died on Christmas day when I was 13 years old. She was the closest person to me, and I’d called her and my Grandad every day at 7pm for a chat. I even kept it up when she was in a care home, on a constant dementia loop, asking me the same questions. I didn’t care, I just needed to hear her caring voice.
Losing her was the first time I’d felt that feeling of a rug being pulled from underneath me. The suffocating feeling of loss was unbearable and I had no family support available or anyone to ask me how I was feeling. It left me with a whole heap of emotions that triggered the start of a lifetime battle with my mental health.
Ever year Christmas came around it was another year I mourned for the loss of the one woman who loved me unconditionally.
We’d have to keep up with the family tradition of visiting my Mum’s side of the family, who just carry on as normal.
They never acknowledging the heartache my Dad and I must have been quietly hiding. I’d cling on to him year after year, neither of us discussing what we were feeling.
Then we’d leave them all behind and drive down to Eastbourne with my sister where we’d spend the next few days feeling free of pressure and just relax with my Grandad.
Not quite how you’d imagine your Christmas day to be as a kid but I guess we all have our own family crap to contend with.
Unfortunately, when I turned 19, my Dad had his stroke and my Grandad passed away so the next few years of Christmas was spent sitting next to a hospital bed.
Nothing can prepare you for what a festive period looks like when you have a broken family and you’re caring for the one person that would make any time of year worth living.
From then and for the next 8 years, Christmas would be a day that was incredibly difficult to organise to ensure my Dad (who was bed/wheelchair bound) could be sat at a dinner table eating like a ‘normal’ family. It was indescribably tense, forced and emotional for all 4 of us but we attempted to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Then in 2012 all Christmases would change forever. I had my baby boy. Suddenly I could see Christmas for the magical time that others saw it as.
I brought a Christmas tree that I decorated with items I’d asked my friends to donate as annual memories.
I wanted a visual reminder of the special people we had in our life, given we didn’t have the family that others had. On Christmas Eve, I wrapped up little presents and filled the stocking up that we still put out for Santa to this day.
I remember having mixed feelings on that first Christmas. I was so excited to be able to enjoy the magic of Christmas through a child’s eye again, but being a single mother and doing it all alone didn’t quite feel right. All I could see wherever I looked was families with two parents carrying out all their traditions and visiting yet more family and friends.
There was me, on my own, trying to make the best of our situation and stop that voice inside my head telling me that I wasn’t giving my son the life and Christmas he deserved.
I’d waited so long for that first Christmas with a baby of my own but the reality was that I still had to work around the logistics of transporting my disabled Dad alongside all the elements that go into making Christmas day what it is (food, presents etc) to somewhere that wasn’t home, just so we could attempt to do it in an accessible place.
Adding a baby who had a number of health issues too just meant I was now caring for two humans neither of whom could communicate what they wanted or take themselves to the toilet. Only one screamed the whole day thankfully. It was utterly exhausting.
By my son’s third Christmas, unfortunately my Dad was no longer with us and however much easier that made things logistically, we were too heartbroken not to be spending the day with him. We decided to book a cheap deal away for a few days. We spent the equivalent of what many families spend on presents and the day itself on flights and a hotel.
Luckily, we saw Santa at the airport and gave him the heads up on where we’d be staying.
It worked a treat. We were able to be so distracted by the exciting adventure and the incredible hotel that we weren’t constantly overthinking about how sad we were not to have my Dad with us anymore. I think it also helped me to cope with a whole array of feelings, not just about the loss of the family that had passed away but the loss of a family I felt I should have created with a partner by my side.
Each year I would keep up the tradition of writing a letter from Santa acknowledging all the wonderful things my son had done to be kept off the naughty list. I’d buy and wrap all the presents alone. Each year it became a little less lonely.
I think that was only down to the fact that I approached it much like I approach everything difficult in my life; I try not to slow down enough that that overwhelming feelings can take hold and drag me down further.
I’ve cried so much that I could fill an ocean. I’ve gone over things again and again in my mind and acknowledged how utterly unfair it is that I don’t have the people in my life that are worth more than any gift or experience I would ever receive.
Nothing can make the feeling of living alone and raising a child alone less lonely.
All I can do is think back to how utterly miserable I was before I had my son, knowing that I’d tried so many times to not be here at all. Anything would be better than that time.
So, to be able to walk into my bedroom and see a beautiful sleeping child that is all mine, is a gift that will never be matched and will always be enough for me.
My son is 8 now and I’m very aware that this will probably be the last year I can convince him that Santa is real. So, I will be making the most of this very odd Christmas as we live through Covid-19 restrictions and a Tier 4 lockdown. As you can imagine, this doesn’t really affect our plans, other than we couldn’t book a trip abroad to run away from the picture-perfect family vision.
To add to the untraditional Christmas set-up my son has said that he doesn’t want presents and only sees the value in family. I can’t help worry I may have overdone the teachings of appreciation but equally now more than ever, I feel the overwhelming need to deliver on providing him with a family he desperately craves, just like I do. In the meantime I will be showering him with thoughtful and meaningful gifts and reminding him of how lucky I feel to have him as my perfect present.
I hope however you are getting through this often challenging time, you know where to turn to for support.
Never forget that however tough times get, they will get better, I’m proof of that.
The www.samaritans.org/ website has some really helpful tips and advice on approaching things this Christmas so please don’t struggle alone.