Happy New Year
"Did you have a good Christmas, Mark?"
This is the question I have heard a hundred times since the 25th December and it is a question I find very difficult to answer, mostly because the answer is one that no one wants to hear. This is not because I am a modern day Scrooge, but perhaps best articulated by my oldest son, who, when I asked him if he was looking forward to Christmas on the 24th, said "thing is Dad, you just keep looking over your shoulder and wondering where Ruth is."
Ever will it be thus. And though Christmas day was as happy as one might expect, there is always an empty place where my little girl should have been.
There is also a shadow cast by all the Christmases of the past and the hopes and dreams they represented growing up. Faced with all that potent nostalgia, I cannot help but compare where I am now with the promise I held in my heart as a child: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. Christmas, then, becomes a melancholy time when I spend much time thinking about what is, what was and what should be but isn't.
My way with such things is to plan a way to change this in the future. The trouble with this experience (losing Ruth) is the time factor. I did not anticipate ever having to deal with this kind of bereavement, and it really was uncharted territory when it happened to us as a family. I know where it began, but I do not think it will ever end. That is terrifying. It is not something I had experience of or knew how to deal with. The grief crashes in like huge waves that engulf you completely. When you are first wrecked, you are drowning surrounded by the wreckage of the love and life you had. The flotsam and jetsam around you serves as a constant reminder of the beautiful thing you had such a short time ago. You are drowning in regret, in a desperate desire to turn back the clock. The only thing you can do is float and find some piece of the wreckage to cling desperately to. Your wife, the feeling of the way things were, your children, your faith. Whatever it is, you just hand on.
At first, the relentlessness of the crashing waves is totally overwhelming: relentless, they are a hundred feet tall and you can't even gasp for breath. Eventually, the waves are still a hundred feet tall, but they start to come a little further apart. When they come, they are still crushing and steal your breath, but at least you can breathe in between and start to function a bit. You never know what will trigger the crushing grief you feel from time to time. I have spoken of it here before like a box where you keep your secret pain locked up and hidden. You don't open the box, you don't want to even glance in its direction to be honest. But sometimes you find it has unlocked itself, and the monster comes out, ferocious and ravenous, and, gasping for breath in your terror at confronting that dark reality, you have no alternative but to fall beneath it and be devoured.
Today, some six years down the line, the waves are only fifty feet tall, and I watch them approaching on the horizon; birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas. I watch them approach and I steel myself for the trauma of their assault. And I am grateful when they recede. I watch them go, and I take a breath or two.
So that is how Christmas was for me.