This was originally intended to be part of a more general post but in the end I wanted to keep Christmas Day as compact and complete as possible, so it has become a blog in its own right.
One of the things I had been dreading most was the coming of the first Christmas without Elaine. Though she was in the hospice the previous year at least she was still alive and we were together there; but I feared this Christmas just gone that I would be alone and in darkness, if only metaphorically speaking. At least that’s what I thought would be the case, but I hadn’t reckoned with my wife or the intervention of fate.
Christmas Day 25th December 2021.
I’m disappointed to wake up to greyness all around. Outside it’s peeing with rain and the wind is relentless, and I had so much hoped for seasonal goodwill from the elements. But my hopes have fallen on stony ground like so much of the proverbial wasted seed.
I have breakfast as Elaine and I always did but sit in the kitchen not the lounge as we used to. Then I open some kindly given presents from my friend Mike, one of which has me blubbing like a kid; they are not my first tears of the day and I know they won’t be my last.
I am late getting out and leave home after 11am. I’ve no real plans, just ideas.
First I drive to the ruined church and Neolithic site of Knowlton where Mike and I went after Elaine’s funeral. Apart from one hardy dog walker, I have the place to myself and I go straight to the two yew trees where I tied the pink wool ‘offering’, almost a year since, in remembrance of my wife.
I cannot find it anywhere. Whether it’s been blown away or simply removed who can say but I’m frustrated and begin to get angry. The awful weather doesn’t help the situation, but then as I stop and look across at the bleak and frigid landscape before me I start to smile and an unheralded warmth begins to calm me from within.
What difference a piece of wool it can be replaced if need be. We don’t need it to stand here side by side and gaze at this feral beauty around us, and you are by my side, aren’t you? I can neither see nor touch you but something inside says you’re here and that’s enough for me.
I leave after about twenty minutes; I’m both wet and cold but I’m glad that I came; something unexpected has come away with me but it still remains invisible to my understanding.
I head for Wimborne stopping off at the woodland burial ground on the way. It’s quite busy, something I selfishly don’t like even so I visit Elaine for the second time in two days. I’m not at all sure what I expected to find. Peace? Comfort in solitude? Whatever, it’s not here and frustration once again starts to gnaw at the ragged edges inside of me.
So I drive into town, park up and walk around for a bit, despite the weather.
Nothing seems to be panning out as I had thought, but then what did I think? I don’t have any answers but something of that feeling I had at Knowlton is staying with me, it whispers about none of this really mattering.
Back at the car I change my wet through coat for a dry one, and start off for Sandbanks and the sea just outside of Poole.
It’s here that I was working when a few years ago Elaine’s condition became terminal. Neither of us knew how long we had left together and I would take early morning walks along the shoreline before work, lost in thoughts and trailed by ill-hidden fears.
Parking where I used to I take the footpath between houses and flats and rounding the last corner come out above the beach; I’m now exposed to the full un-Christmas-like fury of the elements. The wind is a bastard and the heavy drizzle near horizontal plus it’s bitterly cold.
It seems like the whole world and his wife have come here today too, it’s more crowded than an early summers’ morning. I wanted to be alone to walk in self-indulgent privacy, have these people got no Christmas dinners to go to?
I begin the trudge along the shoreline but in minutes I’m wet through again and frozen to the bone. I imagine Elaine walking by my side:-
“Fuck this for a joke Mark, why the hell are we here? You’re going to catch pneumonia at this rate. Get back to the car for goodness sake”.
I take her ‘advice’ and a short cut, and am soon back dripping in the drivers’ seat. I’m feeling very pissed-off by now, none of this day is going as planned.
“What plans? You said you’d make no plans just take the day as it comes, don’t blame it that it’s what it is; control is yours if that’s what you want”.
I remember I’m not far from Forest Holme hospice where a year ago today I was beside my wife; I decide to drive over.
The traffic is very light and I’m soon on all too familiar territory.
I park away from the hospice and despite the weather walk beside the main road towards the back entrance, a route forever engraved within me.
Then a strange thing. Each Christmas morning for as long as I can remember Elaine and I opened a bottle of fizz, Champagne or sparkling wine depending on our funds! Also our last ‘drink’ together was a sip of Bucks Fizz on our wedding anniversary shortly before she died. And now as I walk up the hill bang in front of me in the middle of the pavement (sidewalk) is a Champagne cork; no other debris is around, just the cork.
I laugh to myself as I pick it up, it brings a wave of memories to me of all those wonderful Christmas mornings we spent with each other.
“They cannot be expunged by the memory of that one last Christmas, unless you let them”.
I don’t hear the words, but I feel them.
I walk on and through to the back of the hospice and gently open the gate that stands like an old friend in greeting. There’s no one about and I’m tempted to go further until I notice the window of what was Elaine’s room is open. I don’t want to alarm anyone so I re-trace my steps, but I do place the cork up on the gatepost against the wall.
Then I leave by the front car park.
Passing the main entrance my thoughts’ are of that Monday morning, over a year ago now, when we passed through that doorway together, Elaine and I, for the last time.
I carry on walking to the pavement then turn and unconsciously start to wave; it’s then that I ‘hear’ her inside me- no voice-just feelings as before, but just as loud.
“No need to wave Mark I’m not staying there, I’m right here. You won’t be leaving me there ever again, now I can come with you”.
It wasn’t just the rain running down my face; but in my heart and spirit a light like Edison’s new invention flared-up into my world at last.
She didn’t have to stay this time, now she could walk away with me. It was so obvious Why oh! Why couldn’t I see it before?
I put out my right hand as though holding hers and start away, I’m smiling broadly through the rain and tears, this feels so right. I hesitate after a few yards, “Don’t look back, there’s nothing of us there now, I’m beside you and I know you know it’s true”.
So I keep walking straight on and back to the car where I sit dripping again and think on what’s just happened to and within me.
I feel like a man who’s just discovered a new element, something that’s always been there but remained unseen before.
Elaine isn’t in a hole in the earth at the burial ground that’s just her body, a focus to mourn, but it’s not her or any of us.
She’s not at the hospice either nor is she pacing the boards at the Lodge waiting for me to return home. She is I realise now, wherever I am especially when I think of her.
I remember saying to her once that if she died I would not ever be able to leave this home we shared together for so long, as it would be akin to leaving her behind.
Her reply: “Sod that I’m not waiting here, I’ll be coming with you”.
She is in my heart and soul and my memories, Christmas or otherwise; and she always will be. I don’t need special occasions or places to remember our love I see that now. She’s beside me as I think of her, right here right now, always will be.
Brushing away the tears and rain I see it’s almost 2pm. There’s nowhere else for me to go except home. It looks like the rest of the day I’ll spend alone, I’ve had offers but I just don’t fancy walking in halfway through someone else’s Christmas.
So I head back for Wimborne and as there is little or no traffic I’m soon at the town.
It’s now that fate takes a more direct hand in my day.
I mentioned in an earlier blog my friend of forty years, Marilyn. I had an invite to spend Christmas with her and her son and his family; I’d said I might come over later in the day depending how I felt, but I’m cold and wet now and I know me well enough that after I get home and warm again I’ll be reluctant to go out and impose myself on others.
I come to the mini-roundabout where it’s quickest for me to turn left but intuition overcomes habit and I carry straight on. Why the hell have I come this way it’s longer?
But it’s about to get longer still when instead of going straight through town intuition asserts itself again and I simply know I must turn right. I don’t understand why, there’s no traffic to avoid, no reason.
But suddenly there is. As I near the end of the road there’s a lone figure, bags and umbrella in hand, bent against the elements-Marilyn!
I draw alongside her and she looks up in surprise then recognition and hurries round to the passenger door.
“Mark, God am I glad to see you, I’m getting wet through and my boots seem to have a leak; where are you going?”
“Home after I’ve dropped you, I assume you’re going to Simons?”
“Yes, yes I am, but why did you come round this way?”
“I’ve no real idea other than I had to.”
It’s weird, a few moments one way or another, and I would have missed her completely.
It transpired she had woken-up late not feeling too good and wanted to take a Covid test. By the time she got her hands on one, did it, and waited for the result, then got ready to go out she was running quite late all round.
I drive her to her son’s home about half a mile or so away.
“Mark the offers still there if you’d like to join us, Simon would love to see you.”
“I’d like to see him too, but I’m cold and wet and need to be home for a while, but I’d like to come up later (I could feel Elaine urging me) though I don’t want to walk in halfway through your meal.”
“That’s okay I’ll text you when we’re done.”
And so I returned about 4pm and stayed until 10.30 that night.
I had a really great time and was made to feel so welcome. It was completely different to any Christmas I’d known in a long while, but the lesson began to sink in that Christmas is what you make it, as I guess life is too.
The wonderful festive times I shared with my wife are not coming around again; but they will live on in memories as long as I do. What is important is that they existed in the first place.
Christmas for me from now on will be different, not necessarily better or worse than before, just different; this past one has helped me to accept that.
Question is, can I now accept that all of my life will be ‘different’ from that which I knew with Elaine?
Only time will tell.