Love lost, read and found
Who is the Angel on top of the tree? Is there an Angel looking out for me? Christmas is here, but where there should be, girls sitting around opening presents, instead of four there are three.Where is the Angel with girls sat on her knee? Is such an Angel sat here next to me? Christmas is here, but where there should be, Mother and Father watching in glee, instead of us two, there is only me.
Christmas is here, the fourth now without Katherine already or the third anniversary of the ‘Christmas that never came to be’. Every Christmas since has been less of a struggle but in a way when you lose someone, struggling is what you become used to.
The struggle these days is something different to what I used to feel, more of a time related issue. I just find it difficult fitting everything in that this time of year, and having to search in buying meaningful presents is just one more thing.
Fatigue has kept me company on so much of the way and together we try to be on time to each family visit and dinner. The girls are getting older and can do more for themselves now, but at this time of year they want to look extra special or have new party dresses to wear so they can feel even more doted on by our extended family members. I try desperately hard to get the girls ready to a standard that would represent me to a standard that I know would make their mother proud, but for a man to find all the right combination of clothes and presentation in his girls is very taxing. I just have to hope I am not robbed of my resolve if and when I am given a hard time for arriving typically late. Such reprimands serve very little in helping one cope but act as an unwanted reminder to highlight the obvious reminder That there was once a time when you used to do much better! These days people have mellowed and make less of a fuss, but the late tag has stuck just the same regardless of when I turn up.
Christmas is hard in the respect that I love it but I always remember Katherine’s determined battle to make it to one last Christmas at home with our daughters. I could feel cheerier and I do try to be everything in the essence of fun and the life of the party, so that my daughters, nephews and nieces all feel extra special at our family gatherings. The children inspire all our efforts to be all we can be.
So each new Christmas comes and turns into what it has to be! Where and when the Christmassy feeling starts is just what’s meant to be.
Perhaps in 2012 it started with a Christmas, the one that came not be? Or in 2001 that was the first time that Christmas at our ‘home’ was with an Angel missing from me.
The year before on Christmas Day 2000 our new born Jessica was still only seventeen days old and still in hospital not yet knowing our home. Her home was still on the wards but at least she had been moved out of the NICU Neonatal intensive care unit and into the Neonatal unit wing. She was preciously small and seriously ill, and as much as we wanted to be able to take her home with us and her three year older sister, we were told not to expect her home with us any day very soon.
I can’t remember where we had Christmas Dinner that day or who we spent it with, or if I was much fun with little Hannah, but either side of eating our fill, we spent much of the time with our tiny baby, the new family member we couldn’t take home for Christmas. So we brought it to her instead.
Jessica as she was named weighed a feather over three pounds when by a doctor’s decision and emergency caesarian she was prematurely born and almost three weeks later, she was still just as small and so very fragile.
In the hope that one day I might be able to look back and show her where and how she spent her first Christmas Day, I placed a Christmas Cracker beside her and took a photo and even now when I look back at it and reminisce, I can’t believe she was ever that small. I have to avoid looking back so far or too long because it hurts like hell facing the thought that I was never given the chance to show her the photo and reminisce cuddling together as I had then once hoped.
That is a flavour of a Christmas Day that knocked out some of my stuffing, though it was many years ago now it is a wrapped bundle of pain that won’t go away. Despite that twang of festive regret, like anyone else I love Christmas and its role in uniting with family, but it is the same love of it that connects me with some hurt and Christmas divisions.
By now I should have my act together and be back efficiently sending out Christmas cards, but once again I haven’t managed to write even year a few. I can’t really say I still have any excuse except that perhaps I got into the missing habit in 2011 when sending Christmas cards was inappropriate as we were mourning the loss of Katherine’s dad Ernest to cancer, but then the next year the same could be said as we were mourning Katherine. I know it is not a woman’s job to write out the cards, but the man in me has struggled to be anywhere near as consistent. Katherine always drove the writing of Christmas cards.
The weeks after Katherine died were the worst darkest days in my life and they led me right through Christmas and I thought I just wouldn’t ever cope without Katherine sat next to me, watching children opening presents under the tree and it wasn’t any more comforting to think there might be angels looking down over me.
Kath’s wanted to make it to Christmas, but Christmas came too late. When it did come she was no longer at home either. It was a grey and very cold day on Christmas Day in 2012 when we went to the cemetery and this time it was us that had come too late in trying to take Christmas to her. We found the gates locked not having realised a public service would close so early on their most busiest day. It was a torment too far and not knowing who to blame, I hated just about everything so my rage found a way to stop the Christmassy feeling from coming near me.
The following year Christmas was once again a bit of a blur but at least that time my emotions were not so up and down as in the first year. I had learned how to manage so my tears did not fall so freely, I learned to deck the halls and put up the walls to stop myself bleeding out.
Silent nights became much easier, and at midnight Mass I proudly watched Hannah as one of the alter servers, in front of the whole congregation, light the last candle in the Advent wreath and feeling so proud, I fought hard not to be overwhelmed thinking of her missing mother from my side who would have been bursting in pride. I pictured her instead in the spirit and thought of her there watching over her and if there was another little angel beside her holding her mummy’s hand and I pined at the thought of what she now looked like.
Christmas is always a family occasion and on Christmas Eve after we have had a birthday get together at my mother’s house, I still take our daughters to midnight mass, as Christmas Day for us, long in tradition has started this way.
Whenever the carol ‘Silent Night’ is sung or even hummed, it stirs emotions in me that reek havoc with the walls that I put up in place, but time has allowed me to manage to stop them tumbling down so easily. I guess that’s what they call healing.
Christmas Day isn’t so hard anymore on me or my daughters though I will always have reasons to reflect whilst we sit around the tree. I try mostly to hide these moments now from the girls so they don’t think I am sad or spoiling innocent Christmassy feelings, but I do still feel emotional about all of the things that their mother must be seeing in them and be feeling proud.
I can’t give lost Christmases back to any of my daughters nor to their missing mother, I can only ensure in my heart that we are always together and that there is always that room.
Christmas is for uniting families and so it is important not to let anything feel like it divides your soul from joy and finding peace and so I write often about these things to help in the healing and I know Christmas and the grave is where I feel the healing the most, but I wonder if I owe much of that healing to God’s answering of my prayer where it was all I could come up with to capture what I was feeling in my speech at Kath’s funeral?
“Farewell Katherine Angel
I want to ask: where are all the Angels today? Years ago many accounts of Angels were being written and told, but what qualified those telling to be in the know? Perhaps they were just simple innocent folk, easily fooled or confused, or were they more like us today, eyes closed, cynical and assured? I want to ask ; would we even know an Angel today? Oh to ask a million things, but not everything in a day.
God I put my faith in you always. In Katherine you gave me everything I ever asked for. But God now I’m here asking again, I loved her from the first day and made her my life’s quest, but God here I am asking; where is the rest?
Now it’s hard for me to stand here and do my soul any justice, in a speech from my heart, where my wife is the one I have to pay tribute to, so much more than just another lost loved one.
But I owe her my effort, as much as I owe everything else. Because she gave me all that I have and made me all that I am! I am nothing without her, save for your grace Lord.
Such grace I have found, in all the well wishes, love and support, and grace shared in many words over the last ten days. Since my wife passed away I have heard the most wonderful things said about her. From family and friends and from every least expected corner someone has had something incredibly nice to say about Katherine, and all of my life I never knew anyone else knew.
It makes my heart want to burst from my chest knowing everyone knows how special she was, and even more, just how much I have now lost. It hurts me to see how she suffered alone and it pains me to know that I will now suffer alone.
But that is nothing compared to the pain I feel now knowing how much Katherine, in facing her death, worried only for me and the daughters she had to face leaving behind.
That is the selfless Katherine I’ve known and loved all of my life. I wish I could be just like her.
Katherine I want to give you my pledge that I will do everything I can to be alright. That I will live for our girls and keep your memory alive and that their best interests will always be put before mine. I want to thank you for our lifetime together, the good and the bad. I have known in my life, the love of a wife and a friend.
God I want to thank you for my clarity of thinking and for opening my eyes. This is my account of your Angel.
Thank you for sending her to me, thank you for the fact that she loved me. Thank you that everyone knew it.
Lord, with the ashes of our daughter Jessica from whom she was never parted and of her father Ernest, take back your Angel Katherine. I pray, some time, you loan her to me once more.
I asked you God, but I know, where is the rest! You started me with one Katherine and now I still have three. God, soothe my Katherine’s anxieties, please help me feel whole. Help me find comfort in faith Lord, and the words to console, my daughters each day, and the hurt in my soul.”
That was my speech and it seems to have more significance now than I realise.
Katherine never managed to get to the Christmas she was hoping for, nor have any been quite the same ever since but I have done everything to have her find the kind of peace in the grave she would have hoped for. The Red Robin has become a bit of a Christmas card icon and one day I hope that my daughter’s chests will be bursting in pride in realising how much I have struggled in trying to make that peace happen.
Three years ago I buried Katherine as per her request, with the ashes of both her late father Ernest and our daughter Jessica. Of course this was difficult for me, but it also gave me great comfort to know she did not go there alone. It was so like Kath to quietly take others by the hand in everything she did and it soothes me knowing at that in Katherine’s grave, my daughter is once again held tight in her mother’s arms, and that an old wound in me was healed with the new.
Christmas Day is as much about who is present as much as we think about who is not. Ernest is no longer here and nor is his Granddaughter Jessica, but it was always Katherine’s presence that helped manage those absences, and now that is missing too!
When the moments of sadness or pride over my daughters seep out or overwhelm me sat around the Christmas tree, I can only look around and wonder, if we are alone in the room or if there are Angels sat there with me.