Updated: Dec 30, 2020
It’s 10.30pm on Christmas Eve 1980 and I’m almost 11 years old, feeling super grown up as my parents have allowed me to stay up late to watch a movie. My mum, who has spina bifida, my dad who was diagnosed with renal failure in 1977 and me, an only child. Very loved, very happy, very excited for the big man to arrive.
Jingle bells! Oh no, in reality it’s the phone, an old ivory monstrosity with a tinkle buzz sound when you dial. My mum answers and I know instantly this is not going to be a normal Christmas…
A solemn tone and muffled voices as I glance nervously, over the back of the sofa, at each of my parents’ faces to see if ten-year-old me, can glean any information and figure it out.
The odd cry of ‘what right now?’ and ‘thank you so much, see you soon’ are not helping me to decipher if this is good or bad news. It’s both.
A kidney had become available, my dad is the best match, we must go straight away to Sheffield for more tests, dad could be getting a new kidney, even a new life, free of dialysis, for Christmas this year.
But even at such a young age, I felt the sadness, intermingled with anticipation, and could not quite figure out why.
We grab the things we need, I have my usual drawing and colouring books as we could be some time. Plus, I’m allowed to take one gift from under the tree to open after midnight. I chose a small, long thin box. As it turns out, a brand-new digital watch.
It’s a long night, and well into the midst of Christmas Day before we are given the news that the kidney is a match and dad goes into surgery. Again, those mixed emotions, then, even at ten years old I understand - in order for my dad to be offered this gift, another family has had to make a heart-breaking decision.
Christmas began to lose its sparkle.
Almost 6 months later, in June 1981, we sit down to a full Christmas dinner, with Father Christmas and a flamenco dancer - honest! One of dad’s colleagues and his wife, felt we needed the chance to celebrate the Christmas we missed (and all three of our birthdays too). The surgery had not been a success, the organ had failed, dad ended up with internal bleeding, we were told he might not make it. We were burgled too. But at least dad was alive and survived a further 20 years on dialysis.
October 2000 - after a string of ailments and setbacks, and becoming the record longest surviving renal patient in the area, for 23 years, dad passed away due to many complications of his illness, renal bone disease, heart disease and more. I was devastated.
Christmas had never had the same charm as it had in 1980, but now I had a five-year-old son, and I was enchanted by the magic once more. Christmas without Grandad B would be tough, but we’d make the best of it. We’d planned for Grandma J to join us and it was going to be ‘epic!’ I’ve no idea, some kids show…
Then at the end of November Grandma J fell and broke her knee, being discharged from hospital just a day before my boy’s 5th Birthday party, in agony, but determined to still attend. Dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog, the sproglet entertained the room. A week or so later and on the run up to the Christmas panic, the sproglet shuffled in from school, not really himself. His dad was out drumming in Halifax with his band and no amount of hugs could cheer up the boy. After his third or fourth bout of vomiting, I called the doctor, ‘have you done the tumbler test?’ - crap, never even considered it.
Ok, the rash is NOT going away, his dad is miles away, it’s snowing, we only have one car, my mum is laid up with a broken knee - WTAF.
Thank goodness for Grandma M, picking up Grandma J on the way, we made our way to A & E, several hours later, a couple of seizures, a massive puking episode, blood tests and a lumbar puncture we were told it was just a virus and he’d be ok, but medicated all over Christmas - sound!
Christmases were never the same again, we’ve had some good, some not so good, but I never found my Christmas spirit. Always questioning if more bad things happen at Christmas or if it’s just more noticeable?
Another 10 years later in 2010 My mum had remarried, my stepdad received the news 5 days before Christmas, on his birthday, that his daughter and son-in-law had been killed in a freak road accident.
And now a further 10 years on, not a fortnight before the big day, after probably the worst year ever, we are here again. A year that has seen a global pandemic, bushfires, floods, the economy crashing, mass unemployment, 3 million excluded from support, kids going hungry, the death of the Arts, the ridiculousness of Brexit, a crooked and inept government, the tragedy of the care home crisis, we have once again had the Christmas rug whipped out from under our feet.
After a fall resulting in a ruptured spleen, we are now sitting waiting for the inevitable call to say my stepdad has lost his fight for life, three days before his birthday and a week before the festivities.
Well effing played Christmas you complete arse.
So if you’ve got this far, I urge you to consider your options this year, I know you want that magical Christmas the books, TV and movies promise, the perfect decorations, the new love, the inexplicable massive Christmas event, managed by a novice, with no budget, that ends up being a festive Glastonbury. But is it really worth it?
Just because you can, does not mean you should. Look after those around you, hug those in your bubble tight this Christmas, but those not in your bubble, don’t mix, send them a virtual hug, meet in the park to exchange gifts, Zoom quiz with them. Whatever you do, just make sure that next Christmas, they are still here to celebrate with you.
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Edit - my stepdad passed away at 10.30pm on Thursday 17 December - rest well old fella xx