12) Coping with Christmas

*This blog also appeared on the Daily Mirror’s website after they approached me to write a piece – click here to see it.

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If there was one time of year Nicola loved more than any other, it was Christmas.

Without fail, the decorations would be up on December 1 (only because I had to ban them from going up in September) and so much time would be spent planning the various activities and food for the day itself as well as who we would see and when.

So, as you can imagine, having lost Nicola in August, this Christmas is going to be a particularly tough one for us to go through.

For a start, my organisational skills are nowhere near as good as Nicola’s were and, whilst it’s true that most guys are often guilty of leaving things until the last minute, as I write this just a few days before Christmas Day itself I can’t help but feel abject terror at what I’ve still got left to sort out.

In the past, presents would all have been bought, wrapped and distributed, cards written and posted and copious amounts of food and drink already purchased. Let’s just say that right now, I haven’t even located the sticking tape, the address book or the supermarket shopping bags.

If you’ll pardon the pun, the saving grace for us this year, is Grace. At three-years-old it’s really the first time she’s fully embraced Christmas and all the fun surrounding it, which perhaps makes it all the more tragic that Nicola isn’t here to share it with her.

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The wooden tree bauble I had made for Nicola.

Grace is, however, the main focus for the family and I this year and making sure she enjoys the magic it can bring to someone her age has been a welcome distraction from the upset caused by Nicola not being here.

She’s sung Christmas songs in a performance at nursery, loves wearing any Christmassy clothing, and of course is excited about what Santa might bring her. Needless to say, the evidence so far suggests she’s going to be quite spoilt this year given everything she’s been through.

She also helped me decorate our Christmas tree. That sounds like a simple task, but Nicola’s Christmas tree design skills were rather impressive so the pressure was on to recreate it and I think we ended up doing OK once I’d spent most of December untangling the lights and stopped Grace putting 50 baubles in the same square metre of tree.

It’s little things like that which bring it home to me just how hard it will be this year. I ended up getting quite upset at one point that the house just didn’t look as good as it usually does this time of year. It almost felt like I was letting Nicola down by not making it as special as she could. She wouldn’t think that, I’m sure, but those are the kind of feelings that you can’t help encountering from time to time, and not just at Christmas.

I guess my heart just hasn’t been in it on this occasion. That will be different in future years, without doubt, but this time I’ve found it hard to fully embrace some of the traditions at which we’d always excelled with Nicola’s help.

I actually had a special bauble designed for the tree this year, a wooden one with a dove on it and the message ‘In memory of Nicola/Mummy, we miss you’. We’ve of course got memories and photos of Nicola all over the house, but a simple presence on the tree seemed apt, even though I can get a bit emotional every time I look at it.

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Nicola, Grace and I pictured last Christmas, which we knew was likely to be Nicola’s last.

It’s so often the case that people spend Christmas surrounded by loved ones and whilst that should happen as much as possible at all times of the year, the festive period always seems to have that something special attached to it. This time last year, Nicola had not long been diagnosed as terminally ill and we knew there was a strong chance it would be her last Christmas. That sadly proved to be true, but the joy she took from seeing Grace open her presents and being around her family will always stay with me.

The four months since Nicola died have been a rollercoaster of grief and emotion but also full of lots of fun and laughter as we remember an incredibly clever, bubbly and wonderful person. That’s how I want Christmas to be too as her family and friends all get together, because even though she’s not here in person, she certainly will be in spirit and we’ll raise a glass or two to her, that’s for sure, just like I hope people everywhere do as they remember those they’ve lost.

On Christmas Day itself, I’ll go to Nicola’s grave, place a wreath and some flowers and spend a little time alone with her there as I often do. Going there doesn’t yet get any easier, but given how she felt about this time of year in particular, I can’t let it pass without at some point being next to her, maybe talking to her a little bit about the day, smiling as I remember previous festive fun and simply saying: ‘Merry Christmas, babe’.

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