The cliché goes: “It’s always around Christmas.”
Illness. Death. Heartbreak. But the truth is, “it” is around us just as much every other day of the year – and especially so in 2020; it’s just that at Christmas, it feels more poignant because it’s a time when we are all supposed to be feeling jolly with the yo-ho-ho-ness of it all – and this year, it was hard to summon up the tiniest yo-ho.
Christmas in adulthood is inevitably different from how we felt as children; it doesn’t mean that we are incapable of joy, but pleasure comes tempered with the knowledge of corresponding sadness.
I lost my father just after Christmas in 1990 and my mother in April 2019. During 2020, many other friends lost a parent, and so many others the world over lost loved ones to Covid. Death felt like the unwanted guest at the festive dinner table this year.
It is hard to think of anything new to say about the one thing that every living creature has in common. We are all born, and we will all die – there you go, another cliché, but no less poignant for its being so.
But it is in times of loss that we find comfort in clichés: they are a uniting force in a world that continues to separate us in so many ways. Clichés are the emotional levellers: the things that strip us to the core and reveal that, at their deepest level, our raw, primal instincts are the same: we want to love and we want to be loved, and the thought of either being taken away is, at best, painful; at worst, unbearable.
The manifestation of those two primal urges leads us into all sorts of difficult territory – desire, jealousy, insecurity, paranoia… I could go on – but when we lose love, it hauls us back to the heart of the matter: the very beating of existence, physically and emotionally, that defines us, independent of the social mores and other “stuff” we find ourselves heaping upon it to make life more difficult than it need be.
Because, as better people have said, in superior clichés from those I am managing, love is all. Corinthians 13 tells us everything that love should be, in its purest form, but it’s pretty unsustainable in the modern world. But, when the physical body of a loved relative or friend departs, one is left with that very spirit, the essence, of love – at least, if you have been lucky in the people with whom you have encountered it.
We may delude ourselves in sugar-coating the less than savory aspects; we may hide our grievances and guilt in shadows we might not wish to revisit for many years; we may lie to ourselves and others about life, death, and everything in between. But in that moment of departure and what it entails, we become as babies once more, especially when that death is one’s mother: the being who brought you into the world; the person who, literally, gave you life. You really are on your own now; the umbilical cord severed.
At the end of a very difficult year, this wasn’t quite how I imagined wishing everyone a happy 2021, but in these unpredictable times we really can’t gauge anything, least of all happiness. So, I’m going to change it slightly and wish you all a Loving New Year.
For me, 2020 was a year of some great stuff, some less than good, to say the least (most people would say the same, I suspect); a time in which I learnt a lot and, I hope, shared knowledge I have been lucky to glean, with others. It was a year in which I was often great fun and, I have to be honest, at times a right pain in the ass. A year in which my friends loved me for the former and forgave me for the latter – and in which I, too, loved and forgave them for both, too. It was a year in which we had to give everyone a wide berth.
Because we’re human beings. That’s what we do. We mess up and we repair. None of us sets out to do a bad job, and the fact that we end up doing so at times doesn’t really matter; it’s how we put it right that counts. And the people who love us know that.
And so, my sincere condolences to my friends who have lost people dear to them this year, and my thoughts and positive vibes go out to the many people I know face ongoing difficulties with treatment for their various illnesses; you are braver than I could ever be.
I am blessed having you all in my life, and thank you for your patience, kindness, acceptance of my eccentricities (even though, to me, I am the most normal person on the planet, obviously). In this year, more than any other, thank you for the music of laughter.
In the words of Annie: The sun’ll come out tomorrow.
I send you all the love I have for the year ahead.