I only remember spending one Christmas apart from my sister before this one, and that was when Paul and I lived in New York and spent the day alone. This year, I knew my brother-in-law and my parents would have preferred to give the festivities a miss altogether, but it was understood that we had to do it for the children. Not the babies, who are six months old and don’t have any idea what day it is, but for Joseph and my nephew, Louie. They’ve had quite the year, too, and they deserved a Christmas to remember.
On Christmas Eve, Paul and I took Joseph and Elodie to the hospital to visit Rachel. We don’t stay for long when we have Joseph with us, and on that day, she was asleep for our entire visit. Joseph sang Jingle Bells over and over to try to wake her, but she slept on. So we left her, calling our best wishes behind us, hoping they would mean something.
And that afternoon, we went to Twinlakes, a local theme park. It was freezing, and for the first half an hour or so, Joseph only wanted to play in the sandpit. It seemed like it might have been a wasted trip. But then Paul headed inside to feed Elodie and I persuaded Joseph to go on the rollercoaster with me, and I put my arm around him and listened to his shrieks of delight. When we came to get off, he asked me whether we could go round again, and because there wasn’t much of a queue, the man operating the ride let us sit back down. We stayed on that rollercoaster for five rides in a row, and Joseph’s excitement was infectious. Every time we looped around the track, I felt my gloom lifting a little. By the end of the day, when we were watching Santa set off on his sleigh against a backdrop of fireworks, I felt like Christmas might just be ok after all.
This is the first year that Joseph has really got excited about Santa and presents and the whole thing. So we did the mince pie and carrot for Santa and Rudolph, and the sneaking around with presents after he’d gone to bed. And in the morning, we watched him experience pure joy, sat in the middle of an enormous pile of presents and wrapping paper. And it was wonderful. At one point, he danced with me to Christmas songs in the kitchen, and told me that his favourite present was me.
Later, we were joined by my parents, Paul’s parents, my brother-in-law and my nephews, and things went pretty well. Christmas dinner was on the table late, but it was good. The babies both slept while we ate. It was busy and noisy and fun, but it was far from perfect. Rachel loves Christmas. She gets really excited and she loves watching everyone open presents, and she never gets around to opening her own. We miss her every day, of course, but it’s always harder on special occasions. And it’s so strange, to miss someone who’s still here. We miss her being among us on a daily basis. We miss her being her whole self.
On Boxing Day, I went to see her. Scott and the boys were there, and Louie told me he’d pulled two crackers and given one of the crowns to Mummy. She was wearing it. I held Jay and played with Louie to give Scott a bit of time with her, and when they left, I got my time. I told her that I’d stopped at a supermarket on the way to look at the sale, and that Paul had forbidden me from buying more chocolate, and that I’d bought more chocolate. She said ‘just don’t tell him.’ It was exactly what she always would have said.
Some evenings, Joseph lines up a row of cars next to a soldier on his playmat. He tells me that the soldier is Rachel, and that the people in the cars are visiting her. The first time he did it, it made me a bit sad, but now I look forward to it. It’s a signal that he remembers her, and that he loves her. She’s on his mind, just like she’s on mine.
I can’t say I’m sorry that this year is over. It’s been a tough one, to say the least. In my pessimistic moments, I worry about what 2017 might have in store. But in my more rational ones, I know that it’s unlikely to be anything like as bad. It’s likely to be the year in which Elodie learns to walk and says her first words. The year in which Rachel comes home. The year in which I finish my surgery and start to put this whole cancer experience behind me. I have a lot of hopes for it. And I’m trying to put them ahead of my fears.