It’s that time of year when most people in the UK are preparing for Christmas, or fighting the societal need to do so! I used to love Christmas when I was a child, and even into early adulthood, it was a chance to get together as a family, to see friends not seen that much throughout the year, to return home to Torquay when I was living away, and generally to be sociable. In the last few years Christmas has lost a little of its shine, I’m not sure whether it’s a side effect of various family members being old and/or ill, not having young children of my own, working so hard that the real delight is having three days away from work rather than anything else, and/or whether its something to do with our family now being spread out a bit more and therefore the balance needing to be struck between wanting to get together, but everyone also wanting to lead their own lives.
Not sure really, but this year I’m determined to have a good Christmas. I’m forcing myself to do some Christmassy things – next weekend I’m borrowing some of my best mates children to take them to the nativity play at Pennywell Farm, I’m also going to the Army Cadet Christmas Carol Service with mum and dad. We’re having a mini-excuse for fun and food at work and indeed a Secret Santa. Most importantly I suppose, my Dad has made it (so far so good) to another Christmas.
Bobby J was diagnosed as terminally ill about 18months ago, first having been diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) just over four years ago. Last November I wrote about my feelings about Dad’s cancer having no cure, in it I referred to the fact that Christmas 2010 was likely to be his last, and none of us dared even think he wouldn’t make that. Here we are, twelve months later, and I’m torn between celebrating the fact that it looks like Dad will see Christmas 2011 with a completely irrational fear about tempting fate.
I don’t believe in fate, Correction, I’d like to think I don’t believe in fate, yet the reality is I get nervous about saying that out loud – in case I tempt fate. Ridiculous I know.
Up until a few days ago I was confident Dad would be here for Christmas, in fact my mind doesn’t actually allow me to think anything but that. The reality of living with cancer, and someone being terminally ill, is that you can’t ever know anything for sure. So while I’m confident that Dad will be here, I’m also just trying to reserve a little bit of my enthusiasm and acceptance of that fact, to sort of prepare for the possibility that he might not be. That, or worse still, that he’ll get ill over Christmas. As much as I love the NHS, and I really do, my experience to date of their Christmas service has been fantastically, generous and brilliant people, doing their best on skeleton staff with skeleton resource – which actually means it gets fairly scary at times.
I guess as I come to the end of this reflection, the crux of the matter is that you’re faced with a choice if you, or someone you love, has a degenerating or terminal illness at this time of year. You can try and prepare yourself for the possibility that they may not make it, or they may get ill, or you can chose to ignore that reality and just hope it won’t happen. I think this year I’m going to throw myself fully into trying to get into the Christmas spirit, and just keep a little of the concern in the back of my mind, as preparation for the possible alternative. Above all else though I’m going to be grateful, truly grateful, that my Dad is here with us now, on 10 Dec 2011, that we’ve had all this extra time that we didn’t expect to have with him.
I’m still struggling with the age old question of what to buy a dying man for Christmas; for his 63rd birthday I made him chocolate brownies, for his 64th I brought him an Atlas of Remote Islands, a beautiful book of 50 remote and isolated islands that few people would ever visit, only for him to proudly announce he’d stopped at one when he was in the Navy! So it’s that time of year again, I’ll keep thinking about what to get him, but any suggestions would be very welcome.