Christmas can be lonely - but the light isn’t only on the tree
- Credit: Karl Keeley
Liz Nice had a different Christmas this year, but found that there is still joy to be had even in dark moments
I've heard people say it so many times. 'Christmas can be a difficult time'.
I've never had much sympathy with that view. 'Get some festive spirit!' I'd arrogantly think, while I repeated the exact same Christmas I had had for the past quarter of a century with my ex's family and, more recently, my children.
The stockings before 6am. Exhausted parents. Eager children. The Christmas morning run with my nephews (sons of my ex's sister). The scramble to produce lunch. The present explosion in the afternoon. The debate over whether to watch The Queen and EastEnders.
This year was different. Single again, it was just me and my sons and dinner at my parents. I especially missed my nephews, both in their 20s, whom I have known all their lives. But when you split up with their uncle, who is their blood relation, you're not sure what to do for the best.
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Do you contact them? Is that fair? The last thing you want to do is to make things awkward for them. Then, on Boxing Day, my sons were gone and it was just me and the dogs in a freezing house (the boiler had decided, on December 23, to pack up).
God, I hate Christmas, I thought for the first time ever.
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A friend had a similar experience. It was the first Christmas without her beloved dad.
'We got through it,' she said.
Another friend had a couple of Christmases on her own after her husband died. 'It was hard,' she said. 'I was glad when it was over.'
How does Christmas go from being something wonderful, to something you have to survive?
Change. As soon as things change, loved ones die or move on, it is never the same.
I thought of Age UK's 'Just another day' campaign last year which highlighted that, for over 1 million people, Christmas is spent alone.
But self-absorbed as we are, we switch off others' sadness, until it happens to us.
I read many heartbreaking stories over Christmas. The separated mother whose 23 month old twins were found dead in their home, soon after she crashed her car into a lorry, stood out.
But I also read of Rachel Nickell's son, Alex, the rewarding life he has built since his mother's unthinkable murder on Wimbledon Common in 1992, and how his father had taught him to forgive Rachel's killer because 'otherwise you become like him'.
However hard things can seem at times, there is always light.
The kindly man who came to fix the boiler would only accept a bottle of wine.
There were still excited faces and stockings at dawn.
My parents' joy at having me home again was so heart-warming – and Mum and I watched EastEnders and The Queen without debate!
My ex and I exchanged thoughtful gifts, working hard to be back on good terms once more.
And I made new traditions. A visit to my godmother's home to introduce my children to the Christmas Eve full of cakes and sausage rolls I always enjoyed as a child. And on Boxing Day my friend James Marston, vicar in training and columnist of this newspaper, threw a party for 'all the odds and sods' and it was a night of drinking and laughter and nobody was alone any more.
Meanwhile, on Christmas morning, the phone rang, while, a little while later, a message pinged in my inbox.
I am so glad I wrote to my lovely nephews this Christmas.
Both the phone call and the message expressed the same, longed for, joyful sentiment.
'We miss you too, Liz,' they said.