December 25, 2017
25 December, 2017 seemed to be a perfect forum to put pen to paper, and to share what I have been secretly dreading for months – facing the reality of waking on Christmas morning without one member of our very small, but close knit family. Not because he is exploring the world, or at his new partner’s home for the Festive Season, but because medical science failed to find the answer to one particularly rare, and aggressive cancer.
Waking this morning, was like no other Christmas morning as the magic had disappeared. Despite the boys this year being 18 and 21, Colin and I had always attempted to provide an element of childhood magic, for every Christmas. With each passing year, this attempt ran the risk of falling horribly flat. Stockings full of random filler gifts which were deemed to be underwhelming, the forced expressions of appreciation, the odd humorous aside to one another after opening these gifts, family breakfast, and then the fun really began. The onslaught of sheer madness that came with the quest for that perfect day. I was always hell-bent on overseeing the perfect Christmas Day, while ensuring some Christmas magic along the way.
Today, it is difficult to say how I truly feel. I have not known the answer to this question for four long months, and I’m almost too afraid to explore it. What I do know is today for Mitch and Colin, must feel special as it has done for the past 21 years. I do however, think the usual mayhem might serve to ease some of the pain. So, today I must put my best foot forward, as Coop did for almost two years, whilst facing his own adversities. He taught me so very much about humility and grace.
For the three of us left behind in the wake of Cooper’s recent passing, nothing will ever be the same. We navigate life daily in a heavily altered state, and there exists an unspoken daily balance, to ensure no-one in our inner sanctum is left feeling second best, disenfranchised or alone. This is the first Christmas Day without our precious brother and son, so this is unchartered territory. It simply does not feel in any way right, and my aching suspicion is, it never will.
When you lose a child, your world changes irreversibly, as it does when your little brother is no longer by your side. Things that were once important, are no longer. Christmas has always been a challenge for me, since both my mother and father passed away on either side, and I harboured an internal sadness which I fought hard to ensure was never evident to my family nor to the outside world. To compensate for this, I, like so many others, strived for the perfect Christmas day for those around me. With the benefit of hindsight, all who choose this path, set themselves up to fail. I am the first to admit, I am no Martha Stewart, nor am I particularly good at choosing “the right gift”, to add to this, my skills at decorating are severely lacking, but that didn’t stop me from trying. With each passing year came the challenge of doing better than the year before.
I look back on those Christmas days and marvel at the degree of mayhem one mother can cause, in the quest for the perfect day. I suspect however, I was, and am not alone. I have few regrets in my life, but right at a time when my world as I knew it has changed forever, I so, so wish I had just enjoyed the moment more, and ceased driving my family to distraction with the perfect menu, the perfect gifts, and the perfect table decoration. At the end of the day, as Cooper would always say, “nobody cares”, and after a few glasses of Christmas bubbly, nor do they remember.
I have selfishly chosen not put up a Christmas tree this year. Previous years, have seen the boys, admittedly under duress, choosing a colour scheme for our tree, and it would be decorated on December 1 as a family. The expectation was for everyone to clear their diary for our family tradition, and one I so looked forward to. December 1 came and went this year, and yet it somehow just didn’t seem right to do what we have enjoyed as a family for 21 years. Apart from fairy lights on the balcony, there is not a hint of Christmas in our home, because the idea of December even remotely being, as Andy Williams so aptly put into song, “The most wonderful time of the year… “ is so far removed from the place we find ourselves this year, and I suspect, each year hereafter. I have a pile of unopened Christmas cards in a drawer which I cannot bring myself to read, and the selfishness of this act is not lost on me, as I know each person who has taken the time to send these, did so with the purest of intentions. I do know however, there will be cards in that pile from those who do not know Cooper is no longer with us, and confronting those well- meaning words at Christmas is far too painful.
This year, there will be the three of us for Christmas Day in Melbourne, which is the way we want it if Coop cannot be with us. We have sensibly opted to work with disadvantaged members of our community, where no one knows us, and we can channel our grief into something more positive, whilst being together. Perfection will not be something I am personally seeking this year, but just maybe, some peace of mind will come in the form of helping others less fortunate, through this impossibly lonely time of the year. The meaning of joy is now something which for the greater part eludes me, but what I do know is, it is always associated with my family, helping someone who is in need, being with close friends, and very little else.
Cooper is forever present in our memory, and I speak for the three of us when I say he is in our thoughts from the moment we wake, to the moment our heads touch the pillow, and Christmas Day will be no different. He is and always will be, that larger than life part of our lives, that will never fade. My guess is however, for a great number of you reading this, you may also feel his absence in your own way.
I am so very grateful I have Mitch and Colin by my side today, as so many people are forced to negotiate these life -altering tragedies solo. I am acutely aware of the fact so many family and friends this year, have also walked the road, Colin, Mitch and I find ourselves traveling. My nephew was tragically taken from us in an accident earlier this year. He was only four years older than Cooper. Colin’s mother passed away suddenly weeks prior to Cooper’s passing. We understand all too well the pain associated with this time of the year, when you are desperately missing someone you love. So today our extended family unite with others in the commonality and brutal acknowledgement of that empty seat at the dinner table.
This Christmas day, I would urge you to make a stand to push back from the festive season madness and get back to basics. Put down the turkey baster, and take a moment to look up from the Donna Hay Christmas recipe book. Yes, your university aged kids look like they have spent the night in a wheelie bin, but hey, they are there with you, stop readjusting the table decorations…they are just fine. Take time out to stand back and savour the moment with a glass of whatever takes your fancy, and learn from my mistakes. The family you see before you is perfection, in whatever form it takes, and it is not until one of those you see before you is no longer there, that you will truly understand the gravity of the moment.
I would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the outpouring of love and support you have provided our family over past years and months, and I can assure you, your generosity of spirit has not gone unnoticed, and for each of us, has made a world of difference. These individual gestures have provided us with great comfort in knowing we do not walk this unspeakably difficult road alone.