I was supposed to go to a Christmas party last night but wimped out last minute because it all felt a bit much. ‘Self care’ – isn’t that what we’re calling it now? I’m being ‘kind to myself’ (and presumably others) by avoiding situations when I’m not in the right frame of mind. So, in the interest of self-preservation I went to Tesco to buy ingredients for dinner instead. It was all going fine, until I walked up the herb aisle and Elvis started warbling, ‘It’ll be lonely this Christmas; without you to hold’. And I realised, whether you’re at a party, at the supermarket, or just on the sofa, There. Is. Just. No. Escape from the season to be jolly when you’re feeling anything but.
So Elvis put me in a bad mood (although I was sort of grateful it wasn’t The Pogues) but then so did Take On Me, which came blasting out of the speakers straight afterwards (is it just me, or does the music in supermarkets get cranked up a few decibels at Christmas? Far from getting customers in the spirit, I’m convinced it only stresses them out). Because it’s not just sad songs that make you feel awful when you’re grieving; happy songs are just as bad. They remind you of the person you were before; in my case, the girl who likes to dance at parties… who is always first at the bar and usually the last to leave, and who didn’t realise until this year, just how carefree her life had been.
I’m writing this, ironically, while gearing myself up for another Christmas party I don’t want to wimp out of this time. Reminding myself of the late, great Elizabeth Taylor is helping. “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together,” she once said. And I have done. Many, many evenings over the last eight months since mum died. Of course it doesn’t always work, and it doesn’t always end well. Perhaps because I’m largely impersonating who I used to be.
I remember when mum first died, I felt like a shadow of my old self and the first times I went out, to a work event, a wedding or otherwise, I actually struggled to form proper sentences (and that was before I’d had a drink!) Even now, when I bump into someone I’ve not seen for a while and they ask, “What have you been up to?” I go completely blank and I can’t think of anything to say, which is incredibly awkward for someone who is meant to be a journalist and talk to people for a living.
I go blank because I reckon about 85% of my brain (and that’s a rough estimate – sometimes it’s less, and other times more) is currently consumed with losing mum. It’s I-still-can’t-actually-believe-this-has-happened mourning and what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-without-her-for-the-rest-of-my-life fear for the future, and it makes for a pretty unpleasant combination. So when people ask me where I’m spending Christmas, and I tell them I’m going back to mum’s house to spend it with my family, and they tell me that I just need to get this one out of the way because it will be the worst, and after that it will get easier, I just want to scream. Because honestly, if I could go to sleep and wake up at the end of January, I would.
I was lucky that mum wrote me lots of letters in my twenties, and while it’s too painful to properly look through them at the moment, I came across this one by accident and I will take comfort – at this time of year in particular – from her words of wisdom:
“It may be difficult for you to believe this, but it is often the people who appear most confident and self assured who are the ones with some of the worst self-esteem. People in general are very good actors and believe that if they behave a certain way they will eventually be more like it.”
I wish I was a better actor.