Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I Learned This Christmas

It was a good Christmas but also a painful one. Who would have thought that, six years on, I could still be upset by my situation? The answer to that question, I suspect is - anyone who's been widowed. And anyone who hasn't been widowed will be tapping their feet in irritation by now, baffled at how a competent woman isn't back to normal yet.

Christmas was jolly enough. I went to my son and his boyfriend's flat and they were great. Santa even paid a visit and left a stocking for the oldest resident (me!) On Boxing Day, I found myself in the back of my son's car, as he drove me to his in-laws for the afternoon. It was a very curious feeling, sitting there on my own, looking at the scenery passing, with no responsibility and (more to the point for me) no control. I found that I had crossed a threshold - from the generation that is in charge to one that, at best, has to share control. This, I realise, isn't linked particularly to being widowed. If the Golfer had still been alive, then we might well have both been in the back of the car, being driven to the inlaws (though I doubt it - we would have done our own thing and let the kids go on their own). But, even so, it felt like a rite of passage, and it made me feel a lot older than I normally do.

The second seismic event of the afternoon was a long drawn-out affair. I arrived into a maelstrom of people - grown-up children and partners, babies, and a big black dog, and this, I knew, was only half of the people, as the remainder were at a pantomime. When they arrived back there were ten family members in the house, plus us visitors. The contrast between this big, bustling extended family - my son's in-laws - and me, his only surviving family, couldn't have been better demonstrated.

How could we have got to this place? How could I have ended up the only surviving member of a normal family, endlessly trying to fill in all the gaps for my son? It wasn't until I was sitting in that crowded front room that I really saw where my life had brought me. It was rather painful. There's nothing like seeing how your life could have turned out acted out before you to make you face the reality of how it has actually gone.

Having said all that, the in-laws were very welcoming and I enjoyed being amongst babies and dogs for a while. I watched my equivalents in the other family - granny and grandad, at the heart of it all - and it occurred to me that they were only at the heart of it all because they were a couple. If one of them sadly died, I am certain that the remaining spouse would not be entertaining the entire family the next Christmas, or any other Christmas after that. One of the grown-up children would take over and granny or grandad would become a guest, an add-on, instead of the head of the family. It is so cruel and so unfair...and so inevitable. There is something Darwinian about it. I see the younger me in the grownup children around me, impatient with their parents and desperate to be in charge. I can see both sides of what is happening. But, boy, does it hurt to be on the receiving end of it. If my parents were still alive I'd want to apologise to them.

So, an enjoyable Christmas, but an educational one. I have had to face my situation, and my future, more honestly and squarely, and that is probably a good thing. I actually feel freer now. I don't have to be Mum any more, I don't have to protect my son's feelings so much - I can be more myself. I don't have to accept the role of granny/maiden aunt in the corner, at least, not for a few years yet. Who knows, next year I might let them have Christmas on their own and go off and do something different and even a little bit exciting.

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