Christmas celebrations in my mother’s care home began on the 1st December and continued rather relentlessly until New Year’s Day. The overlay of extreme jollity on top of things that were often far from jolly was sometimes hard to manage. My mother would sometimes stay in her room rather than risk encountering Santa and his reindeers singing Christmas songs for the third time in two weeks. This might sound bah humbug but people’s experiences of Christmas vary dramatically so focusing purely on the happy version can often highlight what others have missed or are now missing.
My mother sadly died over the Christmas period. My enduring memory of that difficult time is being told she had just days to live in a room off the main social area where an Elvis impersonator was rocking out 70s Christmas songs surrounded by care home staff in their finest Christmas jumpers. It was an odd juxtaposition, but encapsulated well the day to day of care homes – happiness, sadness, joy and tragedy and everything in between. I was so impressed at the amazing effort the staff put in to ensuring my mother’s final days were as comfortable as they could be. It was Christmas after all and most had families and friends they wanted to be with, but they provided support and love for both me and my mum.
Sitting with my mum on Christmas Day 2017 and feeling rather helpless as I watched her drift in and out of consciousness, I remembered some wise words from a friend to keep talking and keep engaging. I picked up a book about the Quakers and turned to a random page and began to read. My mum’s family had been Quakers and she’d attended a Friends’ school in the 1940s. Suddenly my mum stirred, said she remembered the person I was talking about and we continued to have the most lucid and loving conversation we’d had in weeks. It was to be our final conversation. We ended on a high – but not the high of singing Elvis impersonators. It was the high of a quiet, reflective moment; of a conversation; of shared memories; of love. These too are so important over the Christmas season. So bring on your carols, your festive hits, your Christmas jumpers – but make space and time for those who need that quiet moment, a listening ear or a loving word.