Last year was not a happy Christmas. My mother died on the tenth of December, so the festive season was shrouded in sadness. The run up to Christmas was spent choosing coffins and flowers instead of presents. I sent funeral invites instead of Christmas cards. I read eulogies instead of singing carols. On the twenty-third, instead of riding with Grandma on the Christmas train, I travelled behind her coffin in a funeral cortege and said goodbye to my mum for the last time.
But Christmas wasn't completely blown to pieces, because the children were there and because you were there in the background, holding me up, making me laugh through my tears, giving me hope for the future.
This year is shrouded in sadness too. The spectre of Christmas past, Christmas last, hangs over it as I remember you. This is what I remember:
- The antique Oxo tin of trinkets that you brought for my little boy's advent calendar. (You said you wanted the Oxo tin back, but it sits on my desk now).
- The way you hung around in Sheffield on the night my mum died, waiting for me to signal you to come for a hug. I've no idea what you did that evening. But when I needed you, you were there.
- Shopping with you in Meadowhall. I was joyful that evening, in spite of my sadness, thrilled just to have you by my side as I shopped for children's toys.
- You putting up my Mum's Christmas tree as I wrote funeral letters. (My daughter and I did it this year and I remembered the system you worked out, which branches went where. It looks pretty good. I hope you agree.)
- The way you looked at me and the words you spoke as you arranged the fronds. 'You're special,' you said. 'Even if I wasn't completely besotted with you, I'd still think you were special.' I think I gave you the last piece of my heart that night.
- Our first moment of discord (we only had two) when you double-booked yourself on an evening when I was expecting to see you. Your heartache at causing me pain; you couldn't bear to make me sad.
- The palaver of trying to find you something suitable to wear for my mum's funeral. Your old suit was too big as you'd lost so much weight. I bought you an extra large shirt and an extra large jacket but they were still too small. You were XXL and worth your weight in gold. (They lay you in your coffin in your suit anyway. I thought at the time that it must have been baggy but I don't suppose it mattered.)
- You sitting chatting to my friend the night before the funeral.
- Waking up in your arms and longing to curl back into the night.
- The sight of you, as you walked along the line at the funeral shaking hands with the family. My relief to see you there. I introduced you to my brother for the first time: 'this is Paul. He's been looking after me,' I said. He shook your hand, liked you immediately, told you to keep on looking after me. You did, for as long as you were able.
- You sitting in the armchair across from me, later back at home. You were still there when the children came home. I was too tired to make you leave. Neither of them were concerned by the unexplained presence of the big man in the corner.
- The sight of you arriving though my door in the evening on Christmas Day with a huge printer's tray, unwrapped, slung over your shoulder. Me chastising you for the lack of wrapping paper and the lack of a card. You made up for it at New Year. And on my birthday. You were a man who listened to feedback, took things on board.
- The shirts that I bought you, and the tub of flapjack, the notebook for your ideas. (The shirts sit in my drawer now. I've thought about making something from them. It's a thing people do. But somehow I can't bring myself to cut into fabric that you once wore. I have so little of you left. I like to keep the shape of you in your clothes).
- Watching It's a Wonderful Life in your arms. What a film to watch. What a wonderful man you were. What a difference you made to me.
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. Less than three months later you died. You took part of my heart with you when you left. But at least you didn't give it away. At least I know that I gave it to someone really special. You kept my heart safe. I believe you would always have kept it safe.
You gave me your heart too and, though you died, I still keep yours safe, tucked up with what is left of mine. I write to keep you alive. Your love helps to keep me alive as well.
Happy Christmas, Blacksmith Paul, wherever you are.
Lot of Love,