I could not believe my eyes. The cemetery was black with silent, grieving people of all ages………..mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grans and grandpas, toddlers and babes in arms. Fresh flowers and wreaths punctured the cold grey veil of mist that covered the scene unfolding before me. Cars seemed to move noiselessly, decanting or retrieving their distracted, sombre passengers whose wispy breath sat on their frozen lips like empty speech bubbles that had no adequate words to fill them. What silent movie was this? Was this really Christmas Day?
I stepped out of the car with Pauline and Joe into yet another unwanted experience. A jumble of unconnected thoughts and images swirled around inside my head as I stared helplessly at his name. What now? Why did I come here? What have you got to say here that you haven’t already said at home? Happy Christmas Hugh? I missed you at the service last night……look, we’ve put a star on Patsy and Kenny’s tree and put down a beautiful Christmas wreath…. your little garden is looking so good….the family are all here as usual……well….. not all……..the house is looking……. festive……. the turkey’s in the oven……I peeled the potatoes….oh God!!! Oh God!!! Oh God!!! …..I can’t find the words to tell you……….
Then stop talking, Mosie, and listen…….listen with your eyes…….Remember?…..be still.
As we walked away from the graveside I heard my name. A woman whom I recognised from my teaching past put her arms around me.
‘I am so sorry about Hugh’. I wanted to cry………but hold on……..she didn’t come down here on Christmas Day just to comfort me……I looked at her stricken face.
‘I lost my son to cancer a year ago.’ She motioned to a grave nearby. ‘He was just twenty one….’ she paused and cleared her throat. I was acutely aware of my own son standing close by. Don’t talk, Mosie, keep listening….
She swallowed hard and found her voice again……‘and…..I lost my husband just a few months ago.’ Oh God!!! Oh God!!!Oh God!!! I couldn’t speak so I hugged her. I could not begin to imagine her grief.
As we headed home for the turkey and trimmings, the gifts and goodwill, I knew, without a doubt, that I had been meant to make that journey this Christmas Day, to see those mourners, to meet that friend, to glimpse her pain. How many more unimaginable sadnesses are there today…….how many more people for whom life holds nothing but sadness ……..how many children for whom life holds no joy………
I think I know what to say now,Hugh.
Go ahead, Mosie………
Thank you God for…….everything…….and…
Glo – ho – ho – ho – ho -ho –
ho -ho -ho -ho – ho –
ho -ho -ho – ho – ho – ria, in excelsis Deo,
Glo -ho -ho -ho –
Ho -ho- hold it right there, Mosie ! Your sentiments are well chosen and………… seasonal……. if not tuneful……..but we don’t need a rendition of ‘Angels we have heard on High.’…
But I want to pray for peace to all men on earth……Then you’d want to sing the Gloria of the Mass… just the bit that goes :
*Et in terra pax hominibus
Bo -ho -ne -he -voluntatis……….
A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth………
What now, Mosie?
Do you remember when Joseph was about five or six he used to go along with you to the Cathedral Choir on Sundays…….It was always a ‘sung’ Mass……you were so proud of how he would sing along lustily in Latin……. not missing a note or a beat. You couldn’t hear the actual ‘Latin’ words he was singing, though. They went something like this………
* Who the hell has packed this minibus
With vo -ho -le -he -vents and tatties……….!!
Mosie! You’re going off down Memory Lane again………… you’ve a dinner to serve, stockings to hand out, hugs and kisses to give so let’s go home and have as happy a Christmas as we can.
Amen to that, my darling.
It is 1.45am and I should be asleep …. but I am not. I have been taking down Christmas decorations for the past hour or two and would have been doing so still if Pauline hadn’t gently persuaded me that I really should get off to bed.
‘I thought you said you were doing this tomorrow…?’
Her tone betrayed some amusement at discovering me prostrate on the floor trying to wrestle the tree to the ground. We dismantled it together and Pauline went off to bed. I was supposed to be doing likewise.
‘Mum!! What are you doing now!…. I heard these noises…I thought you were in bed…!’ Her tone now betrayed exasperation.Again I was prostrate on the floor, this time trying to adjust the thermostat on my bedroom radiator.We established that I was definitely going to bed this time and said our goodnights again but the thought had already occurred to me that I hadn’t written anything in the beautiful notebook Joseph had given to me and so here I am, like a recalcitrant child, scribbling quietly and hoping not to be caught out….. So what do I really want to say?
I cannot believe that Christmas is past. I cannot believe that we have spent Christmas apart. I cannot believe that I didn’t wrap any gifts for you, make mince pies for you, sing carols with you or hug you and say ‘Happy Christmas, Darling’. And yet I have done all these things in my head for I can do nothing without thinking of you …. you fill up my senses ….
Everything is strange without you and yet everything looks the same. Our house still stands in the same place in the same street. The same key opens the same door and at first glance the inside of this same house looks just as it did one year ago. Except it is not. I sigh wearily and close my eyes….
Each day, heavy with sadness, I go from room to room touching this and that and fixing little treasures at angles pleasing to the eye as I always did for him. The sound of his playing fills my head as I stand at the piano picking out my one fingered tunes. Cascades and waterfalls of melodies course through my soul awakening memories that overwhelm me like a dam fit to burst. I swallow hard and hold my breath trying to push back the flood of tears that I know must come. Sifting through his books and sheet music I devour lyrics hungrily, searching for the ultimate message that will comfort me and help me understand my loss. I say the words aloud as if seeing them for the first time. I realise their beauty and understand the love, the despair, the joy, the yearning, the passion of a writer in turmoil … all those words, that music, those chords and harmonies, the laughter, the singing … the tears …….. the silence….
Was it just yesterday we packed the stage in Shieldmuir for a production of ‘The Mikado’? The Billiard Hall, our makeshift dressing room, awash with powder and greasepaint, was overrun by ‘Japanese’ ladies and gentlemen’ from all parts of Lanarkshire practising their shuffling gait and art of the fan.
‘Now remember, Chorus, keep your eyes on me !’Hugh would tell us each night. I needed no telling. I would watch him from under my oriental lashes as he deftly directed our performance and I’d wonder if his heart, like mine, was skipping a few beats of its own….. Our second show was ‘The Gondoliers’ and I have a picture on my wall of Hugh in white tie and tails and myself in my costume …..’The Prince and the Showgirl’ someone said ….. I try to feel that arm around my waist, to hear those sweet nothings in my ear ….. memories …… of the way we were ….. and if I had the chance to do it all again?…. of course I would ….. only better….
My hands hover over the keyboard but I am lost in a maze of memories. A distant siren alerts the hospital to yet another incoming crisis. I gaze out of the window hoping to see the little robin but the evergreens reveal no splash of red, no flutter of wings, no spring of branch… ….no sign of life. I can feel the stillness wrapping around me like a freezing fog.
‘Go and have something to eat….get up now……. or else!!’
I pay no heed to my sensible self and time flies…..
I am suddenly aware of the computer humming impatiently but it will have to wait for I have nothing to say. A glance at the clock tells me it was lunchtime two hours ago. ‘Let’s eat,’ I say aloud with no relish. I get up creakily from the chair and feel the blood course through my cold limbs. I’ve lost my appetite, my head hurts, I want to sleep …. do not disturb …leave me alone …
My feet are freezing! I will go and put on some socks in a minute or two. I just need to work out how to pick up where I left off. When was it that I left off ?……writing that is…… a year ago?….two, three years ago?……. eight, nine, ten……..a hundred ?
Or was it just yesterday.
…to be continued…