Autumn, Winter, and The Last of the Firsts

A few days ago we reached the anniversary of the death of Lizzie, my wife and mother of my three children. Last month was difficult with the dark nights, cold weather, and a general pessimism in the world thanks to Covid 19. By comparison, November has, surprisingly, been much better emotionally but not without its challenges.

Throughout my childhood, and beyond, I always liked autumn and winter. I looked forward to them. Everything of importance to a child, namely me, happened then. First, it was Halloween, soon followed by fireworks night. On the 5th [of] November, us Brits celebrate the continued existence of parliament by launching fireworks and lighting bonfires. Even if we do not agree with the seated government we still celebrate the fact that there is one by remembering the day that the Houses of Parliament were not blown to smithereens during the Gunpowder Plot. Even though Guy Fawkes, by all modern accounts, was but a minor player in the grand plot, his name lives on in infamy and is the only name remembered to school children and almost everyone else. He simply had the misfortune, I think, of being caught. I still remember many a time when my father would create a fireworks display, all from a little box of fireworks, for us and often the neighbours. Some years, we also had a bonfire and I seem to remember at least once cooking jacket potatoes on it. The excitement and magic of sparklers as a child was great…another…another…another…until packets were empty. Who can forget writing their initials in light, before then trying to frantically spell an entire name before the glow faded?

For the first time since having my own home, this year I lit no fireworks on fireworks night. Nobody felt like it. I regret it now as I feel something has been missed but I also now realise that fireworks are something to share. They are a celebration, not of parliament, but of togetherness and freedom and, in some way, at least to me, hope. Without anyone else but us four boys, it felt hollow.

Later in that month, my childhood met with that most important of days: my birthday. Having an autumnal/wintery (I still can’t decide) birthday meant outside activities were not feasible. I recall one birthday trip to an amusement park with a car-full of friends only to find the whole park was closed owing to dangerously terrible weather. Being a parent myself, I now appreciate the ability of my parents to manage to turn that into a fun and not-disappointing birthday.

It was not long after that the run-up to Christmas began. My mum’s birthday popped up during Advent with my father’s being in the winter months in the new year). I always loved the magic of Christmas, both as a child and today. The colours, the lights, the music, the intent, magic and kindness all come together to create a place I feel happy and comfortable. I am not religious but I like the stories behind Christmas and the ideals that are presented and expected of us.

Since becoming a parent, my eldest son’s birthday has also been added to the November roster, and my twins’ birthday is in December. Such a lot in only about 2 months.

We now have an extra couple of dates to add. The death of Lizzie, only a day or two after my son’s and my birthdays in November and the funeral in December. D.D., or death day, marks the end of the firsts. We’ve already had the first Christmas without Mum, the first twins’ birthday without Mum. This year we had the first birthday for my eldest without her too. It must be a hard day for him, as it is for me, as his birthday was the last day we saw her awake and heard her speak. She was sitting up, sharing birthday cake and pizza with us all, and her father, and we were all looking forward.

As with most of these things, the run-up to the anniversary of D.D. was worse than the day itself. I was fortunate to have my parents here as a lockdown single parent support bubble. To see the people I care about most on my birthday was special, particularly in the current times of lockdown, and to have support and diversion during this period was so nice.

I was incredibly pleased that all three of my boys chose to go with me to the burial site. I thought it best to let them choose themselves. None of them had been since the funeral so it felt really special. It made things different from my previous visits. There were no meandering monologues from me to the air and the trees. Instead a few minutes of standing and asking each other if we were ok. My eldest decided to not go to the grave itself, which I completely respect, and sat in the car. But he came with us. All four of us went on the journey together. My parents also came, travelling in their own car, but respectfully gave us some space and then looked after one of the twins who felt the cold and was shivering. We left four white roses. These seemed appropriate as all the mourners threw a white rose into the ground during the burial.

So much has happened in a year, more than I could have ever imagined. Particularly this year, 2020. It seems at least two, perhaps more, yet the memories of those final few weeks are still raw and easily brought to mind. I am grateful for the people I love and who love me, my friends and my children. The realisation that life is short makes one want to use what you have for love, laughter and kindness. Another year beckons. Let’s see what happens in this one. I am excited to find out.

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