Andrew was home for Christmas last year and we were "doing" Christmas at our house. Andrew's older brother and family were staying with us and his younger brother who lives nearby was staying at home so we were joining him and his wife for Boxing Day.
It's just before 7 a.m. as I type this, it's Christmas eve and this time last year I was waking up Andrew...
"Andrew! We need to get up and get the turkey!"
Now my dad used to be a butcher so to me getting up early on Christmas eve to get the turkey is a mixture of tradition and excitement. It's reminiscent of the waking up early when you need to go to the hospital because you are about to give birth....the excitement, the anticipation, the tingling nerves - are you really prepared?
"Andrew, will you take me? It's been snowing! You can go back to bed when we get back."
So grudgingly he got up, we got dressed and crept downstairs so not to wake the children or our sleeping visitors.
I remember clearly being in the car and the windscreen wipers automatically starting when he turned on the ignition. Only they were frozen and they got stuck half way in the ice and snow - out of alignment.
Andrew got out muttering while I sat in the car arms folded against the cold, racking my brain as to who had been the last last person to drive the car and leave them on....I finally decided it was Andrew....
"I've told you before..." I started as he got back in the car having bent the wipers into a reasonable state.
This wasn't going to plan (now is there a theme to my life? And did it really start years ago?)
When we got out onto the road the wipers went back to their crossed over kissing position. The snow wasn't that bad - why hadn't I gone by myself?
Andrew once more got out of the car and once more "sorted" the problem with more bending and muttering than I thought was necessary!!
Finally we made it, got the turkey and we were back home with a cup of tea. Not sure if Andrew went back to bed but I was now up and preparing for Christmas...
Christmas to me is very special and I admit I can get a little bit bossy, ok very bossy, because I want to get it right. I love my Christmas memories of being a child, full of excitement and those are the memories I want to recreate for our boys. If I'm honest, those are the Christmases I still want for me too.
Which is why I refuse to let "this" Christmas get sucked into the black hole of bereavement. My "first" Christmas without Andrew. Well it's just not true. He worked away, we had plenty of Christmases "without" him here. I'm pretty sure I spent our "first" married Christmas without him!
This year I expected him to be away, so maybe that makes things easier to deal with.
The Christmas I grieve over is the stolen one from a couple of years ago. Andrew had been suffering from a complaint with a long name which I won't attempt to spell which caused his ankles to swell. He was put on steroids which meant he couldn't go off shore. Instead he worked in the office - all the way up to November, then he was off the steroids and ready to go back off shore.
He was sent back to work for Christmas week with a different shift to usual. He wasn't put back in the control room and he said he felt like a spare part all week.
That was his second Christmas away in a row and that was the Christmas he should have been here with us!
However he did manage to get out of working Christmas the year our oldest son was born. Paternity leave was a wonderful thing! And the birth of a child near Christmas is magical.
So now I'm planning "this" Christmas and I'm gearing up with typical military precision. So my plans are up in the air and I'm not getting away for Christmas as expected but now things are settled and I have nine for dinner on Boxing Day.
Yesterday I bought a ham and found my Christmas recipe so today I will be prepared with a shopping list.
Yesterday I made it out and got my last minute stocking fillers so now I have a bigger pile of presents to wrap to give the boys the best Christmas I can.
The cooking, the shopping, all that preparation, that's always been my job...Andrew just got handed a small pile of presents, the wrapping paper, selotape, scissors, gift tags and a pen and was dispatched with the boys to wrap my presents which I had bought for myself!
The latest Dawn French novel is "hidden" in the draw by Andrew's side of the bed, where he hid it days before he died, "Give it here and I'll hide it." He said when I came home from Christmas shopping.
It will be just the boys wrapping it now but I hope they still write his name on the gift tag.
I've called this entry "Last Christmas - Wham! (December 1984)" A popular Christmas song even now, you would have thought it reached number one but it only made number 2.
1984 was the year of Band Aid so George Michael did make number one that year singing "Do they know it's Christmas?"
It may sound flippant but I want the boys to know it's Christmas time and in the future not just associate this time of year with "when we lost our Dad." I want their Christmases to still be magical. This is the time when God sent his son Jesus and Jesus is the reason for any hope I have through all of this. I want this Christmas to still have laughter in between the inevitable tears or else why bother?
And as a matter of interest, as I've just looked it up in the "British Hit Singles" book, on it's first release Last Christmas was actually a double A side (now you don't get those with cds!!).
On the other side was "Everything She Wants".
Well that list isn't very long but unfortunately it will never be - so instead I'll make the best of what I've got, which in the grand scheme of things is still an awful lot, and somehow carry on...