Grieving at Christmas: ‘Lung cancer may have taken Martin but the memories of our Christmases past will remain intact’
Following the sudden loss of her husband and father-of-three Martin in 2018, Venetia Quick writes how Christmas has been irrevocably altered and her wish for the Christmases yet to be.
Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year. Or at least it was, until suddenly almost four years ago, we suddenly lost our best friend to cancer. Now this time of the year, our stages of grief are akin to a real-life version of The Christmas Carol – a tale of Christmas past, present and future.
Christmases past were what memories were made of, and I have many, many happy ones. Martin was a huge Christmas fan. When I first met him, he’d head straight home to Drogheda after Christmas pints, to help his Dad out with the Christmas rush, in the family’s ‘fancy goods’ shop. He loved everything about Christmas, the traditions, the tree – just maybe not the tinsel! Martin’s mum did Christmas more than anyone I’d ever met, she had it down to the talking “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas” doormat. We got such a kick out of that mat and, until the year Martin died, we spent every year online trying to find one. I guess that’s what is the ultimate memory, that nobody else can share.
There’s a strange numbness that comes with Christmas now, when every year you secretly hope that the little bit of excitement of seeing the Guinness ad for the first time or hearing “Last Christmas” stops being white noise, and you want to start singing along again, loudly and badly.
From the moment we became a twosome, and then a family of five, we started making our own traditions. The Santa Steam Train, Christmas Eve drinks and the annual viewing of Love Actually, usually late on December 24 after too many glasses of fizz, during which Martin would inevitably fall asleep. Christmas Day was all about the kids, and even though Martin had to be dragged out of bed at silly o’clock to see what the big man had brought, he’d spend the rest of the day happily in my mum’s kitchen perfecting his gravy.
When our first son Felix came along, we’d each do Santa, so we got just as much a surprise as he did. Martin made sure all of our kids would have special memories, one Casper still talks about is “the time Daddy let him have three ice creams in a row on Christmas Eve”. Martin’s love for Christmas was infectious, it was never too early to put up the tree, open a bottle of port, or delve into a plum pudding. It was always, what Christmas should be.
Christmas Present is an obstacle course of mixed emotions made up of these memories. It’s these memories that can either get you through or make you just want to curl up into a ball and block out any sounds of “Jingle Bells”. There’s a strange numbness that comes with Christmas now, when every year you secretly hope that the little bit of excitement of seeing the Guinness ad for the first time or hearing “Last Christmas” stops being white noise, and you want to start singing along again, loudly and badly.
One thing I have accepted is my annual Christmas “wobble”, when I can be out for a run, in Smyths Toystore or the supermarket and out of nowhere the tears will come and don’t want to stop. The wobble doesn’t make an appointment, it just makes an annual appearance. It’s a day when you think you just can’t do it, that the happy memories of Christmas past are too painful to remember.
Two out of three of them still eagerly anticipate Santa's arrival and feel a little bit secure at the way Daddy always manages to buy them his own special Christmas present.
Christmas Present is, however, also about making new memories, and ensuring it’s still a time of magical moments for our three wonderful, brave amigos who, despite having their own wobbles in the lead-up, embrace Christmas with all the excitement and the giddiness that they should. Two out of three of them still eagerly anticipate Santa’s arrival and feel a little bit secure at the way Daddy always manages to buy them his own special Christmas present.
Some things have stayed the same. We still have Christmas Eve drinks with our nearest and dearest, Santa still pays us a visit, and there’s the repeated watching of Home Alone, Felix has now assumed the mantel of my Love Actually viewing companion, and I have now, not as skillfully, assumed the title of chief gravy maker.
Christmas Future is a possibility that couldn’t be considered without living through Christmas Present. You have to live through the painful moments to focus on the future.
I know how incredibly lucky we were to have had the Christmases we had, and to have our fabulous little family to share it with. While lung cancer may have taken Martin, the memories of our Christmases past will remain intact. They can never be taken away.
There’s a feeling of hope, that the wobbles will be less wobbly, that the fear of not being able to “get through” will dissipate, that the opening bars of East 17 will awaken a sense of annual excitement and that the lights will twinkle and shine brightly once again.
Christmas Past will never happen again, but on the better days, when I think about them, I know deep down that’s okay, because we had them, and that in itself is the best Christmas present, money can’t buy or Santa can’t bring… because the best Christmas present is in fact… Love, Actually.
Venetia is the co-host of Dublin’s Q102 Breakfast with Aiden & Venetia and co-presenter of the Grief Encounters, a weekly podcast series that looks at grief in all its forms through interviews and conversations.
This article was originally published in 2021.