We used to have a large sack (a pillowcase) filled with our presents which would appear at the bottom of our beds. We also had stockings hung above the fireplace in the living room.
I used to help Mum dress the tree – artificial, green, dug out from the loft each year. My favourite decorations were a string of lights which were little fairy coaches like Cinderella went to the ball in, all twinkling in a green, pink, red, yellow, gilded with silver. I used to unravel them from the box and lay them on the ground, like train of carriages, taking a string of Cinderellas to a series of balls. Mum used to remind me they were for the tree and reluctantly I'd let her hand them up. I've just re-read that last section and rolled my eyes at myself…
The last few years we've always visited Great Auntie on Christmas day. She used to be taken to a local church meal, but when she got too wobbly on her feet they said she couldn't travel and weren't happy with the responsibility of walking her to the minibus. I made sure I visited her on Christmas day itself. We took some of our food, or I'd buy her a lamb dinner – she wasn't keen on turkey she explained – and jazz it up with some of our roast potatoes, or veg. We would watch her opening her presents and read her cards with a cup of tea, her face wide with the realisation all the presents were indeed for her.
One year, Great Auntie was in hospital over Christmas – she'd been having a series of falls and hadn't got steady enough on her feet to be discharged home – so Mum and I brought Christmas to her on the ward. It was a struggle, because Great Auntie was having one of her more confused days, and we had to explain why we were there, and who the presents were for and help her open them. She was most interested in the chocolate and fudge, never mind the calendar and socks! We walked her to a bathroom and washed her hair over the sink because it hadn't been washed for the fortnight since she'd been in hospital. Mum's a hairdresser by background and I used to wash Great Auntie's hair every time I visited, so between us we soon had it done, and Great Auntie sat, with clean hair in bed, munching on fudge and chocolate.
Another year, we stopped at Great Auntie's on the way to Himself's brother and sister in law's place in north Essex, near the border with Suffolk. As I started to hand Great Auntie presents to open, I noticed an unpleasant smell. After a bit of investigation, I realised she needed cleaning up and changing. Stupidly, when the home care agency had asked me which of the 3 visits that day could Great Auntie do without, as I would be there, I'd said the lunchtime one. This meant after a morning call, her carers wouldn't be returning until at least 7 o'clock that night, to put her to bed. It was mid morning at this point, and there was no way I could pretend to have a happy Christmas, knowing she needed to be changed and cleaned. I've done personal care work before, having worked as a healthcare assistant in nursing homes and hospitals for 5 years, so I wasn't phased by doing it. I walked Great Auntie to the loo, put on some gloves and got on with it.
Clean and smelling much nicer, we resumed opening presents, had tea together and Great Auntie ate her Christmas lunch.
It meant we arrived late to Himself's brother and sister in laws, but I couldn't have done anything else than what needed to be done. Later that day, a guest asked what we'd done that morning, before arriving at Himself's brother's house. I explained, and apologised for being late, saying what had happened.
'Oh, I couldn't do that. Disgusting,' came the reply as if I'd described swimming in a pool of sewerage.
'Have you got children?' I asked, knowing she had a daughter.
'Have you looked after her?'
'Yes, but that's different, it's a baby.'
'No different, you're looking after another human being who can't look after themselves, doesn't make any difference if it's a child or an adult. Besides, she's family.'
No more was said about the matter that day, while I tried to watch Steps The Reunion on Sky and avoid any form of board games.
It's beyond me why people have such a blank when it comes to looking after the elderly. Everyone is going to, all being well, become an elderly person. Society tends to focus on children, charities, parties, social groups, everything for children. But once you're an old person for many it's a bit too messy to think about and so many old people are shipped off to a nursing home, because it's the easiest thing to do, when for thousands of years, we've looked after our old, just like we looked after our young. I know people live far away. I know most households have two working adults. I know we are all busy, but looking after an elderly relative is just as important – more so for the reasons I’ve given – than anything else. It doesn't have to involve getting your hands dirty like I did, but spending time with them, holding a hand, watching TV together, all make a difference.
Research showed that the thing most likely to prolong an elderly person's life is them knowing they have people in their life who love and care for them – not people who are paid to look after them, but people who can kiss and hug them hello, can look through old photos, ask if they remember what it was like when they were a child. This memory therapy is vital too for the elderly. So this Christmas, make sure as well as spoiling the children, you spend some time with the Great Auntie or Great Uncle in your life.
If you'd like a bit of festive romantic cheer my novellas: Christmas Serendipity and the sequel The Next Christmas are available now.
It's available from Amazon.com To buy from Amazon.co.uk
The Next Christmas
It's available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
Liam Livings xx