New Year’s Grief: Climbing into the year

The fact that New Year comes so hard and fast after Christmas seems unnecessary and unfair.  There are a couple of days to catch your breath, mainly fuelled by pastry, and then on we go.

Christmas weighs heavy, overloaded with nostalgia and ghosts of Christmas past. Everywhere is hanging with memories of those we love and people that we once were. Our tree is decorated with remnants from when I was a child, decorations that I bought the children when they were young, and ornaments that we have been given to us since Fred died as a sign that he is remembered. 

It makes a beautiful but melancholy display, a Christmas full of tender and quiet traditions. Everyone tells us it’s a time for joy, family, and cheers, but largely, Christmas is about the gaps. The massive cracks in the walls are either disguised or framed with tinsel and fairy lights – but they can never be filled.

New Year is darker. To paraphrase Edward Hirsch, “it takes courage to climb into the year.” Every New Year’s Eve marks the marching of time. Another year that Fred should celebrate, but won’t. A ringing reminder that everything is wrong. 

If Christmas is a time for gently glowing remembrance of the rituals of the past, the new year shines a harsh spotlight on a future that has been lost. 

I remember New Year’s Eve 2020. Facebook was filled with people eagerly waving goodbye to a year everyone was glad to see the back of. But for us, and many families like us, we weren’t glad to see the back of it because it had our person in it, and no matter how hard, or traumatic, or painful that year had been, it was still preferable to whatever was to come. 

Every year, he gets further away, so much so that there are moments when I think I dreamt him up, and he was never real. And yet others where I forget completely that he died, because it has been no time at all and part of me will be forever stuck in that hospital room.

2024 should be Fred’s 18th birthday. It should see him finishing his A- levels (if he ever even took any), going to University (or not). Maybe he’d decide to stay living with his mother or launch himself into life at full speed. None of us ever got the chance to find out.

2024 will not be that. He will not see it. 

There is a need to stare down the brutality of it all, the cruelty and unfairness.  To take a moment to shout loudly that “I do not approve.” 

But it is what it is, and New Year’s Eve doesn’t care. It will come and it will go.

I’ve always treated it with some trepidation. We’re expected to hurl ourselves into the New Year with a determination that this year will be ‘the best year ever’, but that has always felt like too big an ask for all of us.

On a walk with my youngest son last week, I tried to explain why I find the New Year the most difficult. There’s an impulse not to want that feeling to rub off on him, when he still has everything to look forward to. The future that Fred has lost is still his for the taking.

“It’s hard to think that any year can be a good year that doesn’t have Fred in it, and New Year’s Eve seems to be a particularly cruel way to make you think about that”

“Yes, Mum, but it can still be a good year, and it’s certainly not going to be the worst”

Whilst I’m cynical enough not to be so sure, I’ve decided to take that.  We have faced the worst that life and death have to offer, and yet here we are, covered in mud, slightly damp and in search of hot chocolate. We carry Fred with us, in our wounds and scars, but also in our laughter and our triumphs. He has left us unimaginably changed, but we are grateful to him for everything he has given and continues to give us. We would not choose a life that he was never in.

Every year is, and always has been, a mix of hope, terror, excitement, frustration, grief, joy and, with a bit of luck, peace. There are so many people who are saying goodbye to their worst year, or already know that 2024 is going to be full of huge mountains and fire pits.  It will come, and it will go.

The only New Year’s Resolution worth having is that all of us, with all of our broken parts, carry each other along when we are able and rest with one another when we are not.

May you all have courage to climb into the year.

If you would like to buy Fred a drink this New Year’s Eve, you can do that here or text CCLGFRED to 70085 to donate £5.

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