I take you back to the early evening of Christmas Eve 2011, we’re making the journey from Norfolk to Vicky’s family home in Cambridgeshire, when Vicky says to me that she believes this will be her last Christmas with us all. I looked across at Vicky as her beautiful eyes connected with mine, I listened to her words & heard the emotions underlying them. I can vividly recall the moment my hand enveloped Vicky’s, and as we held one another’s gaze I said “I hope with every cell of my being that you’re wrong, yet devastatingly we just don’t know, what we do know is that we’re here right now and we have a whole Christmas to enjoy” We did just that & guess what? We got another one on top of it!
A year on we make our way from our country barn to begin our festivities by enjoying a Christmas meal with my family. I say ‘enjoy’, at this time Vicky’s illness was causing side affects such as a constantly dry mouth, uncomfortable abdomen, acute fatigue and weakness, so the prospect of large meals was less than appetising for Vicky. However, despite these side affects encroaching into each day, Vicky was able to dig deep and welcome these festivities with a calm approach which allowed her to embrace the moments she could enjoy.
We sat around my family’s dinner table, Vicky and I sat alongside my Sister and our young nephew and niece. Donning Christmas hats we began to savour the traditional tastes of Christmas. My Mum enjoys being creative in the kitchen, so Christmas is a perfect opportunity to concoct a feast which we all enjoyed. Vicky chose to have a taster of some of the dishes available, which I could see was challenging for our lovely girl, yet in her eyes was that twinkle of determination. There would be no missing Christmas.
There was a good feeling around the dinner table, with our family tradition of opening table presents and the cliched cracker jokes filling the room. At one point I was rolling up pieces of serviette and throwing them cheekily at my young nephew, however he couldn’t figure out where they were coming from and while Vicky was staying quiet throughout, she gave me a cheeky grin as she loved a bit of mischief!
After a couple of festive hours with my family we made our way into ‘Bessie’ the Jeep, and began the journey from Norfolk over to Cambridgeshire to share Christmas with Vicky’s parents, siblings, grandparents, the dogs Lolly & Toast and number of family cats.
We initially chatted merrily on the journey, and with festive music floating throughout the Jeep Vicky rested her eyes for the remainder of the journey. By resting like this Vicky was able to squeeze the most out of each occasion, even at times adding a splash of zest into the moment. Vicky’s drive & determination encompassed all she did and I’m sure you’ll recall her talking previously about her difficulties in ‘letting go’ and resting. Therefore taking this decision to rest before reaching her family, is just one of countless examples of how Vicky had continued to adapt & make the most out of the hand she had been dealt. I wonder how each of us can take something from this & apply it positively to our own lives.
Arriving at the Johnston family home we’re greeted by smiling faces, hugs all around & paws & licks from Lolly dog. As one of four children, it always strikes me how returning back to the nest of the family home recharges and soothes each of them in their own unique way. This was particularly evident on this occasion, including for Vicky, where being around one another held something for each of them. Despite the underlying emotions around Vicky’s health & the uncertainty of the future, we were all together and for that we can be grateful.
After settling into the festively decorated ‘Cornish’ room we then made our way into the kitchen, the hub of the home, where we kicked back on the sofa & caught up with the family. It was somewhat of a favoured tradition of Vicky’s to attend the local Christmas Eve church service, where last year I remember looking around the church at the content faces as many of the congregation sung the festive hymns with gusto! Unfortunately this year Vicky felt too unwell, so we relaxed at home & enjoyed a gentle evening talking, laughing & resting in each others company.
“Happy Christmas beautiful” Christmas Day 2012 was here! At this time sleep was sporadic for Vicky so we were up early. Waking gently together, we had a Christmas cuddle before I padded off to fetch us a couple of mugs of tea. I remember sipping these together as we enjoyed the moment of peace & a little excitement for the day ahead.
Opening our bedroom door we found that Santa had been kind enough to leave us both stockings full of presents! Scooping these up we made our way into the kitchen & set camp on the sofa where we were joined initially by Vicky’s mum & then later in the morning various family members, including the arrival of Vicky’s lovely Grandparents. A vivid memory from this moment is of Vicky receiving a woolly hat in the style of an owl. Looking at us as she puts the hat on she let out a cheeky grin which brought smiles to all of our faces. Vicky very much embraced an affiliation with owls in late 2012 and early 2013 due to her shorter, curly hair & of course those stunning eyes of hers. In my opinion owls should feel rather honoured to be compared with such a beautiful girl but frankly I’m biased! ;)
As mid morning arrived and stretched closer to midday, the kitchen busied with Christmas breakfast which was followed by the preparation of the main meal of the day, a traditional Christmas feast! Vicky’s sister had volunteered to be head chef for the day & was busying herself with masterminding this feat! The challenge was truly achieved as we all enjoyed a tasty Christmas meal with the usual festivities of cracker jokes, hats & merriment. As I mentioned previously, Vicky’s appetite was particularly low at this time which meant that meal times could be challenging. Eating every meal alongside Vicky on a day to day basis, I could see how difficult eating was becoming for her and with the added pressures of wanting to join us all in the moment, this meal had the potential to be emotionally & physically challenging. Once again though Vicky did admirably by managing to strike a balance of having a ‘taster’ portion of her favourite foods & not leaving herself feeling too uncomfortable. A favoured quote of Vicky’s feels rather apt right now “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.
Following this leisurely paced feast we all retired to the sitting room in preparation for the giving of presents. Vicky kicked back on one of the two sofas with the rest of the family filling the room with smiles, conversation and a sense of togetherness. While the presents were handed out by Vicky’s youngest sibling, Toast and Lolly padded around snuffling at the presents and doing their best to open their own!
Once the abundance of presents had completed their journey from under the tree to their new owners, from my spot on the floor alongside Vicky, I looked up and all I could see was a pair of large eyes blinking out of a mountain of presents! I do believe as a collective family we may have gone a little over board on the present buying but you know what? We wanted to!
Rather ironically though it wasn’t the receiving of presents that Vicky enjoyed at Christmas. It was clear by Vicky’s smile & the twinkle in her eye as her family opened their gifts from us that the magic of Christmas was in the being together & making others happy. Vicky always loved to give presents so much more than to receive. The happiness of those Vicky cared about would always come first.
The evening enveloped us as various family members relaxed around the house, nibbling at the festive food & having low key chats. As with almost everything in Vicky’s day to day life at this stage, the shadow of her illness was difficult to ignore yet there were times where Vicky, her family and I were able to enjoy a smile, a chuckle and a sense of being together.
Even in what we now know were Vicky’s last few weeks with us, Vicky taught us what really counts is being together & appreciating the presence of those you care about. Vicky loved the festive season as it sparks a warm feeling in many & a sense of people drawing close to one another. I’d like to share a conversation between Vicky & I where she wished people wouldn’t wait till Christmas to embrace this spirit, as it’s so easy to take the people in your life for granted & to assume there will be always be a tomorrow. Other than yourself, what’s really stopping you from showing appreciation to those important people in your life? Vicky really liked the saying ‘Get out of your own way’ & it feels apt right now because when you do the view can be beautiful and bright.
We rolled with the punches, made lemonade out of lemons, laughed where we could, hugged close & rested together. As a family we created & shared Christmas 2012 together. These moments will forever be held close to our hearts.