I know I’m a bit previous with this but Little Miss is poorly at the moment so is sleeping even less than normal (who knew that was even possible?!) and if I become any more sleep deprived over the next couple of days I would worry that I would, very genuinely, not be able to string a sentence together, never mind making that sentence meaningful or semi-interesting.
Plus there’s naff all on the telly and I need to keep my mind (and belly) off the chocolate and wine that is taunting me from the fridge.
I think most people in the UK would agree that 2017 was a bit of a bastard. My hubby has notifications set up on his phone to bleep when there is breaking news. There was a time during 2017 where my heart literally sunk every time his phone beeped because every single time it did, it was to report something hateful, sad, violent or worrying. The only time I noticed it bleeping with good news was on the announcement of Prince Harry’s engagement. I’m sure there were other bits of good news here and there but very generally it was a shitter of a year generally. I’ve spent far too many hours this year sat in front of Sky News with a knot and churning in my stomach as news stories unfolded live. I’ve read of too many deaths. I’ve heard of so much injustice. I’ve seen too much hate.
I’m not minimising any of the tragic incidents that have happened during 2017. There were some utterly horrendous events that were truly senseless in every respect. Those reckless events stole life. Changed lives. For many, those events altered the way we live our every day lives, and the thought patterns that we have in certain places or at certain times. Whether we were there witnessing it in front of our very eyes, or watching from the protection of a TV screen, those events have taken enough from us. They’ve taken innocent lives. They’ve taken our peace of mind. They’ve taken our right to feel safe. They’ve taken enough from us already; no way are they going to take the year.
To re-balance things I asked the lovely folk of Twitter what their highlight of the year was. The responses were heart warming. There wasn’t one response that was not family or home based. There were a lot of births of beautiful new babies, where 2017 marked the significant start of new life. For those mums, dads and the babies themselves, 2017 will forever mean the start of something so precious. That certainly helped tipped the balance back in the right direction. There were marriages; weddings that united soul mates in matrimony and the start of an incredible new life together. The year 2017 will forever be recorded on their Marriage Certificate as a year to go down in their own history. Then there were other lovely highlights like moving to a dream home in the country, the start of a new job that paid more, overcoming mental health struggles and so much more. For all of these lovely people, 2017 was more than a year of doom. They showed up and insisted on 2017 giving them something positive in the wake of such sadness and hate. For these wonderful people, 2017 will forever go down in their personal or family history for a good reason. Reading all these lovely tweets certainly helped me to focus on the positives that 2017 brought us.
On a personal level, 2017 brought me one gift in particular. This gift totally opened my eyes. It made me view things differently; in a different light or from a different angle almost. It made me process thoughts and emotions in a way I hadn’t really done before. Want to know what 2017 brought me? It brought me realisation.
This time last year one of my closest friends was enjoying the festivities with her wider family; her parents, her sister and all the grandchildren. They celebrated Christmas and New Year like every other year, paying tribute to the family traditions on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Not once did they ever consider that it would be their last Christmas as a whole family. Only 8 months later my friend’s father was diagnosed with a terminal illness and despite his courageous fight and infinite strength, he sadly died only a matter of months afterwards. This year, my friend celebrated Christmas without her father, her mother without her husband and her children celebrated without their grandfather.
2017 saw my Step Father have his own collision with his health. Following diagnosis and prior to further tests, there was a point where we too as a family were faced with the possibility of his life being significantly shortened due to a terminal illness. We were extremely fortunate that following further tests, the consultant reassured us that it wasn’t terminal. It was a diagnosis that would possibly change his life slightly, but he was alive and staying alive and for us, that was all that mattered. For those few terrifying weeks, it was like staring down a barrel of a shot gun (not that I have ever actually done that, obviously). It felt like every fibre of our being was tensed in anticipation of the shot: the bad news, the prognosis. It was exhausting. We couldn’t relax, not even for a second. We discussed action plans with my Mum, she looked at her finances and discussed how she would cope alone. For a moment, although brief, we had to picture our lives without the man who had gone from being our step father to our Dad. It looked dark and it looked empty.
2017 took my biological father. Actually, I’m going to change that. 2017 didn’t take him. He decided to take himself, a result of sustained drug and alcohol misuse over a period of tens and tens of years. I wasn’t in contact with him so I didn’t and don’t feel his absence. As harsh as it sounds, he was never the father he needed to be for my sister and I. Not as children, and certainly not as adults. He was given second chances, third chances, fifty-fifth chances over the years and each time he would let us down. In the end, we voted with our feet and decided that we were no longer willing to accept being treat like that. I hadn’t seen him for a number of years before he died. I surprised myself in that I reacted to the news of his death with some grief, albeit limited. I was angry at myself for feeling grief. I couldn’t understand why I would be grieving for a man who did nothing but let his children down. It wasn’t too long before I realised that I was grieving for the father that he wasn’t. Not for the father he was. His death meant that I would never hear an apology from him; I would never hear him begging for forgiveness; nor would I ever hear him asking for another chance and promising to make a go of being a proper father this time. Now the chances of this happening were pretty much zero. In all the recent years I was estranged from my father he never apologised or begged for forgiveness. His style was more akin to the ‘I’ve done nothing to apologise for’ denial. But his death made that final. His death meant that he would never be the father I needed him to be. Even if had lived to 104 I know, in reality, he would never have been the father I needed him to be. It would just never have happened. But his death meant that there wasn’t even that possibility.
Perhaps harder was the timing of it all. My father and my friend’s Father died within weeks of each other. As I listened to my friend’s final moments with her Dad, and how they begged for even just one more hour together, I felt dirty. I felt dirty because my father had abused his life. He had been blessed with a life full of possibilities. He was from a middle class family, his mother a Teacher and his father a Mayor and politician. He could have been anything he wanted to be. Instead, he chose death. I say ‘choose’ because only he decided to walk down the road of drink and drugs. Nobody pulled him down that path, nobody enticed him down there; he wasn’t born in to it or pressured in to going down that path. He knowingly went in that direction and it was only ever going to lead one way. I know there will be many people who will disagree with me, and that’s totally Ok, I’m not saying that my take on the whole thing is gospel and truth but it is my truth and that’s the only truth I can give.
There was my friend’s Father, who had never smoked, never abused drugs, had the odd beer occasionally and had built an entire family filled with love, truly making a difference with his life; and there was mine – someone who had carelessly squandered his life away with every single drink he took. It didn’t feel fair. I was embarrassed and ashamed that my father would have such a lack of understanding of how valuable life was when so many would have given anything and everything for just one more minute here on Earth with their loved ones. I didn’t share my Father’s view on life and I certainly didn’t approve of the way he squandered it away but I still felt a sense of it being linked to me, a sense of it being my fault, a sense of me needing to acknowledge it, because of the bare fact that I was his daughter. His genetics make me part of who I am.
Not once do we ever think, as we sit down around the dinner table about to tuck in to our Christmas dinner every December, and cheers our drinks for the 104th time (because the kids love doing it with their little beakers! – or is that just our family?!), that a year down the road, our lives could be so changed that we might never re-live this moment with all those we love again. Or at least, I never had done. I had never just closed me eyes and breathed in the fact that we were all together. I had never just stopped a moment and allowed the gratitude to wash all over me, realising how utterly blessed I was to be living in that moment.
2017 has brought me the realisation that nobody on this earth is guaranteed a tomorrow. I actually raised this with my family on Christmas day as I really felt like I needed to just tell them all, as one big group, how much that moment, and the whole day, had meant to me because we’d spent it together. Some of my family totally got it whilst others felt it was a little morbid. That’s not how I see this gift at all. I see that 2017 has brought me a gift that not everyone gets the benefit of experiencing. Not everyone experiences something in their lives that brings home that cold reality, that harsh realisation.
If nobody is promised a tomorrow, then we have to make the best of every single ‘today’. That doesn’t mean we have to write a bucket list and start abseiling down bridges or jumping out of planes; it is more about just being aware. Being aware of the moments that are everything; being aware of how blessed we are to share moments with our loved ones. It is about gratitude. It’s about never taking things or people for granted. It’s about taking in those special moments and breathing every inch of them in, savouring them in our memories for ever. It’s about not wasting time or energy – or life – arguing over who forgot to put the milk back in the fridge, who didn’t replace the toilet roll when it ran out, or who spilled chicken korma over the sofa. It’s about leaving this earth, whenever that may be (let’s hope it’s gazillions of years away yet) with not a single regret. It’s about doing what you want to do (only if it’s legal like…), telling people how you feel, loving without reservation or hesitation, really living your life in every sense of the word: it’s about making the most of every single day of your life – and the lives of the people you love.
Before this realisation, I’ve always been one for using the new year as a fresh start. Whether that be for a diet, healthier living, about achieving more at work or whatever – I’ve always seen it as a point in the year to reflect on the year gone by and I have to admit that I can’t remember the last time I said ’This year has been amazing! Bring on another one like it!’ In fact, I’m not sure I ever have looked back on a year positively. I do remember, however, all the times I’ve said ‘I can’t wait for this year to be over with’ or ‘Good riddance to 20XX!’ for, in hindsight, seemingly insignificant reasons. I am now able to look upon the closing of this year and the coming of the new year in a completely different way thanks to the realisation that 2017 has brought me.
I have now realised that it doesn’t matter what does or doesn’t happen in a year. As long as I am transitioning out of one year and in to another with all of my loved ones around me then there is no ‘bad year’ or reason to bid it ‘good riddance’, because I am blessed. As long as I have all the people I love with me as I embark on the journey out of this year and in to the next, nothing else matters. It really doesn’t.
For that reason, I’m not even sure if I even want to do the ‘new year’ thing. This time I’m not celebrating the departure of a bad year and the arrival of the blank canvas of the new one and all the possibilities it might bring. Instead, I want to celebrate every single day just how lucky and how incredibly blessed and grateful I am to have the people I love around me.
I hope you transition in to the new year with all the people you treasure the most around you.