I wrote my Christmas cards a few weeks ago, working on the theory that I felt reasonably ok and I wasn't sure when I would feel as well again. Then, final chemo over, I posted and delivered them by hand and paw (involving some perilous dives across cattle grids for the dog who has something of an aversion to them). Piles of gifts are hidden under a rug in my office ready to be wrapped but, for the first time, number 1 child will not be with us - rightly staying in Thailand where she is currently gapping with her lovely partner.
Lots of bits of Christmas will be as they have always been. No school carol service this year, listening to the boy play the trumpet in Ripon Cathedral but there will be a carol service somewhere to attend (if I can avoid the sniffy, snotty tinies who carry a myriad of germs and few handkerchiefs). On Christmas Eve we will read together A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. This tradition started as a special treat read in bed to the elder two when they were little. Now we all sit round the fire and read a few pages each about Jim and the cats, Mrs Prothero and the fireman and the skating postman. It's a perfect respite from the television, the Christmas songs and the clanking of pans and pots. A special few moments of peace.
And then my favourite part... on Christmas morning when the children unwrap their stockings (when they were little, all four clambering on our bed) exclaiming at Santa's extraordinary talent for knowing exactly what they wanted - even when they didn't know themselves! And my beloved and I joining in their surprise and delighting that Santa even remembers to give them thank you cards. Some things in the stockings never change - chocolate mice and medals from Bettys and most important of all, a Christmas decoration which goes on the tree for each child, giving me a treasured memory of Christmases past when I put the tree up each December. I can trace the origin of nearly every decoration.
Talking of which, this year's Christmas tree erection proved particularly hazardous. The trees (one with roots, one without) were purchased on Saturday and carefully positioned. Solo for the first time in the decoration process, I trimmed two trees, cleared up the mess and admired. The following morning, the big tree fell down (yes, this happened last year and yes, I meant to buy a new stand...). The tree is now back in place and secured to the ceiling at a jaunty - or drunk, whichever - angle. With regard to the roots aspect, our garden has many Christmas trees - some now taller than the house - from Christmases past. Not exactly landscaping but rather marvellous none the less.
Which brings me to Christmases past. It's funny how the bitter and the sweet memories get muddled up together. The year the postmistress came for Christmas dinner and drove back across the field, rather befuddled, and got stuck in the mud. She returned twenty minutes after she left - minus her car and one shoe - we found both, eventually. The year my beloved welcomed his mother and stepfather into the house and whilst trying to break some ice in the kitchen sink for their drinks, broke the sink completely meaning we had to wash up in a bucket for a couple of weeks until we could get a new one. And the year we made sprout jelly. Charades and games and folks that aren't with us anymore - all mashed together like bubble and squeak.
This year I won't be the ringmaster, the cracker of the whip (though there will be crackers if we ever get round to buying any). I will be a spectator, probably trying to curb my frustration at not being able to do all the things which make up our Christmas and hoping, please, to have got my taste buds back (though I will still not be eating sprouts - the vegetable of the devil).
And my Christmas wish list? Firstly and essentially, to be well. I'd take that above everything. For my children, husband and family to be happy (and healthy, because, as it turns out, everything else is bosh). And because I freely admit that I am vain, I'd like my hair to grow back, but that comes a very poor third.
Genevieve being a bridesmaid with Annabel
Antonia and her lovely fiance Jonathan
Robbie and Sabrina