“I laugh Daddy got you a toaster!” My phone lights up at 6am with Zachary’s name flashing across my screen. Its 6.30am, one 20-year-old brother and 24-year-old me lying in our beds with just plasterboard separating us I can hear him chuckle at my reply, “Well I hope you get another go cart”.
Its December 25th 2016 – I have stayed over at my family home to welcome the Christmas celebrations, the night before we had laid out a plate of food for Santa and joked that we should make him egg and onion sandwiches – two of my Daddy’s most hated foods. We leave carrots and brussel sprouts for the reindeers too, the house is lit up with Christmas cheer and our real 6ft Christmas tree floods the house with the smell of pine. Zachary is wondering if everyone wants coffee to wake them up so we can get downstairs and open our presents – he is the brave one and opens his bedroom door to make the first move to the kitchen. He makes the best coffee.
What is unknown is that I sat in bed the night before staring at the ceiling, listening for his skylight to open and for him to leave the family home to go a walk, meet people or even worse. He has been home for a month, it hasn’t been the smoothest – he wasn’t keeping well, and I know that now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; I sit in bed and listen for his light snores to start. I can sleep now.
Christmas mornings in my house were tradition, it worked like clockwork – myself and Zachary would place bets on how long it would take my Dad to get annoyed with my Mum for complaining that he was chasing us round the living room with a bin bag to collect the excess wrapping paper as we ripped it off the presents. I cooked Christmas breakfast, then after that, my mum slaved in the kitchen and my small family started visiting to wish us a good day. I would look over at his pile of presents from Santa and secretly be annoyed at how much bigger his pile was to mine – he would model his new clothes, shoes and thank everyone individually for their gifts – while my mum complained that she got awful presents for the 10th year in a row.
We used to film ourselves as a family eating Christmas dinner, we stopped that a few years prior as it seemed pointless anymore. I thought by this time I would have my own family and welcome by Mum, Dad, Brother and his partner to my house to host them, but life doesn’t always work out to plan. I was happy with my Christmas, I had the most important people around me – so it was a joyful day.
We watched the snowman and his dog – as a tradition, my Dad had watched the original Snowman growing up and so had we. We all watched it together once the other family members left – it is something of the past now.
Three months later, Zachary was gone, 9 months after that December came around and the Christmas cheer started – but it started without him. Time went on and it dawned on me that even though he was gone, everyone else would continue with their lives, their Christmas traditions and their festive celebrations. Except us.
In 2017 – It wasn’t until 2017 that I learnt the real meaning of Christmas.
People knew Christmas would be hard for us, but I also recognised that we were not the only ones who found Christmas, the lights, the songs and the cheer hard to deal with. There were other people like us – it took my Mum to make one phone call to me, where she decided she wanted to open our family home up to other people in the community like us. To be together, support one another and get through what used to be the best day of the year.
The response to our open house led to the creation of our Alternative Xmaz, one of the projects that gained ZGBTST the reputation it has today. In 2018 – we went bigger, we opened up St Malachy’s Community Centre from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day 24 hours a day for those who felt vulnerable, unsafe and alone. Many members of the community came along to donate, sit with us and talk about their own personal experiences. It was a real sense of connection to what Christmas is really about – loving, supporting and giving.
This year we are doing the same again and we will do for many more years to come. As the mental health services shut down, we open up as a gateway of support and somewhere safe to go where you are understood as an individual.
Christmas is about Family. It is about Giving, Supporting, Loving and Time. Time I never thought was limited to me and my family, but it was.
Sometimes people do not have the festive cheer and in my most recent column, Mind Matters – I promised to include tell-tale signs of Festive Depression within the family so you can support, love and recognise someone else’s feelings during a time of happiness for some but sadness for others;
- Financial strain – Christmas isn’t about presents; many people now place themselves in debt to give their children/partner the gift that they really want even if it is out of their price range. This societal pressure is something that should be looked at as a family and budgets set and stuck too as no one wishes to feel financial strain.
- Disengagement – Did someone used to take part happily in festivities but now are more than likely to sit at the back and not engage?
- Eating Habits changing.
- Excessive Alcohol consumption.
- Passive aggressiveness – When everyone else around you feels happy, it can be easy for someone to feel guilt that they do not feel the same way. This feeling caused aggravation and can lead the person to get moodier easily.
Talking to someone who has similar views can ease the feeling of being alone, even when you are surrounded by people you love.
With love to everyone this Christmas, I hope it is safe and one to remember for all.
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