Belfast Telegraph

Why I celebrate my mum's anniversary

By Frances Burscough

My mum died ten years ago today. I've spent the day reminiscing about her and also remembering what we were all going through at this time a decade ago as she slipped away.

As she was lying in her hospital bed, surrounded by bleeping monitors and drip-tubes and racked with pain, she apologised for "spoiling" Christmas. "I'm sorry darling, I didn't even get you anything" was one of the last things my mother said to me. I wanted to say so many things but all I could manage was "never mind" before the floodgates opened again, washing away my ability to speak.

Mum used to tease me when I was little because of my abundance of joie de vivre. Apparently when I was a baby I would laugh for no apparent reason, as though I had a secret joke but wasn't sharing it with anyone. Then later when a song came on the radio I would invariably proclaim "Oh great!! I love this song!!" regardless of whether it was Englebert Humperdink or Procol Harum. At school when I had to write a page about my favourite season, I couldn't possibly choose one so I wrote a page about each. In short, I was a boundless enthusiast. My cup wasn't just half-full, it was overflowing.

Of course, certain events from my adult life had since tarnished my shiny optimistic layer and I became a bit more cynical and a bit less gleeful.

Nevertheless, this was the quality that my mum loved the most about me. A bit like a court jester, or a village idiot depending on your perspective, I could always be counted on to lighten any mood or seek out the positive side of any situation.

And it would seem that here was my ultimate challenge so far -to find the positive side to my mum's untimely end because "it's what she would have wanted".

With that in mind, and with two children who deserved as many happy memories of Christmas as I have, I made a conscious decision on that sad day to try and celebrate my mum's life rather than mourn her death. So after the funeral as soon as we got back home I dug out the family photos of grandma for an impromptu slide show accompanied by festive music and Centra's finest mince pies.

Furthermore, that evening, when the kids had gone to their dad's, rather than sitting at home alone and bereft I went out for a couple of drinks with my friends to toast my dearly departed mum. A bit like "wetting the baby's head"... but the opposite. The idea caught on and now, ten anniversaries later, it's part of my wider family's Christmas traditions to actively celebrate the mum/ grandma/ wife/ sister/auntie we lost. We all do it in different ways, from going to a memorial Mass (dad) to singing carols around her grave (her sisters)

But it was my brother Jim who came up with the most wonderful way of commemorating the occasion this year. My mum was a great story-teller and so as a tribute he wrote down all my mum's favourite stories from her childhood and sent a copy to us all, so we could add our own recollections to it. This must have taken him ages because there were so many, but here's an extract from a Christmas past that I thought you all might enjoy:

"One Christmas Day after dinner, all sixteen of mum's family (there were fourteen children, no less!) were playing a game called Hot Holly or, as they pronounced it with their Lancashire accents 'Ot 'Olly. One person went out of the room, while the others took it in turns to hide a sprig of holly. Then he/she came back in, and searched the room for the holly. If he was far away, the others said "Cold", and as they got nearer it was "getting warmer . . . hot . . . boiling", until they spotted it and shouted, "Hot Holly!" When it was uncle Bernard's turn (the youngest brother) and he saw the holly, he got so excited that he jumped up on the sideboard to reach it and accidentally knocked down all the dessert dishes loaded with Christmas pudding, splattering them all over the floor as he shouted "Ot Olly! Ot Olly! Ot Olly!" "

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