WHAT will my Christmas look like this year? I can answer that in two words: at home.
It was the only request my three sons (17,15,13) asked for, and I guess it was fair enough.
For the last three years, since their father died, we had been anywhere but home. Well that's not technically true - we did try the second Christmas after this death to be festive in our own space - but we were in a new house with no extended family and after trying three times to get the spirit on we called it quits on Christmas Day and retreated to screens or in my case bed. It was awful, so much so the kids and I decided to forget Christmas existed that year and to try again in 2016.
You see that's what happens when what you know has been turned on its head and all the things you used to do at Christmas seem either really try-hard or just plain sad. The boys' dad Tony died on September 1, 2014. He suicided at home. From that moment on everything changed. Every fibre of our being was shifted. The boys lost their dad, their mentor, their go-to for funny, their shared caregiver and the one person they looked up to for anything male. As a family we lost a linchpin and with that choice Tony set us all on another path.
As Christmas 2014 was only three-and-a-half months after his death I can tell you none of us were capable of trying to pretend that Christmas was anything but miserable.
So I did what any self-respecting mother in a crisis would do. We ran away. I decided that what my grieving little men (then 14, 12 and 9) needed was a chance to see the circle of life. To see Mother Nature at her most real and that everything would be OK. So I took them to Africa and we did a five-day African safari.
Twice a day for five days we went out for three hours at sunrise and sunset and looked for the big five and boy did we find them. My middle son felt the breath of a young elephant buck as he sauntered past our 4WD. We sat motionless as a pride of lions, led by a roaring male, crossed our path. A black rhino tried to charge us, protecting her young, while the boys learnt that the most dangerous were the buffalo. These animals are so scatty and stupid in a herd that they can change at a feather.
And finally, on the last day, they spotted a leopard, sunning herself alone. She let us take her photo. Cue Elton John ... but I can say this experience helped shift that first Christmas of grief.
We spent the actual Christmas Day that year in Mauritius with my two best friends in the whole world. Alex lived there with her family and she had dropped everything to come to me when Tony died. So when she had to go home, she asked us all to come for Christmas. Vanessa, who also played a pivotal role on the day Tony died, came with her family. So at least we could all spend the day in a foreign place, with new experiences and get through it all together. Bless these amazing woman and their husbands. They let me sleep for days on end, which was sometimes all I was capable of. And they let my boys pretend that everything was normal because that is what they needed to do. So they fished and swam and raced go-carts and just got on with life.
I've already explained our second Christmas. I thought we could all handle it but we had recently moved house and weren't in a place to start anything new. My beautiful cousin Erica came up from Melbourne with her young kids, but the early Queensland morning light meant no one was sleeping and in the end they moved to the coast with her husband's family. I still feel badly about how this Christmas turned out.
Then there was last year. My mum wanted us to try a turn in the family home in Sydney. (We're there every second year and it was our year.) My sister and her kids were there, my mum's partner and her family came and a number of orphans dropped by throughout the day which was lovely. It was a great family event but I knew my boys were itching to do one back at home. Which brings us to Christmas 2017.
A lot has changed for us in the last three years. I have a wonderful new partner called Sean who has gently engaged my boys on their terms and each of them have finally come into their own. My eldest finished school this year. He survived Schoolies with only a nose ring and is looking to his future as a wonderfully caring, incredibly responsible and self-assured young man.
My middle son has pushed hard through his anger and confusion. It's been a tough journey of boundaries and love but he's come out the other side and I am so proud of the young man he is becoming.
My youngest (13), who was just a little boy when his dad died, is excelling in school (he is super smart) was named footballer of the year for his grade this year, and is a quiet leader. So when the boys asked if we could finally tackle a Christmas at home which actually felt like Christmas, I figured we were ready.
So what are we doing - well I have gone back to some of their childhood traditions. I've told the boys I require them from 6pm Christmas Eve till Boxing Day.
Christmas Eve we will watch Polar Express (like we did every year when they were little). I have Rudolf's bell and I will leave it out with their Santa's stockings for Christmas morning. (Don't laugh ... they put them out as decorations secretly hoping they will be filled - which they will).
Christmas morning we will eat mangoes, ham, sausage rolls, and Cornflakes and Bailey's - a tradition started by my dad 50 years ago. (Yes, it's weird but you should try it.) For lunch, Tony's mum, Sean, the boys and I will all enjoy a wonderful lunch at The Regatta Hotel.
I realised my limitations and thought it was enough for us to do the presents and breakfast thing at home without the stress of cooking (I'm not a great cook) so we will outsource the main meal and enjoy it with Tony's mum. She misses her son dreadfully and loves being with the kids so hopefully our new world will collide a little bit with our old and we will all have a lovely time together.
So from my little family to yours, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and regardless of who you are or where life has taken you, you can raise a glass to how far you've come and where you are going, as that will be our mantra this year.
Loads of love
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.