As Christmas day 2021 draws ever closer, I am once again reminded of how my husband Brian loved this special time of year. A family man at heart, he loved nothing better than bringing the whole family together to share in the fun and good cheer. This was especially true after our three children; Michelle, Clint and Julie had left home and times together were even more precious.
Around the middle of December each year, Brian and I would take our Christmas tree out of storage and decorate it together. This never failed to bring on the Christmas spirit and encourage us to join the throng of Christmas shoppers searching for the perfect gift to give to their family members and friends.
No matter how organized we were with our shopping, wrapping was always left to the last minute and we would sit up until the wee hours on Christmas eve, placing our carefully chosen gifts beneath the tree. Lack of sleep never diminished the joy we felt when the family came together the next day for the much-anticipated giving of gifts. Our dogs, Ben and Rufus, who also received gifts, loved to join in the fun.
Though Brian enjoyed this family custom as much as we did, preparing the Christmas dinner gave him the most pleasure. An amazing cook, he would plan the menu each year, shop for the ingredients and then spend hours in the kitchen putting everything together. Always keen to try something new, he would often find new recipes and follow them to the letter. His patience and attention to detail never ceased to amaze me.
Whatever Brian cooked, it was amazing and we all ate much more than we should have. Needless to say, there was not much action in the Kember household on Christmas day afternoons, we usually sat around talking about the year gone by and of our plans for the next one.
Any plans Brian and I had for the future, came to an end in 1999. Diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma just two weeks before Christmas that year, Brian’s prognosis was 3 to 9 months. The shock and sadness we experienced knowing that this Christmas would be our last, made it impossible for us to find any joy. When New Year’s Eve came around, it was the saddest night we had ever known.
Though we could not have known in then, this was not to be Brian’s last Christmas. By the grace of God, he was still alive 12 months after his prognosis and once again looking forward to Christmas celebrations, including eating his fair share of the Christmas dinner. Due to chemotherapy treatment successfully shrinking his tumour, he was once more able to eat solid food, a dream come true after surviving for months on pureed food.
On Christmas day 2000, we held our gift giving ceremony as usual, but there was nothing usual about this day. After months of fearing that Brian would no longer be with us, his presence was the most precious gift any one of us could ever have asked for. Christmas dinner, once again prepared by Brian, was delicious, our enjoyment of it, heightened by the fact that Brian was eating alongside us.
Later in the day, we invited our friends and neighbours over for Christmas drinks and sat talking about everything other than Brian’s illness. It was so nice to put cancer from our minds for a while and get to feel ‘normal’ if only for a little while. For Brian and for me, it made the perfect end to a perfect Christmas day.
Our last Christmas together
Brian’s health deteriorated rapidly over the following year but he was still with us in December and once again thinking of his favourite time of the year and often asked me how many days remained until Christmas. Despite being on oxygen and needing a wheelchair to get around, he helped me to shop for gifts and the food for Christmas dinner, even though he was no longer capable of eating it.
Four days before Christmas, Brian was unable to leave his bed. I knew that his long battle with mesothelioma was coming to an end and it broke my heart to know that his wish to be with us for Christmas day was not to be.
But then I had an idea. Why not celebrate Christmas early?
The children agreed that this was a wonderful idea, so we brought the Christmas tree and all of the gifts into Brian’s room and sat around his bed so that he could take part in our gift opening ceremony.
I will never forget the look of joy on his face as he watched us open the precious gifts he had chosen for us.
Brian passed away on the 24th December 2001. Time has eased the pain of my loss but memories of Brian are ever with me, especially in the festive season.
Christmas will never be quite the same without him. I miss this beautiful man and the passion he had for this time of year. I miss the joy he brought to the table with every delicious meal he cooked.
It would be so easy for me to give into sadness at this time each year but I choose not to. Instead, I find joy in the gift of life I am living and the loved ones who share my life with me. I know that this is what Brian would have wanted.