Juliette was diagnosed with leukaemia just before Christmas, ten years ago. What had been a glittering rush of normal preparations became hospital, blood tests and chemotherapy. Nurses wore tinsel, flashing Christmas earrings and presents arrived every hour for the sick children on the ward. For a bubbly three-year-old oblivious to to what her illness could mean this was very exciting, but for her parents the only decorations we could think about were the smiles we hung on our faces. We were breaking up inside, but Juliette had to be protected from our horror and fear.
She made it through that Christmas, and a second one. The following year she had left us, and we were thrown into a festive season which felt all wrong. As the gaudy wheels whirred in a frenzy of commercial joy I felt like shouting, “Don’t you know what’s happened? How can you all pretend that it hasn’t?” I shopped because I needed to. Our other children did not deserve a dark Christmas, but there were moments of torture when in a shop I would pick something up thinking, “I’ll get this for Juliette, she’d love it,” before remembering.
Gradually over the years, Christmas as with other things has become easier. For us, as with many families who have lost children, the rituals we’ve found are what get us through the tough times. That first Christmas I chose a beautiful new angel for the tree, but I cried so much when I got it home. It felt like such a paltry, hollow gesture. I wanted to be able to buy presents for Juliette – to watch the face I knew so well light up, and hear her laughter.
Finding a new angel every year has become our way of keeping Juliette as part of the family’s Christmas. Sometimes I ask our other children if they want to help me choose, but often they leave it to me. Some years I feel Juliette poking fun at my choice. In others I see her face in the little figure I’m holding, and know that I’ve chosen the right one.