It’s Christmas eve. I knew early on that we wouldn’t be seeing our family this year. I, unlike many others had not listened to the false promises of Boris and his friends. Christmas was never going to be ok. It was never going to be safe. To lead so many along until the last minute was both cruel and completely unavoidable. We knew from autumn that the covid numbers were raising. We knew in early November that the cases were becoming significant and by December we knew that ITU and critical care units were becoming overwhelmed. We knew it was not safe to mix at Christmas.
I’m due to work, four nights starting on Christmas eve, finishing on the morning of the 28th December. This is not unusual most NHS workers will work one year on, one year off. This year is my turn. In non-covid times the Children and my husband would have gone up north to our family. I would have waved them off to be reunited once my set of night has shifts finished. I would head straight back up the west coast line to Manchester/Derbyshire and we’d do another Christmas day. The kids love this they get 2 Christmas days, with turkeys, presents, family meals the whole deal – twice. Because everybody knows that father Christmas makes special visits for families of key workers.
Christmas in the hospital is not a sad time. The staff wear tinsel in their hair, the wards are usually full of chocolates, visitors stay late with loved ones not well enough to make it home. I’ve never minded working Christmas; I’ve done it on and off for 20 years. This year however, I knew it would be very different.
This Christmas eve, my daughter and I have made Christmas biscuits, gingerbread men, and mini fruit muffins. Wearing surgical gloves we box them up in little red and green boxes, then deliver them locally to our friends and neighbours. We place lint chocolate truffles and candy-canes in gift bags to give to the children. We visit elderly neighbours whom we know are alone, unable to even have a Christmas meal at/with Church this year. We wear masks and stand far back from front doors; I use gloves to hand out our packages. Aware that myself and the children may be the only people some of our neighbours will see for many days. This brief knock on the door and food box the only human contact they will have over the whole of the festive period.
After we’ve delivered our boxes we go home. The Christmas lights are on in the kitchen our stags head over the piano decorated with fairy lights and tinsel. The house smells of cinnamon as a gammon roasts ready for my night shift. It feels like Christmas. It is Christmas.
My daughter comes into the kitchen. We have a large l- shape kitchen diner where we spend most of our time. It’s the beating heart of our house and she is one of its valves Our island in the middle messy with Christmas cards not yet hung up, craft materials and pen pots. She is dressed in a sparkly party dress, a lace skirt with a blue velvet top. She has a red ribbon in her hair, the same ribbon we had earlier tied around gift boxes.
‘Mummy, it’s my Christmas party.’ She smiles a wide smile, eyes as bright as the twinkle of the fairy lights hanging above us.
‘Yes of course.’ I think of the pre-shift sleep I’m unlikely now to fit in.
From the kitchen table I open up the laptop, logging in. Soon Zoom is bright on the screen, another dozen or so little girls dressed in fancy dresses all beaming out at us from the computer. There are no boys, they don’t seem to want to join in. My own son has already retreated to the sofa to watch TV, not at all interested in the prospect of an on-line party. Where here the girl’s wave at one another, their excitement palpable. The music starts and I watch as my daughter dressed in her finery twirls and jumps to Maria Carey’s All I Want For Christmas. She holds her skirt in her hands and swings it from side to side to Slade’s, I wish it could be Christmas Every day. I hear the laughter of her friends, the out of tune, off key and incorrect worded singing of their parents. The lights flash from the laptop, red, blues a bright yellow, a disco ball app applied by the host. I watch as my daughter dances alone.
For me this was one of the defining moments of covid. Of all the sights I’ve seen, of all the terrible things Covid has caused over the past few months. The deaths, the heartache, the tears of staff and patients, relatives banging at our doors for a last chance to hold a loved one. Somehow for me, this sight will forever haunt me. My daughter alone in our kitchen, with dishes left uncleaned, a washing basket full, the gammon roasting in the oven, here, my daughter dances alone. She swirls and twirls laughing into the empty room. She has become a sad old drunk, a woman drinking alone in a dingy bar. I watch her, I think of the grandparents she will not visit, the nativity she will not perform, I can hear the carols she will not sing. The Christmas traditions forever lost to this year.
Before joining in with the Pogue’s Fairy Tale in New York I to turn away to wipe away a tear. Afraid that once the tears come, they may not stop. I compose myself, Mother, Nurse, now dancer. I return and we sing loudly, I hold her hands and swing her round, we sway together, we close our eyes. For this moment we are at a Christmas party, the dance floor full, a disco ball above our heads. Mistletoe hanging from doorways, a buffet about to be served, crackers waiting to be pulled and friends and loved ones around us. For this moment, my daughter is no longer dancing alone.