I emailed a very good friend, some time ago, and he replied to say that he’d accidentally deleted the email. I took the hint and hand-wrote a letter. I’d hand-written in the first place in fact, but I was away from home at the time and didn’t realise I hadn’t got his address with me, so emailed instead. He wrote back today, after many months, which pleased me considerably and prompted me to write Christmas cards. Hardly any, I must say. I stopped writing cards some years ago and I can’t possibly go back to several evenings of rote-writing, but a few, just a few people whom I rarely see but with whom I keep in touch, are now possible to write to. For a couple of years, not even that. I can only recognise how overwrought I’ve been by looking back, I couldn’t necessarily see it at the time.
So I’ve written two longish letters, bought presents to be posted and posted them and am back under control, more or less. In earlier days, when I had children at home, I needed to-do lists, which were timed, more or less … or rather, day by day. The point was, I was finished by 23rd December. This had two purposes. One was to relax and be lovely and cheerful with my family and the other, admittedly, was to have a day in hand for failures. That is, to catch up so they weren’t failures, by noon on Christmas Eve (except for wrapping stuff and cake icing, which were permissible after midnight). Although, even from the start, I recognised that there is a deadline here and what you have not done doesn’t get done. Just make sure there’s something under the tree and in the oven and, frankly, no one much cares what. They wanted me to be cheerful.
I think, after all these years, I can finally sum up what my family wanted from me. Cheerful, not panicking. If appropriate, reassuring. It’ll be all right, don’t worry, I’ll help. I’ll make sure it’s all right. If I couldn’t say that, or was clearly not coping, there was a distinct likelihood that they’d fall apart too. There is still an element of this, though it’s lessening as they start to look after me – which I appreciate and enjoy – it’s still there, but there’s more of a perspective. Which is good.