All the people we’ve ever loved

When the West With the Evening Glows — Joseph Farquharson — 1901 (Manchester Art Gallery)

That Boxing Day, it snowed. Me and Jason had been to see a film, and it had snowed, and how it had snowed — we left the cinema and it was whipping down from a murky sky, the whole world smothered and soft, glittering.

I’d not seen snow like it for years and my heart jumped at the sight, a kid at a cold window. Jason yelped with delight and we ran into it, wet and cold and carefree. The journey home was absurd — the trams were jammed, the roads impassable; we shought brief shivering shelter in the local gay haunt where he picked up free a mince pie with his boyish good looks and I picked up two pints with my credit card. Eventually we convinced a cab to take us halfway home, and scurried the rest through a cold park lit sodium bright, the icy sky still drifting down; chasing each other with snowballs and laughter, big kids.


The morning after, Bella woke wild with excitement. Snow. Snow! She had to have breakfast first, she had to wrap up warm. Sofía excited because Bella was excited, her two year old self in a buzz over the hectic joy of the past few days. Presents, and chocolate, and family, and what now— what now?

She stood at the door, taking in the white, the glistening, the cold. The crunch as her sister stepped down, the way her own feet sunk strangely into the crust of the world. Reached down to touch — cold crystals, ice white. Scooped up — soft crystals, ice white, melting to nothing but water, and away. It’s a rare gift, to see someone be enchanted for the first time by some magic in the world. It enchants us, in turn.

The snow stayed; that night it lit the world with a feather-light lucent glow. And it wasn’t until a day later that I learned that one of my dearest friends had been killed that night, across an ocean, on an icy road, in the snow.


I made a sound I didn’t know I could make.

Sat on the sofa, Jason holding me, my hands open to catch the tears I was sure would come but didn’t to catch the sobbing I knew would come but didn’t, poised in that frozen moment between impact and breaking ice. Sat shocked at my silence as the world held its breath.

Then the world finally broke and I made a sound I didn’t know I could make, dad rushed through, mum flying down the stairs, and this sound this sound kept coming. I guess it’s what it sounds like when a heart is being torn apart. And Jason held me tighter and mum stroked my hair, shhh she said, shhh, because there’s nothing you can say to ease a tearing heart.

Then tears came, then sobbing, and sobbing, and raw raw red eyes. I looked out the cold window to watch black rooks flying in a sky full of snow, every sweep of their wings taking me aching heartbeats from Phil, and heartbeats, and heartbeats.


Three years worth of heartbeats have passed. And still, this bruise, this tender bruise where my heart was torn. Last Christmas Eve, watching The Snowman; Bella and Sofía both absorbed. Bella half consciously narrating for us, she’s six and has seen this story before, many times before. ‘He has to say goodbye now’, as the film closes.

‘He doesn’t know it’s goodbye. But he won’t be there in the morning. He has to say goodbye but he doesn’t know it’s goodbye’

I leap from the room to the dark hallway, hold myself tight, swallow my sobs.

And the next morning, Christmas morning, Bella pouncing downstairs in her pussycat onesie and waving hello, the excited hello of an excited little girl on Christmas Day. A flashback to my christmases gone, playing with cousins, hiding under the stairs, nana’s bustling house; Aberdeen accents, cigarette smoke, and all the people I ever loved still living. I wave back to Bella, the happy wave of a happy uncle, as she twirls into the living room to meet family and presents and the unseen gift of all the people she’s ever loved still living.

We all become memories, eventually we all become only memories.


Hearts heal imperfectly, the wordless agony of grief calming into a tender treasured bruise. We go on with our days and our lives and our thoughtless heartbeats; morning coffee and rush hour, Netflix binges, lost drunken nights and thudding hangover breakfasts, stopping only briefly to watch the flight of birds across the aching open sky. And that’s OK. That’s life.

Some say it’s more painful to lose people at Christmas, but can you weigh grief against grief? Maybe it’s Christmas that makes loss more painful. Phil died three years ago, and still I cry at Christmas. But maybe we all do, eventually. Wrapping presents, writing cards and recalling all the names now melted into memories; or maybe only for a moment, pausing while prepping dinner, or alone with a glass of wine and the stars. Maybe, if we live long enough, everyone cries a little at Christmas. And that’s OK, I think. I think that’s life.

Hearts heal imperfectly, and we guard the bruise like a candle flame in cold night. Snowballs and laughter, big kids; bouncing downstairs on cold Christmas mornings, crackers and silly hats. Seeing for the first time the world made fresh by snow, a handful of soft white crystals melting to nothing; a loved ones hand, stroking our hair; shhh, shhh. It hurts, I know, in the end, the gift of all the people we’ve ever loved. It hurts, I know, but all the pain is our treasure, to guard like a candle flame in cold cold night.

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