An Empty Seat At Christmas

I don’t remember much of last Christmas, to be honest. That’s not to say it wasn’t memorable. I loved it and cherished every moment. it’s just that, after 32 years of familiar tradition, they tend to blur together a little.

We had turkey and pulled crackers, just like every other year.

It passed us by, just like every other year.

Christmas 2020 will live long in the memory. Yes, we are living in pandemic times, but also, we have two empty seats at the table. My Brother and my Nana. It’s the first year that we have not been together. Nana, unfortunately, succumbed to cancer last month, and my Brother is unable to travel due to Covid guidelines.

The familiar, comforting traditions of Christmas’ past are, alas, no more. While I never, ever, took Christmas together for granted, it was easy to feel entitled to this period of festive communion.

It feels odd, then, looking at that empty seat. That visceral reminder of loss. That visual clue that Christmas will never be the same.

Nana’s space will never be filled. Belying her age, 93 when she passed last month, she brought an energy and sense of humor to festivities. She seemed to find extra strength on the big day itself and delighted in the Company of her family.

Nana bore her illness so stoically. Receiving palliative care, we had her at home for almost 7 weeks. We cherished every day. Her lucidity and bravery were inspiring, and because of that, we had many, many happy memories amidst all the sadness.

Without her, this year, the familiar cadences of the day just weren’t right. No presents for her to marvel over. No spare roastie slipped covertly from her plate on to yours. No afternoon nap. Dad’s Army just isn’t the same without the generation who recall it.

The people that you want to spend Christmas with, are the only people that really matter in your life. It’s taken me a while to arrive at this conclusion, but I think it holds true now more than ever.

This year, we had to be selective. No excessive household mixing, strict social bubbles. It forced us, as a nation, to pick. For me, it was a total sacrifice of socialising or mixing lest. I wanted to spend Christmas with my parents, and so, took decisions to minimize my personal exposure to Covid.

This Christmas is difficult for everyone. I wallowed, moped, and generally felt blue. With another period of Covid inspired lockdown around the corner with the associated removal of our civil liberties, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

Rather than yearning for what is gone, better to focus on what you do have. I would give anything to have my Brother and Nana around the Christmas table today — and yet, while we remember Nana fondly and talk to Ian on Facetime — we are unable.

In years gone by, I wrote out my Santa list assiduously. Shrewd shopping practices maximised my personal gain, adding a few kilos to my Santa Sack. I gave generously too, always endeavoring to make my budget go further. And it made me feel good to give and receive. Planning the Christmas food, too, was always a high priority item. The perfect food, endless indulgence. You know the drill. An ex-girlfriend once threw a tantrum because her Sister had drunk all the Limoncello on Christmas Day — that did rather make me wonder about the viability of the relationship.

This year, in this year of Covid restrictions and personal bereavement, I have learned that all of that does not matter a damn. It will be forgotten.

It takes an empty seat around the table to show what really matters.

We do have heat, love, presents, a turkey dinner, and each other. That’s more than most. And that’s what we must cherish.



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Phil Patterson

Phil Patterson

Founder of —Former VC and Startup Guy…I write for fun. About things I like, and some things I hate.