real life

'The Saturday before Christmas, I got the call. My mum and stepdad had drowned.'

I remember the day like it was yesterday.

Sitting at my desk at the newspaper I ended up working at for most of my adult life. Furiously working on sub-editing the next day’s paper.

It was a Saturday. The Saturday before Christmas 1995.

On a weekend shift at a newspaper, the office takes on a different mood. The admin and advertising staff are nowhere to be seen.

Things are business-like but with a more relaxed attitude because you’re there for just one thing – to get the paper to bed – not all the external stuff that can interrupt that flow on a normal news day.

I’d only recently come back to work after the birth of my first son and was working weekends to minimise daycare costs.

It’s not surprising that I remember what I was wearing – white cheesecloth cotton long shorts with matching white t-shirt; oversized and comfortable on my postpartum body.

The phone next to my desk rang. This was before mobile phones. You didn’t jump and wonder why a person was calling you instead of texting or emailing.

The call was for me.

At the end of the line was a gentleman who said he was a policeman. He was calling from the apartment in which my youngest brother lived in Sydney.

The officer delivered me the news that my mum (who had just turned 51) and my step-dad had drowned in a tramping incident not far from Queenstown in New Zealand. They were seasoned and experienced.

That slow motion thing that happens in the movies? It started happening. For real.

I think I let out a wailing sound. Any clarity I had had five minutes before, quickly before became a blur.

I remember my workmate Shirl. Shirl, who’d lost her own parents, ushering me out of the building and into her car, comforting me as she drove me the 20-minute drive home.

I remember the numbness.

I remember the devastating looks on my grandparents – mum’s parents’ faces.

I remember the family coming together, not as we should have to celebrate Christmas – my son’s first Christmas – but to organise us all flying to New Zealand (they lived in Invercargill) for the funeral.

I remember all of this EVERY Christmas.


"My mum Margaret and step-dad Neville were experienced trampers. Here I am with them in 1987." Image: Supplied.

Since then, I’ve also come to recognise that this time of year isn’t an emotionally easy one – Mum’s birthday was December 13 and they died on December 21.

I’m not necessarily fun company during this time.

My cluster of emotions presents itself in either a worst-case PMT scenario or a complete withdrawal into myself (highly unusual behaviour!).

But then I remember that I’m not alone. Sadly, I’m not alone.

Right now, people are receiving the same news I received all those years ago.

Others have recently received devastating news concerning their own health or the health of a loved one.

Others are facing their first Christmas without a person who this year they said goodbye to.

Others, like me, recognise the hole left, no matter how many years have passed.

"In 2019 I finally made the trip and trek to the site (near Queenstown) where they drowned. There is now a bridge in place at the crossing." Image: Supplied.


Christmas CAN be a difficult time.

If you know someone who might be doing it tough, please reach out to them. 

It’s now 26 Christmases without my mum and step-dad. 

The cliche of time healing is only partially true. Time does help, but for anyone who’s ever lost someone they loved, grief is always there, tucked away in the subconscious, ready to rear its head when you least suspect it.

I’ve learned that that’s ok.

I’ve also learned that when I’m having a moment, that it is just that. A moment.

My life is GOOD. It’s very good. I’ve got so much to be grateful for.

That’s why my glass-half-full approach to life will always see me look for the good and enjoy the good.

I hope you can too.

This post originally appeared on Styling You and has been republished with full permission. 

Nikki Parkinson is a blogger, author and the designer behind the label Styling You. For more from Nikki, follow her on Instagram @stylingyou.

Feature Image: Supplied.