real life

What Christmas is like after losing nearly everything.

Christmas of 2009 was bleak.

There’s no other way to describe it. We were newly bankrupt, having lost every single cent we’d ever earned. The loss had started the year before when the Global Financial Crisis destroyed the property market. My husband was just starting out as a property developer. Like most developers starting out he’d used our home as a personal guarantee to secure the loan to fund the development.

When property prices crashed, we lost the development and then very quickly our home, forcing us to move closer to where my family lived out in the ‘burbs in what we dubbed our “crappy rental”. We were in purgatory, victims of an economic crisis we had done nothing to create. We were sore and sad. We were jaded.

However when you have children, you can’t be sore, sad and jaded for long, particularly when Christmas is approaching.

"However when you have children, you can’t be sore, sad and jaded for long, particularly when Christmas is approaching." Image via iStock.

At the time our children were aged five, 22-months and six-months. It was my five-year-old who forced us to celebrate Christmas. He was aware of what Christmas was all about, he knew Santa would bring gifts and he had absolutely no idea what had happened to us. All he knew was that we had moved so we could live closer to his cousins. He was happy to be living in a house, after having lived in adjoining units previously.

Money was incredibly tight but I was proud. We were both working by then, earning as much as we could, but we were weighed down by joint personal debts that didn’t form part of my husband’s bankruptcy and they had to be paid. I used to sit down and review our finances a minimum of once a day. Everything had to be budgeted for and accounted for. Every dollar had to be stretched.

It was hard.

My family would visit, bringing bags of groceries I was so ashamed to accept but too desperate to reject.

May 15, 2009 was our first official day of bankruptcy. I was determined to celebrate Christmas that year and put away as much money as I could, even putting away food items I knew I could use that Christmas.

"May 15, 2009 was our first official day of bankruptcy. I was determined to celebrate Christmas that year and put away as much money as I could, even putting away food items I knew I could use that Christmas." Image: iStock
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I gave birth to our daughter Caterina in June and all the gift baskets filled with toys and food were carefully sorted. Any toys I could use as gifts were put away, as were foods.

My husband was driving a truck at the time. One of the companies he worked for transported cold goods. Henry had quickly befriended his colleagues. They knew our story well.

He came that Christmas with two hampers filled with foods we’d never be able to afford, gifted to us by his boss. One was filled with every kind of ice cream you could ever imagine and the other had frozen foods like party pies and sausage rolls. I cried that night. I hadn’t seen so much food in so long and I felt as though our Christmas had been saved.

My family and friends were amazing. My family knew what was happening to us as it happened and my parents and sisters both lent us money which we paid back as quickly as we could, but without their generosity every time they visited, bringing food treats and toys for the kids, we would never have been able to enjoy our Christmas.

second wife
Jo with her family now. Image: Supplied.
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It was bleak, that’s true, but it was also the most incredible time of my life. The quiet support, the endless generosity, just being able to talk to them about it all knowing they were scared for me and wished they could do more for me made everything okay.

Relatives we hadn’t seen in months visited bringing gifts. We were taken aback, slightly embarrassed but also so filled with appreciation as our children tore into their gifts.

It was a crappy rental with a cheap tree, terrible decorations and budget gifts badly wrapped underneath it but they had an absolute ball. After Christmas we made very good use of the leftovers. We’d had lunch at my parent’s house on Christmas Day and they’d given us all the leftovers.

Once again, we felt ashamed and embarrassed but also so grateful.

Before the bankruptcy when things had been going well my husband had been overwhelmed by my family. After we lost everything he saw them with new eyes. He saw how incredible they were, how much they did for us. His family did the same.

"That Christmas was almost too much for me. I felt sad and sore and broken. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and desperate. Then, I felt grateful and thankful and loved. I felt hopeful and cared for and supported." Image: iStock.

That Christmas was almost too much for me. I felt sad and sore and broken. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and desperate. Then, I felt grateful and thankful and loved. I felt hopeful and cared for and supported.

Christmas is such a special time of the year for us still. Each year was a little better than the previous Christmas and now we celebrate with full force, still on a budget, still carefully, and we always accept as many leftovers as we are offered, but we also feel back on track.

I hope you have an incredible Christmas this year. I hope you eat with abandon, love with no limits and share lots of laughter and joy as the kids tear into their gifts and eat too much dessert.

Christmas will always be my absolute favourite time of the year.

When has your family come through for you?

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