"As Christmas Eve arrives and Christmas Day draws closer, my feelings are always a mixture of happiness and sadness. I am happy to know that I will spend Christmas with my wife, my daughter and brother-in-law. I am happy to know in this holy hour that my God, family and friends have never given up on me and never will. My feelings are, however, always tinged with a touch of sadness, and Christmas can never go by without me giving thought to the passing of loved ones and particularly that of my dear mother many years ago. I will never forget all my years between five and twenty-one walking to midnight mass with her one and a half miles down the Hightown New Road to the Catholic Church in Cleckheaton.
My late Uncle Willie, who lived in Ireland until he died surprised us all by turning up at Midnight Mass one Christmas during the 1950's. Unfortunately, my mother's brother was, until he gave up the drink and took up walking, five years before he died, an alcoholic. He was the most unreliable person I ever knew, yet amusing and generous to a fault. He never married and after my maternal grandparent's died, he returned to Ireland and was the guardian of their house until the day he died. Never once did he move one object from the place his mother had it all her married life; effectively turning the humble house into a shrine to his parents.
During one Christmas Midnight Mass in the 1950's, mum heard coughing and a spluttering from behind us. We looked around and at the back of the church in danger of dropping off to sleep, we saw Uncle Willie, drunk as a skunk. He came home with us and stayed over Christmas before returning to my grandparent's house in Ireland. As he left, Uncle Willie smiled and said, 'Look out for me now when you come to Midnight Mass next year, won't you?'' We said we would.
It was many years before I laid eyes on Uncle Willie again, but never a year went by on Christmas Eve when mum and I talked about whether Uncle Willie would be there at Midnight Mass this year to surprise us. He never was, but we never stopped looking for him every Christmas Eve at Mass. Though he's been dead a number of years now, it doesn't stop me looking around whenever I hear someone coughing and spluttering behind me.
The one thing that Uncle Willie and I shared was the love we felt for all our family, but in particular, our mothers. The greatest hero in anyone's life is that person who never gives up on you. When the going gets tough they help you to stick it out and make it work. They sacrifice things in their life like their energy and dreams in order to help you grow up wiser and better. They give up what they want in case you need it more. They work hard and overcome all adversity that impedes their long-term hopes for you. If they flag or fail for a moment, they quickly get back up on their feet to show you that nobody ever has to stay down. They tell you that they love you at every opportunity and show you through their actions that they deceive not. They teach you that having a voice is a form of expression not to be to be wasted, and voicing your fears and expressing your feelings honestly is a courage never to be denied. They may sometimes stay silent to make you feel more comfortable but love you enough to tell you when you are wrong, whether or not you want to hear such truth.They are fearless and will do whatever it takes to bring about the greatness in the ones they love because doing so brings them peace and satisfies their prime purpose in life. Their name is 'Mum' and their wisdom spans the bridges of all ages. They are your 'Mum', the fountainhead of all fortitude and the cradle of your courage.
As my first teacher, mum taught me the art of loving and living and how the two cannot be separated if I wanted to get the most out of each. My mother told me early on in life to give her flowers when she could smell them instead of putting them on her grave. I recall opening my very first wage package at the age of fifteen years and going home via the nearest garden centre. The first thing I bought was a bunch of flowers for mum. Until I first married and left home, I never once arrived home from work on a wage day without some flowers for mum which I bought along the way. Never a spring has passed since she died when I do not plant another rose in memory of her.
A Merry Christmas to all my family and friends and all you young children out there. Allow this old man to tell you the most powerful secret I ever learned. If you want to give your mum the very best Christmas present she will always treasure, before you go to bed on Christmas Eve, look your mum in the eye, smile and say, 'I love you, Mum.' Then make your New Year resolution a promise to never allow one day to pass without repeating this action. You can even add dad to your love list if you want to! And when you are old enough to pick wildflowers, pick a bunch for your mum. All mums just love a posy of daisies from your tiny hands more than the biggest bouquet of red roses that the world has ever seen bunched.
You will never lose the child in you while you have a mother to go home to or remember. Miss you and love you lots, Mum. I include your favourite song and singer below. Merry Christmas from your oldest boy, Billy xxx.” William Forde: December 24th, 2017.