Local playwright Ben Parfrement Parkes wrote A Handmade Christmas especially for today's service.

Today, we held our annual Light Up A Life service at Grimsby Minster.

It was led by hospice chaplain Karen Kaye and the Reverend Katherine Price, from Grimsby Minster, and featured a performance by the Humber Belles.

As reported, local playwright Ben Parfrement Parkes wrote a poem especially for the service, and now we are publishing it here.

Thank you to everyone involved in Light Up A Life.


A Handmade Christmas


We brought you home in the snow,

That freezing December night.

An angel, sent from Heaven,

A gift given early.


He got to see you,

And that means the world,

Say hello, and then goodbye.

A Christmas miracle, he said.

Of course, you won’t remember.

But, he said he’d been waiting,

Waiting to meet his little namesake,

You were all that kept him going, you know,

That cruel, bleak winter,

He fought so hard,

He was determined, you see, adamant,

Said he wasn’t going anywhere,

Not until he was sure you’d arrived safe.

A brief, beautiful overlap of life,

A mere flicker,

As he held you in his frail carpenter’s hands,

Both of you, so fragile, so still,

Tears held in his tired eyes.

Just before they closed.

A trembling smile.


Your first Christmas was his last,

A relief, in a way.

He didn’t see New Year.

I held his hand,

Surrounded by candles and cards and family and


Silent night.


He loved Christmas,

That cranky, cantankerous, unsentimental old man,

So stoic and set in his ways – Bah! Humbug!

Yet reduced to tears by It’s a Wonderful Life,

Every Christmas Eve without fail.

So full of love, delighting in the festive routines and rituals,

Nat King Cole, Morecambe and Wise,

Indulging in a little too much brandy the night before,

His famous bread sauce, Christmas pud,

A six pence piece, wrapped in greaseproof paper, concealed within.

A long list of family traditions, to which he must now be added.


One year on,

I’m struggling, a Scrooge,

A Grinch, grieving, gritted teeth.

There’s none of the magic, no comfort, no joy,

Just something to be gotten through,

Even though you’re taking your first steps,

And I want everything to be perfect.

But… Christmas… without him?

His absence drains me of light,

This time of year, most of all.

An empty chair at the head of the table…

Nobody to belly-laugh at the terrible cracker jokes…

And I feel like I’ll never laugh again.


I heave the decorations down,

A reluctant sigh,

Tradition turned to chore,

Almost buckle beneath their weight,

Even his handwriting, faint on battered cardboard,

Sets me off,

I rummage in the dust,

A treasure chest of precious memories, cold to the touch,


Childhood, flooding back,

Where it all began,

That Christmas tree smell.

Familiar, familial,

The Little Drummer Boy, now missing a leg,

A labour of love, handcrafted, late at night,

In his little workshop, a flask of tea by his side.

I return his painted smile.


At the bottom, cradled in tissue,

Hibernating amidst resplendent red and green,

I find the Angel,

Her crepe-paper torso, crumpled, crippled, corpse-like,

Her wings, hanging by a thread,

Wearing the past like scent.

Glued back together more times than I care to count.

To me, simply,

The embodiment of Christmas.

She’d been with him since the beginning,

A constant companion through good and bad,

His father’s, passed down.

Strained nicotine yellow by the callous claws of time.

I’m almost afraid to touch her, ever so gently,

Placing her upon her throne of pine.

To rule on high in her rightful place,

From which she’s observed so many Christmases come and go,

She’ll outlive us all, that tatty old girl.

She’ll be yours one day.


When I was your age, so I’m told,

He would swaddle me in sheepskin blankets,

And take me out into the cold,

And he’d hold me in his arms, there in the snow, and together, we’d look in,

Our Christmas, through the window, its glow, its warmth, its light,

The tree, trimmed, sparkling, mighty and tall,

Banishing the cold and the dark.

So that’s what I do,

Pick up the pieces that he’s left behind,

Wrap you up tight until you’re safe and snug,

Clasp you to my chest,

Take you outside into the winter’s night,

And stand in his shoes with pride,

And wait to feel warm again.


I know he’s there, watching,

Proud, I hope.

I can feel him and suddenly I’m not alone.

Not so cold.

Because he’s still a part of our Christmas,

Still a part of me, and you,

Always will be,

Gone but not forgotten.

Never forgotten.


That’s why we always have bread sauce, you know.

You’ve got him to thank for that.

All his fault.

Count yourself lucky,

In my day, we had kidney beans with our turkey,

Preserved in salt in a layered earthenware jar.

And that’s why I serve green beans,

Pride of place amongst pigs in blankets and cranberry sauce,

Sounds silly, stupid, really,

But it’s my way

Of sharing the Special Day with him.


He beams in a frame on the mantelpiece,

A front row seat to our family festivity.

The Ghost of Christmas Past, so young, younger than I,

Suited and booted on his Wedding Day,

And I find comfort, knowing they’re together again.


I honour his daft traditions,

They’re sacred, because, they’re all I have left.

And I hope, one day, you will too,

Pass them on, pass them down, carry them forth,

Spread his light, his love, of Christmas,

To ensure he lives on in our hearts forever.


Ten years have flown by,

Where did the time go?

The Angel still presides,

And you, more like him every day,

With your strong carpenter’s hands.

The best reminder of all.


Ten years of It’s a Wonderful Life and Nat King Cole,

And he’s not missed a single Christmas.

I lay flowers by his side,

I light a candle in his name,

Your name.

His wonderful grandson. 

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