Henry’s wife loves Christmas. In fact, Henry’s wife loves any celebration – Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night, Easter – it doesn’t matter. She loves putting together celebrations at their house for all the local children.
Henry came to the UK as young man to find work. In Turkey, his dad was a policeman and didn’t like Henry ‘tearing around’ on his motorbike. There was no work there so he came to the UK in his twenties.
Pre-pandemic, Henry and I would have a challenge – who could get in the office first. I always won by about 10 minutes so Henry always had to get the hot chocolate drinks and then we would put the world to right together. We both ended the conversation smiling and ready for the day ahead at work. No matter what the issue, we always saw humour in everything. We both had the same mantra ‘smile and keep going – what else can you do’. So many times that thought has got me through troubled times.
Now just 60 he often told me about his childhood back home, how you never see lemons like those from his childhood anywhere, about the different roles he had after arriving in the UK – always a hard worker. Henry told me about life on the market stalls, working in burger bars, training in data networks which led to his job now where I met him.
Over the years we worked together, Henry would tell me about his famous BBQs, the homemade houmus he was known for, generous with everyone, Henry often brought in leftovers for his fellow engineers and anyone else in the office. On hearing I didn’t eat meat, he made a special batch of humous and brought in some bread! Henry loved his BBQ – especially sneaking the odd glass of ‘real’, as he would say, Ouzo without his wife seeing – or so he thought!
Last October, Henry brought in photos of the bundles of hand wrapped sweets his wife had put together – it literally covered the dining room table! Whilst he’d say ‘she’s mad, there’s no stopping her’ about his wife, he clearly loved these events as much as she did. Pictures of their many cats adorned his phone as well. They had more than 10 cats at the last count!
By far, the festivity they enjoyed the most was Christmas – although it sounded a mission to me. Henry and his family lived North London way and every year would drive to a particular farm to select their bespoke Christmas tree, which had to be wide, full and bushy. As Henry explained, to get a tree as bushy as the one his wife wanted, he had to buy a really tall one. I never really believed this took up the whole wall of his living room until he showed me some pictures. The before photo showed a meter or so of the top of the tree bent right over along his ceiling before he cut it off. After decorating by his wife the after photo looked amazing. Henry was so proud. He said the most difficult part of Christmas was driving the tree back home from the farm. Tied to his roof rack he drove exceptionally carefully! Could you imagine being behind a moving tree on the motorway? That size would have eclipsed his car!!!
Henry was pretty unwell all the time I knew him. He never let his health get in the way of his work – often working long hours away from home all over the UK – or doing something for others – friends, neighbours and strangers. His favourite saying was always ‘I keep going, what else can I do?’ in his thick accent with a huge beaming smile.
In April, Henry died as a result of the pandemic. Knowing how much he did for his family and others, how they relied on him, I can only imagine their pain coming up to the first Christmas without him.
Going back into the office without our early morning hot chocolates, putting the world to rights will be strange. But I will always remember Henry with a smile. What more can we ask?
This Christmas, tell those you love that you love them, be grateful for the good in your life, don’t carry around worries and concerns – the weight will drag you down. Kindness rocks. As Henry showed, people will always remember how you made them feel and that is the best legacy of all.
May you have the best Christmas you possibly can and a brighter 2021.