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Mum, front row right, with my brother John on her lap. Standing next to her is my brother Richard. This photo must be from 1944. Also in the picture are: Back row R-L: Auntie Jacqueline, Uncle Len, Auntie Cynthia. In the middle: Auntie Greta. Front row left is Auntie Barbara holding cousin Martin.
Getting married and later getting pregnant were new stages on the grief – yes, I’m going to use the ‘J’-word – journey. Its incredibly hard to go through those experiences without your Mum and Dad. Every good thing that happens to you has a bittersweet tinge. My daughters will never know them, and vice-versa. Mum would have been such a wonderful Grandma, such a support to me when I needed it, and it’s hard knowing that we’ve all missed out on that. My parents both died in their early fifties, and probably with the treatments available now, they would have lived longer, which only makes me feel sadder. I admit I find it very hard not to feel bitter when I see selfish people live long lives, when Mum and Dad, who both worked hard and served their community, were robbed of a comfortable retirement together…
We need to talk about death
Often, the first impulse of the kind-hearted is to offer practical help, especially if they are not particularly close to the person. This is a very positive reaction, but please, don’t say “Let me know if you need anything,” because they won’t. In those first terrible few days and weeks, just getting through the day is hard enough, so you will not be getting any calls for help. Instead, offer something specific, such as walking the dog, taking the kids to the cinema or a football match (a friend of my Dad’s took me to Portman Road and it started an obsession that lasted for years), or cook a meal, or take mother-in-law to her appointments…
I’ve been thinking a lot about memory lately. About how it works, how it changes, what it means in the shape of our lives and how we see ourselves. I’ve always spent a lot of time in my own distant past. I say ‘always’, but it probably only dates from when my mother died, so from when I was fourteen. Because of that, I have memories from before then which are highly polished, burnished even; treasured. I have visited them often and I suspect that with each repetition, they alter just a little, until they take on a sort of mythical quality.
Like many others, I am sure, I watched Paul McCartney’s set at this year’s Glastonbury Festival with a mixture of awe and nostalgia. He’s eighty years old! I was already in bed when he went out on stage…