Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I don't need another hero, I don't need to know the way home...

(and as those of you from the 80s will already know) ...

All I want is life beyond the Thunderdome.

 Well, it's been a bastard of a year. Can't wait to see the back of it. Started it with a full complement of parents, while knowing that I'd likely be down at least one of them by this point. (I say at least one, because my mum was pretty much a racing certainty - so on the grounds that the average number of legs people have is less than two, there was always the chance I could lose the full set).

The year went with the odds, and so I have joined the ranks of the motherless. And the only good thing I can say about that is that you only have to do it once. At this point, four months in, I can sense my resources regrouping. I can see that at some point, and it probably won't be too long off, one of my friends will tell me that her/his mother is dying.

And I will know what that feels like, and I will know what to say, and I will offer some of the things people offered to me. Being, variously, bodily warmth, hot dinners, large glasses of red, packets of tissues, links to useful reading, handwritten letters, space to vent, walks on beaches, turning up at short notice with low-effort plans, saying 'I know how you feel'.

And *their* mother dying will make *my* loss easier to bear (like I'm sure my loss did, though no one said that out loud, because you don't, do you) because it will be a reminder, though I shouldn't need one really, that this is a normal thing, it happens to everyone, unless their story is even sadder, because they don't have a mother in their life, or because they die first. And what I'm saying here is that if a) you mourn the loss of your mother, and if b) you're 43 and that's the biggest loss, by far, BY FAR, that you've ever had to bear, you can't be doing too badly, in a world that contains, just this year, Syria and the Philippines and South Sudan and the Central African Republic and Dasani the invisible child.

My mum died. It was awful. I don't cry every day anymore, but I still cry every week. She was dealt a shitty hand in her last year (and that's another story) but even given that, she was loved, she wasn't poor, and she got some of the best care that the National Health Service has ever been able to offer. She might even have hit the apogee of what the American Right calls 'socialised health care' - let's just hope that if/when I get my terminal cancer diagnosis in 25 years' time, we've sorted out assisted dying. The last bit was medieval. We should be better at this by now.

But life does go on. The clocks do not stop. And I have gradually worked out that I still have everything my mum gave me, plus all the things I learnt when she was dying and that I've learnt since she died. I'd love to ask her about some of those things, but I just have to live with that.

What she didn't give me was belief in anything above or beyond or outside this life. She was brought up Catholic herself, and brought me and my sister up Catholic too, but once we were teenagers and (certainly in my case) had reviewed the evidence for there being a God and found it lacking, she sacked it all off. Possibly with some relief, but I don't recall ever talking about it. She chose a Catholic funeral director, but (without us knowing) she went in to see him before she died and told him she wanted a cardboard coffin and a non-religious ceremony. He did a fantastic job - at the crematorium he read Dust If You Must. She did a fantastic job too, I am comfortable in my atheist skin, but I do light the odd candle for her here and there, most recently in Norwich Cathedral's Peace Globe.

But I can do that within a secular world view. As I do everything else. And there's something both sharp and sweet about realising that you only pass this way but once. Get On With It. Well, tomorrow. Tonight I'm drinking too much sherry and watching Inspector Morse.

In my world, 2013 was the year of Trish. She was, as JP would say, a ledge. 2014 will be the year of the rest of us. Let's hope we get it right.


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