The last time I posted, nearly three months ago, it was with an unfinished story. My mother was in her final hours, and I wrote about how touched I was by the loving kindness she was receiving from the staff at her care home.
In fact, as many people surmised, by the time I came to post the piece, she had died. She was ninety and had been failing for some time, so it came as no surprise and in some ways almost as a relief. In the following hours and days I received an enormous number of messages from people who had read the blog and took the trouble to send me words of sympathy and support.
To share condolence may seem such an obvious thing to do that it’s almost a cliché, a kind of social reflex. I know that on occasions I have failed to do it myself, for those very reasons. But having now been on the receiving end of so many kind and heartfelt messages, I know what a powerful and consoling thing it is. I won’t put it off again.
Meanwhile, I would like to respond individually to everyone who wrote, and I intend to. But it may take some time, so for the moment permit me to use A Few Kind Words to thank you all for yours.
To complete the story, that night in August I had just gone to bed, having finished writing the blog, when the care home called, for the second time in 24 hours, to say that I should come over. I dressed again quickly and walked the 350 yards from my house. I went straight to her room, opened the door and Valerie, the carer who had rung me and was now sitting at her bedside, looked up and said: “She’s gone.”
It was just after midnight and I had missed her by only a few seconds. I felt a momentary regret that I hadn’t been there to hold her hand in the final instant, but I had spent a good deal of that day with her, and I knew she had had Valerie’s comforting presence at the end. She was warm, curled over like a sleeping child. I spent a little while on my own with her, told her I loved her, and then, since there was nothing else I could do, walked home again.
It was a still, starry night and I could see the Plough hanging clearly above the village. As I looked up I had the strange sensation that something of which I had previously been unaware, some kind of invisible field that lay between me and the heavens, had been removed. It felt as if I was closer to the stars; and I have since spoken to people who have said that they have felt closer to God, or closer to their own mortality, on the death of their remaining parent.
In the weeks since, I have experienced a different sensation, a manifestation of grief that I had not expected. To give it context I should say that throughout my early years, my mother and I were very close; as adults our relationship could at times be fractious; and in her later years the old closeness returned. Having also enjoyed the last seven years of physical proximity to her, I had had plenty of time to prepare for her death. I am not consumed by loss.
But I have a sense of the ground having moved subtly beneath me, as if the tectonic plates have shifted. Something is not as it was. It’s hard to say exactly what, except that at times I find myself feeling disorientated. Perhaps in those moments I need to visit the corner of the village graveyard, within earshot of the river, where we buried her, and be still enough to allow those remaining tendrils of connection to settle into the earth with her; to give myself time to feel the world re-order itself and take its new shape, with only the minimum of sorrow.
I have that luxury. In this week following the Armistice centenary, when there was so much to remind us of violent and premature death, my brother, sister and I must count ourselves lucky to have lost our mother to nothing more than old age.