It is amazing how life goes on after death.
My father died over 10 years ago and my mother just under 2 years ago. Both were ‘good’ ages – 82 and 90 respectively. So there were no surprises – death is the inevitability we all face and losing parents can be a milestone for the middle-aged.
My mother was in the advanced stages of dementia and I really believed I’d come to terms with the fact that she had ‘gone’ years before. I bought into the myth that dementia steals the person, what is left is a husk and that death is a blessing. Bollocks. It was just as devastating as when my father died – and I’d been chatting to him only days before the event. My mother remained my mother to the end – and I was there at the last breath so know of which I speak. Her mannerisms survived the cognitive disability, as did her intonation and rhythms of speech although no proper words were produced. A sigh here, a licking of the lips there. Mum was in that bed. She didn’t appear to know who I was – but I knew who she was and that is what was important.
All parents die. I know that. And I suppose I was lucky that mine lived as long as they did. Old age really is a privilege.
I was brought up religious – non-conforming Methodism – and I remember the debates we used to have about the reality of heaven and eternal life. Ever the pragmatist, my mother would argue that eternal life is achieved through the memories of the living and was not some celestial bliss above the clouds. I think of this often as I stand and iron in the back bedroom.
My first thoughts are of my paternal grandfather – he taught me how to iron, using a handkerchief as a starting point. The ironing board is positioned opposite a wall of shelving on which there are photos of family and friends, as well as trinkets and keepsakes that belonged to my parents and were part of the scenery when growing up. So I iron and look and reflect and think. Sometimes it makes me sad and other times I am reassured and happy. I find it comforting to see these things and be reminded of all that has gone before, and all that will come after me.
I don’t have children of my own so it is not that I will pass these things onto future generations of my genes. Nonetheless the fact that I can stare at a salt pot given to my father when he was a child of 4 (in 1928) persuades me that all is a continuum – and that whilst my life is not everlasting… Life is.