Well, that’s that for the time being. My brief visit to New York and Pennsylvania is winding down. I’m heading back to England today.
It has been good seeing Dad. He’s doing okay now, eight months after Mom’s death, so I’m not leaving feeling lousy about leaving him. He told me, “I’m adjusting to the new reality. That’s what the hospice newsletter said anyway.”
We take public safety essentially for granted nowadays. We all think nothing of driving alone at night, walking well-lit sidewalks, or cycling for carefree miles, as if it were all somehow the perpetual norm of the human existence. Yesterday, I was annoyed, writing here on how some seem determined to forget how we have evolved to this previously unparalleled and happy civilizational situation, and appear not to consider how fundamentally fragile it truly is.
Relatedly, we also tend to forget how long-lived and healthy we are and why we are. A large part of the reason for that isn’t down to “good genes” as it would have been for most of human history. We are assisted in great measure by the medical care we now also appear to take for granted.
I wanted to share some U.S. Mother’s Day personal thoughts here – two days early. I choose to do that because, well, this is the first year my mother will not be here for one. Also, I don’t feel this post is quite appropriate for Sunday itself.
I don’t mind others celebrating, but I wish I could’ve “blocked” Mother’s Day just for myself this year. The barrage of ads that have been landing in my inbox seemingly hourly reminding me of the day and how I need to remember Mom with flowers or something, get deleted unread by me the moment I see them. They have led me only to remember one year ago: Mother’s Day 2015.
That day, from Britain, I had FaceTimed Mom over in Pennsylvania. I had expected an innocuous “Mother’s Day chat.” After thanking me for our card and flowers, she said she felt a bit under the weather. My father had booked dinner out, but she didn’t feel up to going to a restaurant.
It’s not always by any means, but there are times lately that I feel like the loneliest person in the world. True, I’m sure in reality I’m not. But how disturbing and ugly the feeling is.
I know it’s got to be rooted in my mother’s and my uncle’s deaths. The feeling can hit me at the most unexpected and routine of times. Last night, it caught me as I was briefly alone, washing up some dishes.
I can only describe it as feeling like walls closing in, trapped with nowhere to run. I felt like I wanted to smash the dish I was holding…. and then smash the next I could grab, and the next…. My outlook and feelings are made worse, I’m sure, by certain years-long “living” family frustrations (on both sides of the Atlantic) that I have been unable much to influence (forget about resolving them), or even to get away from, idiocies which show no signs of abating, and, indeed, seem worsening.
I accept that the deaths of close loved ones will bring you down for a while. However, I’d heard from a bereavement counselor that it’s not uncommon to feel the loss even harder some 3-6 months after the loved one has died and the rest of the world has “moved on” – but you haven’t yet. Obviously I’m about there now chronologically.
Yesterday we visited with my wife’s octogenarian aunt (and godmother). She has lived in Chesham (in the Chilterns) nearly forty years. The town is the last stop on the London Underground’s Metropolitan line – with a tiny above ground station.
She lives just outside of the town. While we’ve been to her home numerous times, we’d never been into the town center itself, so we drove in and she took us on a short, late-afternoon stroll around. It’s very pleasant. I played “tourist” briefly and took a few photos:
Over dinner last night here in London, without warning my mother-in-law observed that she believes the week over in France helped me a lot. She remarked that she felt all I’d gone through with my mother’s and my uncle’s deaths in October and the weeks after in the U.S. trying to cope with the aftermath, particularly with my dad’s grief over Mom, had naturally tired me out. She believed that stress had been showing on my face (in a weariness), but felt I now looked better than I’d had in months.
Naturally only others really know what I “look like,” but, yes, I said, I’d loved last week; that I like France goes without saying, but that visit had been a true distraction. It had been fun, restful, and taken my mind largely off the sadness on the other side of the Atlantic. Relaxing lunches like this certainly played a part:
We’ve had a great deal of sympathy since my mother’s October 26 death (and my novelist uncle’s two weeks before – who I especially miss as a friend and a mentor). It has all been much appreciated. But there’s always others out there lurking, aren’t there?
You may unfortunately know the type yourself too: relations who are easily insulted, who are always stirring the pot, and are also always demanding – like overgrown children – to be the center of everyone’s attention, and if not given their way seek to create still more trouble, and often do their “stuff” in a deviously and underhanded manner so as never to get the entire family offsides. Divide and (try to) conquer, so to speak. (Please excuse the coarse language that appears in the following.)
I had been planning to keep this private. But given this post, and everything I’d written about him here over time, I felt I should share it here. The “story” needed an “ending”:
A pat on the back is wonderful, but that’s not why I posted that. It’s because I can’t believe that brief message marked the conclusion to the roughly two decades’ long correspondence between my novelist uncle and myself – first by email (when he was on something called “CompuServe” and I was on something called “America Online”) and then mostly by Facebook. That October 3rd Messenger note was the last one he fired off to me just before he went into the hospital for what we had all thought would be a “routine” procedure.
This morning I’m driving my now widower father, and my 44 year old sister (she lived with my parents, and so now lives with my father: let’s please not go there right now), up to our (my wife and mine’s – and I know that’s ungrammatical, but I don’t care right now) place in the Catskills for a few days.
We probably don’t have to do this, but I desperately want to. Dad agreed. He needs a different view and I think he knows that.
And I have to get the hell away for a while from this (my now late mother’s) October 26 place of death. Increasingly, I can’t bear this f-cking house. I never wanted them to move here to Pennsylvania (it’s not about PA itself; but let’s not go there either right now), and my late mother is “everywhere” here still, of course.
I received an encouraging and sympathetic email recently from the woman who forms the character basis for “Mrs. Hall-Surrey” – and had laughed aloud when she first “spotted” herself (and her husband) on the pages in Frontiers. (“The little so and so! Darling, he’s written about us!”) I wrote her back that I was relieved I had essentially finished Distances before my uncle’s death and my Mom’s terminal cancer diagnosis. Had I not, I don’t know I would have been able to summon up the mental strength to have done so anytime soon.
Naturally I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline. However, as I’d written here a couple of weeks ago, some of what’s in it is shockingly prescient and unexpectedly relevant to where I find myself in my life right now. Frankly, I can’t believe the number of similar touchpoints.
With publication just days away, time again for the dedication.