March 16, 2014

I’d like to have left things as I did at the end of the last blog, with me - having done my duty with respect to Mum - walking off into the future without a care in the world. But it’s not worked out like that, so I find I can’t leave it there.

I was OK for the month after Mum’s death, but the last few weeks have been confusing and difficult. A cold lasted a fortnight and when I emerged from it, I realised I’d lost interest in my work. Yes, the websites that I’ve been developing over the last few years - biographical work focusing on Enid Blyton, Evelyn Waugh, contemporary visual artists and a Nineteenth Century philanthropist - just don’t hold my attention right now. So what’s wrong?

First, I’m being forced to properly acknowledge a fundamental thing that’s happened. My mother has died. That irreplaceable person in my (or anyone else’s) personal history - she who brought me into the world and was my first guide through it – has departed this life. There is just no getting away from it, and the fact has to be given due weight. And so it’s the Mabel of the early 1960s - when she was in her prime and I was an infant - that flashes into my mind at least once a day. But only long enough to flag up her now permanent absence. Which the boy in me finds difficult to accept with equanimity.

Alas, there is a second problem. Which is that I - the adult me - feel I have lost my only child. When I left London ten years ago to help my parents in their old age, I was in my mid-forties and was beginning to accept that it was unlikely that I would have any children. Ten years later - and effectively having had a child in my life for the last five years, so helpless did dementia make my mother during this period – I’m left with the feeling that my child has died, and that, at the age of 56, there is now no chance of my having another.

So what do I do? Well, it seems I must accept the situation. I mean really accept it. No, hiding away in work. No hiding away in distraction. But hang on a minute, that’s not quite true. I’ve taken to re-reading Agatha Christie books and immersing myself in crosswords. Abstract, self-contained pleasures, it has to be said. Although, when I emerge from the book or the paper it’s to remember my precise position in life.
‘Mum’s dead. I will die like my mother before me. Well not quite like her, for I will remain childless.’

In an earlier Visiting Mabel blog, I recalled the time when I was about five-years-old and had come across a dead creature. Holding my mother’s hand I asked her to explain the situation. “All living things must die,” she said. After thinking about this for a few seconds, I asked: “Will I die?” To which her honest yet reassuring answer was. “Yes, but not for a very long time.”

Fifty years on, I feel the need for an update of that exchange:

Me: “Will I die?”
Mum: “Yes.”
Me: “Say the rest!”
Mum (softly):
“You will die, just as you saw me die.”

Fair enough, I don’t need Mum to spare my feelings. I can face the truth. Yes, I will die, but, if I’m lucky, not for twenty or thirty years. There were ten years between Mabel’s first stroke and her final breath and I’m quite willing to accept that it may be the same for me.

So I have twenty good years left, if I’m lucky. Just as Evelyn Waugh, Enid Blyton and Patrick Allan-Fraser, came to a point in their lives that they had lost their mother and could no longer put off doing a simple bit of mental arithmetic. Just as any number of contemporary artists, currently in their thirties and forties will come to a point in their lives when they will no longer be able to put off doing the math.

In other words, I expect to be getting back to work soon. Work that will either succumb to darkness or benefit from a new maturity.

Postscript. You may be wondering how Ian is. Well, he’s fine as far as I can tell. We still go out in the car every second day, though I think we both know that something (someone) is missing. We don’t talk much while we’re out and Ian doesn’t sing any more. The phrase that comes to mind is ‘going through the motions’. Hopefully, things will pick up for us both as spring gets into its stride.