Life’s Little Embers

I once heard a quote, “a person does not truly die until the last person who knew them, to speak their name, also dies.”  I find much beauty and poignancy in such an observation. It is one that gives context and comfort during those periods when context and comfort are not in abundance. It is within this context that I write a small piece on 3rd May, each year, for my parents. During the final years of their lives, I took regular photographs of my parents so I could share them with their grandchildren, great-grandchild and wider family. Stored securely on a memory stick on this day I take that memory stick out, select a photograph and write a little something. Initially on closed social media platforms like FaceBook and more lately on open media like this from last year. This photograph was taken a couple of weeks before Mum’s health deteriorated rapidly over a very short period of time.

They had a routine, which generally consisted of them living separate lives during the day with occasional chats as one of them would make a pot of tea or meal. Dad, in the front room with his latest model building project. Mum, in the back room, reading and watching the latest soap. Pet dog seeking attention from either one of them. Each evening they would share their meal, cuddle up, natter and watch TV.

In my final year with them, I got the opportunity to hug them, share stories, tell them how much I loved them, explain to them how proud I am to be their son. As a family, to express in their later years that it was an honour to care for them. This became the foundation for coming to terms with not having them physically in our lives. It’s the small stories that become important. My dad asking for, “gingersnap biscuits to be put in his pocket when we put him in his box.” My mum reminding us, “make sure your dad gets his meals” during last days she was able to communicate. The search for my mum false teeth after she passed away and then to find her gnashers many months afterwards in the back of my car without any rational reason why they should have been there. I’m also happy to report that nothing gives me more satisfaction than hearing their grandchildren and great-grandchildren share these small anecdotes.

Another Day Another Year

Today (3rd May) is one of those days. A marker in one’s life where I take time to pause and reflect on those people who have given me the foundations to build my life. As I write this, I do so with a gentle glow of pride that Janet (my sister) and I had two amazing parents who both passed away on this day 12 month apart. Today marks the first anniversary of a year without them physically in our lives. The tears have subsided, the photographs make me smile, the space they left remains, but their presence is strangely stronger. I see them in the day to day behaviours of individual family members (yes sister you have mums fire burning inside). I hear them in the causal talk of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I often see them in my mind’s eye when I ask myself, “what would they think?” or reflect on a memory.

As my parents entered the last phase of their lives and with their blessing, I took an assortment of photographs. I also had the fortune to talk about my parents on national radio via Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6Music’s regular slot Memory Tapes, which judging from the feedback I received reflected the thoughts of many people who heard it. My mum passed away shortly after I took this photograph, which captures their last kiss.

Today, I write these words and share this image after careful consideration and talking to my sister partly to help break-down any fear we may have in discussing death, to offer support to those who may be facing similar circumstances and reassure you that there is light after the darkness. But more importantly to celebrate the beautiful cycle of life. If you are fortunate to have parents like me and my sister, they teach you how to live, love and ultimately how to die with dignity. When all is said and done can a child ask for anything more from their parents? Love all the people all the time.

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Freddie


A giant man of rusting steel sits gazing out across the sea in permanent thought. Flat cap, large overcoat with his walking stick in one hand just peacefully reflecting on life. Freddie Gilroy was a former miner from County Durham who, as a soldier shortly before his 24th birthday, was one of the first allied troops to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in April 1945 where they found more than 60,000 prisoners, most of them seriously ill, and thousands of unburied corpses.

For more information on Freddie Gilroy and the Belsen Stragglers click here.

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