Today would have been my parent’s 64th wedding anniversary and once a year around this time, I share a photograph, which I have taken, not in sadness but celebration.
Just short footnote in the annuals of life where a child can recognise the luck they have had in life. I’m acutely aware that not all children have had the foundations of good parents. My heart truly goes out to them, but as important as it to recognise the failings in our world. We should also acknowledge and honour when things just simply go right. It is now 4 years since my Mum and 3 years since my Dad passed away.
Yes, I miss my parents every single day. Still, I don’t allow this to overcast what lovely people they were individually and collectively as parents. Things were often never perfect, and I did not get the opportunity to carry out those plans in later life for them, as I’d planned in my head. Time, you see it is a bugger. Its the one resource we often take for granted and is in short supply for everybody.
If life is a film.
Don’t pause it.
Don’t try to rewind it.
Embrace every frame as if it is the last before the credits.
And remember you don’t get the opportunity to write those credits.
I don’t recollect much from that day, although it must have been around summer 1971 given I was roughly ten years old. Scarborough was one of those cheap and accessible holiday destinations for working-class families from the North-East. The battleships of Peasmole Park, getting drenched at high tide or my refusal to entertain the infamous cable car ride it was a destination of so many happy childhood memories. I do recall my dad calling me over and giving me a quick demonstration on home to use his small Kodak Camera. ‘I want to to take a photo of me and your mum, son. When I say not just press the button, but make sure you can see both of us.”
I stood ready and awaited the signal. My parents assembled, my dad leaning against the wall and mum stood next to him. They looked like tin rabbits waiting to be shot in one of those penny arcades we often visited during the evening. “not yet, son” came my dad’s instruction. He took my mum by the hand and guided her in front of him, she fell back, and he then wrapped his arms around her. “Now,” my dad said.
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.
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.
Somethings have explanations, some things take belief, while others just leave you pondering for a rational reason for them to exist. They capture a moment, like stars when they align. On this damp, chilly September morning in the corner of my kitchen, a corner where the plants do their best to thrive, of all these days, a blooming flower stretches out seeking the sky. It’s the last flower, my father planted before he died on the 3rd March 2017, which is exactly, to the day, 12 months after my mum had passed away. The significance of this solitary flower that blooms on this damp, chilly September morning is what causes the pause, as I make a breakfast tea and say happy birthday to my mum.