Even before the film Sliding Doors appeared, I often lived parallel lives. As a child, at unhappy times, I would literally live another life in my head, while my real life carried on. (Often this other life involved lots of interaction with Michael J Fox, but that’s a whole different blog!).
Then, for many years, my sliding door to a different world stayed shut, the reality of my life good enough to experience in and outside my head – only occassionally would I become an intrepid traveller again as I washed the dishes, or rescued orang utans from the wild as I read The Tiger Who Came to Tea for the 63,839,586th time.
But now, I find myself living parallell lives every day. Not some wild escapism, not some far flung adventure, but simply the imaginings of what would have been, to soften the blow of what is. Three months ago my life changed for ever, for the worse. Since then I have tried to come to terms with loosing the mum I knew and adored, while learning to deal with the reality of a mum who barely knows my name and who will never share my life again. From the second hubby came into my hospital room in the dead of night to tell me my mum had had a massive stroke, my life split into two – the life I was planning and the life I am being forced to live. The last three months as I struggled with a new baby, I have dealt with the reality of waiting to see if my mum would pull through and then deal with having her settled at home, incapable of rational speech, thought or action. In my head though, I have lived through daily phonecalls, regular visits where she would hold my baby in her arms adoring her with song and praise, while sending me off to bed. I lived the experiences I knew we would have had, enjoying a cup of Earl Grey and a Butlers chocolate, showing off Ruby to strangers in the queue, reading stories to the girls. As I stood alone in my kitchen, the phone in my hand but no number to dial, I closed my eyes and pictured her coming off the Belfast train – 100 memories merged into one real moment, the smell of ‘Beautiful’ greeting me with her warm hug, tales of her conversations with strangers on the seat beside her keeping us company all the way home. As she walked through my front door she would say, “I love coming into this house, ” and we would sit down with a cup of tea, children scurrying around us and she would be proclaiming Ruby to be the most beautiful baby she had ever seen. I lived every memory of the past to get me through the present.
And so it was at Christmas. Mum and dad were due to come down to us this year, and like every year, I was going to take Mum to the National Concert Hall, and on Christmas Eve we would all sit down to the Christmas Ham dinner and then wrap ourselves around the fire, wine glasses glistening in light of the flames, stuffing Santa sacks. In the morning, as the girls giddy with Santa surprises would be shouting “Nanna Look!” when her bed-bedraggled head curled round our bedroom door, she would sit on our bed and share their excitement. We would have a walk in the snow and then, a little drunk perhaps, try to produce a christmas dinner in the right order before finding just enough room for a couple of chocolates by the fire at the end of the night. Instead, their car did not arrive this year, bringing bags and bottles of goodies. I didn’t book any tickets at the National Concert Hall. I hung up the lights and carefully placed decorations knowing they would never be seen by the person who would appreciate them the most. And when it hurt too much, I slid open the door and lived the version where their car drove up and they bundled into the house laden with love. I heard my mum say the house looked beautiful.
And on Christmas day, as my mum lay in her bed and we pretended to be merry the sliding door jammed and I could no longer soften the blow. This is how it is now. I have to organise our baby’s christening knowing my mum won’t be there. Plan a family holiday without her. Walk past the phone and not pick it up. But at least for a while yet, I can climb onto the bed beside her, the smell of my Beautiful rubbing onto her skin, and hold her hand. The past and the present still in tune.