I’ve come to realise that good times are measured in memories, and bad times are measured in time.
Of the good times, we say, “do you remember when we did that?” and laugh at the memory, pulling it into the present, keeping it safe and close.
Of the bad times, we say, “it’s a year since that happened,” and sigh at the diminishing pain, relegating it into the past, keeping it safely at bay.
One is about moving forward, and one is about moving on.
It’s a year since I found out I no longer had a marriage.
A year full of so many emotions and experiences it feel like 20. But the satisfaction of being able to say “it’s a year since that happened” makes me feel like a survivor. The further it is relegated into the past, the safer I will be. It was the second toughest year of my life. The first was the year following my mum’s stroke when my sandwich years began, caught in a perfect storm of care, looking after my mum and my children. Both years have threatened to destroy me with their assault. But I am a survivor of both, and although I will live with the legacy for ever of both of those years, wounded and war-torn, I am stronger and wiser.
And as if to parody this bad time anniversary, my mum is back in hospital, just as she was a year ago. For the last year she has slowly stopped eating, and has taken less and less interest in living. Perhaps she has been making one final choice for herself, when the stroke robbed her of all other choices.
I have spent a lot of this week by her bedside, reassuring her and letting her know she is loved. The doctor has told us she may not recover this time from an infection. We’ll know soon whether her body will respond to the antibiotics. If it does, we all sigh with relief, and continue to watch her wish it was over. If it doesn’t then, there is nothing more they will do (or would we want them to as it would involve lots of distressing and painful interventions), so the priority will be to make her comfortable and be with her until the end.
The child in me wants her to stay with me, but the daughter in me wants her to go. I have had five years to come to terms with my grief and loss, but she has paid a heavy price. I thought I was ready for this, but I don’t think we ever can be.
She may pull round, she may respond. But we know that we won’t force her to eat, or subject her to painful procedures. Our only priority now is to make her comfortable, and loved, and to respect her wishes.
And as I have learned more than anything in these sandwich years of my life, love is not a line, but a circle. Her love has come round full circle. Yesterday I sat beside her as she lay in an awful geriatric ward of people who looked like zombies, dressed in some man’s pyjamas because she had been sick so much she had had no clean nightdresses left.
I held her hand, and stroked her hair and tried to comfort her. So I sang her the song she had sung to me as a child. The song she had sung my babies. The song she had taught me to sing to my children. Two of my daughters still insist on it every night. A you’re adorable. So I sang the song and it was my mum, myself and my girls all wrapped up together in memory and melody, the good times always remembered and moving us on. Love is a circle, and someday I will sing that song to my grandchildren, and my mum’s voice will be carried on the notes.
My marriage is over, and I might be losing my mum. The good memories will last long after the bad times are relegated to a distant past. As the excitement of my book launch approaches and I live an experience I always dreamt of, my heart soars and dips in grief and joy. But that is the other thing I have learned in my sandwich years. That life is never about one thing. It is always a mix of good and bad, highs and lows, joy and grief. But always, if we’re lucky, a circle of love.
This song is for you, mum.