Psychologists categorise life transitions into planned and unplanned, and I thought I was a specialist in handling them, even seeking them out. Now I’m in the middle (no, at the beginning) of one of those universal transitions, unplanned by me, but planned by life for us all: the death of your last surviving parent.
My mother was 92 (she would round it up to nearly 93) and so had a good innings, though she was fully intending to go on a bit longer (“they say these days that if you’re looked after well , you can live til you’re a hundred” ” I have to have fish every week as it’s keeping me well “). But despite her best efforts, and regular fish dinners consumed with gusto, it was not to be.
Yesterday’s journey from Cambridge was reminiscent of another sad journey 38 years ago when my father died suddenly, shockingly young, at the age I am now. I got the same feeling of heightened awareness – produced by the adrenalin helping you make the necessary work and travel arrangements (flinching at the walk on price of the train ticket) and the long journey to the town you grew up in. These events unearth all sorts of memories. My mother had been what was euphemistically termed “fiercely independent”‘all her life and maintained this characteristic until the end, calling my sister and me up sharp until well into our sixties.
I arrive at the care home where my sister is waiting for me just as she waited at the station 38 years ago. It touches me how sensitive the care workers and undertakers are in what is for them an almost everyday event.
Sandra and I go to Blanco’s to have a fish dinner in her honour. It has been a long day travelling. On the way home we stop at Hopkins’, open until 11 thanks to two friendly immigrants. We curse Donald Trump as we buy milk, tea, Cadburys Dairy Milk and a small bottle of Teachers whisky: our bereavement kit.