I don’t like being miserable. For a start, it peels at least 20 points off my IQ, and at my age, that’s too significant to ignore. Second, it makes creative thinking well nigh impossible. It closes up the essential gaps between those bubbling, spontaneous irregularities that sit in my unconscious, and the conveyor belt of conscious delivery. Third, it makes my face look like a smacked arse, and frankly, I prefer it less baggy and more crinkled, when the crinkles are herded into place by an irrepressible urge to giggle.
But today I am royally stuffed. My father died last week. One of my cats died this morning. His brother is on the blink (same age, different disease), and will have to be despatched soon. I have toothache. Does it get much better?
There are people who need me to be detached and sensible. The inland revenue who need to know my dad should no longer be considered for tax purposes; the pensions agency who have to stop paying him, and start paying a bit extra to my mother; and the bank who need to know that he isn’t a partner in the joint account any more. That the joint account will not be administered by my mother, whose dementia has left her in an equilibrium of detachment about the whole process, is a further complicating factor, and there is more to do in that regard.
The organisation I work for – Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, a part of the National Health Service – has been more than tolerant. I’d like to think it is a combination of empathy and recognition of the commitment most NHS employees show, often working several hours a week unpaid to the benefit of patients. But it probably isn’t. It is more likely a reflection of the profound understanding of how far events of this kind can throw people who, otherwise, seem to sail through adversity, untouched. Most of them will not have experienced this, which makes their understanding all the more remarkable. I did not ‘understand’ it two years ago when one of my team lost his mother to major illness, without warning. I hope I was as undemanding at the time he needed his head and heart needed to be elsewhere.
But there are joys. The bringing-together of old friends and family members who had been ‘once removed’ and are now less so. The wonderful accommodation of the care home whose owner seems to know everyone who lives there, and which provided hospice standard care without even having registration for nursing. The re-discovery of the big band music that was the heart beat to my parents’ romance in the 1940s. These elements, fundamental and at the core of what matters to all of us, will be the centre piece of our goodbyes, when we make them later in October. Music, love, friendship, care – all real and not manufactured or legislated for. Not scripted or rehearsed. Not for show, but for real. We will plant a tree and wrap it in twinkling lights while we sing along with Vera Lynn to ‘I’ll Be Seeing You‘, and a few of us shuffle out a boogie to Ken Macintosh’s Big Band. Maybe more than the lights on the tree will be twinkling as we leave at the end of that day.