I knew I couldn’t let this day pass, unrecognised. This is the day when, exactly a year ago, my son-in-law Phil died. I want to remember that. But I also want to remember how proud he would be of the way his family has made a go of their unwanted new lives together, despite the grief, the empty place at every family gathering. Ellie’s successfully relaunched their business: the new website went live late yesterday. The boys started at high school, and are doing well – they’re sporty and busy. Ellie’s out to prove that she’ll see her own cancer kicked conclusively out before the end of 2017, and she’s got the bald head to prove it. Brian the dog declines to grow up,and recently ate his bed – again. Luckily, he’s lovable with it.
Phil would be proud of all they’ve achieved. I am too. They’re doing well. But there’s still a Phil-shaped hole at the centre of their family, and I guess there always will be.
Death in a digital age is a funny old business. On Facebook Memories, a photograph has just flashed up to tell me that three years ago today, we were on a family day out to Liverpool, which we all enjoyed, save for the gnawing feeling in my stomach that my husband’s difficulty swallowing was not good news. Two years ago this week, or so it tells me, our little family was on a wonderful holiday, which we’d booked to celebrate our wild assumption that the whole shitty cancer thing was behind us. One year ago this week, my husband was lying in a hospice bed in our sitting room, dying.
Messages, wall posts and photographs have popped back up on my phone from this day last year. We’d told our wider circle of friends, through Facebook, a few days after my husband had been given a couple of weeks left…
We’ll all remember 20th January 2017, the day Donald Trump took his oath as President of the United States. No comment.
The 20th January was special within our family too. It was the day my son Thomas celebrated his 40th birthday. Really? How did that happen? Is it forty years since my son kicked and chortled in his pram, his simple world revolving round milk, sleep, fluffy nappies (no disposables then) and besotted parents? Now he’s a besotted parent in his turn. And nobody much remembers that it’s forty years since Jimmy Carter became President of the United States.
Unexpectedly, 20th January turned out to be even more special for our family. It was the day that my daughter Elinor, having seen off her husband to cancer nine months ago; having been diagnosed as a cancer sufferer only four months after that; having had one operation that failed to dig it all out; and having had a mastectomy only the week before last was declared cancer free. She’s got preventative chemotherapy and radiotherapy to face still, and breast reconstruction. But she’ll be fine. And that was more than we dared to hope only a few weeks ago.
This makes 20th January a Red Letter Day for this family. Even Donald Trump can’t take that away from us.
Donald Trump was inaugurated in Washington DC. Thomas was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Elinor lives in Bolton, Greater Manchester.
I have another blog apart from this one. My other site records some of my family’s history, in a rather anecdotal fashion. Its readers are mainly not the same people as those who read this one. So just for once, I’m going to share a post from ‘Notes on a family’. I love my Great Aunt Blanche’s autograph album from 1903. I think you might too.
Among my family treasures is an autograph book, dating from about 1903. It has no signatures from the famous, or even local notables. Instead, it’s a record of young people enjoying themselves at the turn of the 20th century.
The book belonged to my grandmother’s sister, Blanche. In 1903 her father Arthur was a clothier’s salesman, and she was a tailoress, a machinist. Most of their friends worked in the textile industry in some capacity. They were ordinary working people, and not educated to a high level – though she and her sister were still at school at the ages of 12 and 14, according to the 1891 census.
Blanche and her friends had autograph books. They sometimes amused themselves in their spare time by filling the pages of each others’ volumes. Here’s hers. I’ve left out all the pages that simply had improving quotations from…
I’m quietly proud of this photograph. It was taken on holiday when our boys were about four months old, and I’d asked my husband to get a picture for posterity. It’s never been in the family album, but not because I care if people are offended by a photo of my tits doing the job they were designed for (hell, I’d tandem feed anywhere – once, I even propped up the children against my nipples on the window ledge of an overhead walkway at a service station on the M6, having fed them earlier that day during church communion.) I didn’t give a shit as long as the boys were nourished, but I simply couldn’t bear for anyone to look at the photo and think I’d chosen the hideous fabric on that sofa.
I’ve blurred out my face – not because I’m embarrassed, but because the two little generic-looking blond…
It’s my daughter’s birthday tomorrow. No, not that daughter. Not the one we’ve just visited in South Korea.
The other one. My Bonfire Night ‘Remember remember the Fifth of November: Gunpowder, Treason and Plot’ baby. The one whose twin boys find their way into my posts from time to time. The one whose husband died of cancer not seven months ago. This will be the first birthday in years that she can’t share with him.
She could do with him by her side more than ever at the moment, because she too has now been diagnosed with cancer.
Her blog has the byline ‘Recently widowed. Swears a lot.’ If that’s going to bother you, don’t read it.
But I suggest that you do look at it, and get an insight into what it might be like to be widowed, young, and have cancer.
Who in their right mind looks forward to cancer treatment? Me. I need a break. I can’t physically find the time to fit everything in, and the idea of lying in a hospital bed waiting to get my cancerous bap sliced open and stuffed with silicone, saline or pig fat is suddenly not without appeal. I’ve come a long way in a few weeks – before, the idea threw me into a blind panic, but I’m so tired, and so ready to accept offers of babysits, dog walks, and help around the house, that I give up. I’ll trade anything – even my left breast – for a good night’s sleep and some time off work and away from the boys, who are in the throes of grief for the third year running. They’re sapping every last scrap of energy I have, and testing my patience to its limits. I adore…
I’ll be going a bit silent for the next week or so. I’m sporting a sling after long-awaited shoulder surgery (Four years ago in France, I tried a spot of unsupervised branch-sawing, and decided the resulting pain would go away on its own. I’m really not cut out for D-I-Y).
Plenty of time to read.
Plenty of excuses not to clean the house/iron.
Can’t really cook (knife-wielding is far too difficult)
Can only use the computer for a few minutes.
Even having a shower is a bit difficult.
I’m not very good at enforced laziness.
Right. That’s me then. I’m off to do my little-old-lady mobility exercises.
We’ve been back from South Korea for a week now. We’re jogging back into routine, but the jet-lag won’t go away. A week on then, I think I should share my final holiday snaps.
These are from the plane. Much of our long, long eleven hour journey was above thick layers of cloud. But when we could see down to the ground far below, we were thrilled. We could barely comprehend the vastness of Siberia. Mile after mile after mile after mile of forested mountains, dusted with snow. How could it be that in all these endless miles we saw not a path, not a field, not a settlement? How could anywhere be so …. uninhabited?
Eventually though, there were settlements. Straight roads passed between towns that seemed to be all about industry and factories, with large rectangular fields beyond.
Then there was the Volga, immensely wide, lazily spilling itself over plains and valleys, dividing, re-forming, leaving sandy islands in its midst as it meandered northwards.
We travelled over a cottony carpet of white cloud for a very l-o-n-g time. And emerged over islands round Sweden. There were coastal villages, isolated farms, fishing boats. We spied on communities whose ways of life looked as if they had changed little over the years. And then it was cloud again, all the way to England.
These are terrible photos. They’re fine for me as souvenirs of a tantalising journey offering glimpses of lands I’ll never see, and that few others have seen either. Except distantly, courtesy of a journey in a plane.