Something to Remember

There’s a saying that “It’s the moments, not the milestones, that matter.”

21 is a significant milestone and I think it’s still worthy of a whole bouquet of memorable moments, even if it’s no longer the age of coming of age. So when we set off for our trip to London me and my son had simple aims – generate many enjoyable and memorable moments, celebrate his 21st birthday before, during and after the day itself, and create something special we’d remember for the rest of our lives.

I said in my previous post that regaining the time stolen away from us by cancer, depression and a bunch of other adverse events over the last few years was impossible. In terms of linear time, the kind measured in seconds and hours, that’s true. We cannot go back and rewrite the past. ¬†Non-linear time is a different story because it’s measured in friendship, conversations, smiles, laughter and small kindnesses. Those things evade the confines of seconds and hours, they’re unbounded and run through our lives like invisible seams of gold. Humanity’s obsession with longevity measured by defined units of time can lead us to forget that our dearest memories are woven from the gossamer strands of innumerable moments, each of which is infinite and everlasting.

This week the moments meant we both forgot the stresses and strains of the past, the things we couldn’t do, can’t change, gave up or had to cancel. We forgot death came calling, ignored the various absurdities of our lives and created a sparkling sea of moments unfettered by time, tasks or the uninvited terrors of sentience. We rode the tube, walked the embankment, wandered around Soho and dined in China Town. We went to a couple of bars, ate birthday cake, people-watched and admired the landmarks. We received an unexpected upgrade on our theatre tickets so had the best seats on J’s 21st birthday… Thanks Palace Theatre ūüôā We talked about previous birthdays, growing up, options to make this an annual mini-holiday just for the two of us, ¬†the places we’d like to visit and things we’d like to do.

We set off for London with a few simple aims – celebrate, enjoy, make memories and we did that. Our mission was fully accomplished in one tiny, profound moment as we walked back to our hotel along the Charing Cross Road. ¬†“You know Mom” he said, “I’m enjoying our time so much I don’t want it to end. I wish this could last forever…” ¬†We smiled at each other both knowing that it will.

Coming of Age

It’s my son’s twenty-first birthday next week and I can hardly believe the years have passed so swiftly. He arrived exactly on his due date and has quietly filled my heart with joy ever since. It’s natural for a mother to feel proud of her son but I’m especially proud of him because his life to date has been far from straightforward and the last few years have been particularly tough for us both.¬† Years that should’ve been fun and carefree for him were marred by my cancer treatment. He was then diagnosed with anxiety and depression but we both know it had been wrapping its arms around him for several years. I suspect my illness played a significant role in tipping that delicate balance and the thought rests heavy on my soul.

Slowly but surely we are both reconfiguring our lives, learning to live with heartache, uncertainty and confusion safe in the knowledge that whatever happens we’ll find a way through. We know we can’t make up for the carefree years that were stolen away so instead we’re aiming to make 21 extra special, starting from today.

A week of celebrations begins with cake, candles and presents in advance of his actual birthday. It’s the first year that he’s been able to open anything early and we decided to bring this part of the festivities forward because he and I are going away for a few days next week. Carrying everything to London and back would be logistically difficult. Although 21 isn’t technically the year of coming of age (voting and alcohol are both legal from 18) it’s still an important milestone.

When he was 18 I put together an A – Z photo album of words and pictures representing who he is and what he loves.¬† There were other presents that year but the photo album is the one he treasures most. This year I’ve been busy researching all the events of 1993 as well as occurrences that took place on the day of his birthday over the course of the last 21 years.¬† This task has been made much easier through the wonders of the interweb! Having found a host of 1993 events plus a notable occurrence on each of his birthday’s from 1993 to 2013, I’ve turned them into illustrations – cartoons with a snippet of information about the event – to make a unique present he can look back on in years to come.¬† There are other presents too but I’m hoping this one will join the photo album among his favourites.

Our trip to London is the first time we’ve been away together for far too long. He loves the hustle and bustle, travelling by tube, street performers in Covent Garden, the glazed ducks and bright orange squid hanging in the windows of China Town’s restaurants, the smell (and taste) of all that Chinese food. He also loves the theatre so this visit includes a couple of surprise West End shows which are sure to be a lot of fun. Both productions will have us singing like song larks for the rest of the week so by the time next weekend arrives we’ll be hoarse, in serious danger of annoying anyone in earshot, or both!

I’m glad we’ve been able to secure this time together, that nothing else has impinged on it, that we are both in reasonably good health and can go away for a few days to create some new, happier memories for his coming of age.

(These pictures were taken last weekend. He played for over 5 hours in a charity football tournament with all the proceeds going to St. Peter’s Hospice and raised over ¬£1000. Another good reason for me to be proud of him ūüôā ).

Live Forever

We don’t of course, or at least not physically which is probably a good thing because our bodies wear out over time. It must be quite frustrating to go from being active to inactive and mentally alert to easily confused. ¬†Loss of independence would be really difficult for me, potentially verging on unbearable. Hopefully that day is still a long way off.¬†Although our shells, these complicated works of art, science and sinew we call the human body succumb to all manner of things, in many ways we are immortal and we live forever. ¬†We’re captured in photographs and stories, documents and memories. When we have children our genes live on in them and we, hopefully, always have a place in our children’s hearts.

Two people who live forever in my heart had birthdays last week, my Grandfather and my Mother. Both were very dear to me during the time we shared and both continue to play a role in my life. They’re in my thoughts, my memories, my sense of who I am and how I want to lead my life. ¬†They were both amazing people who would never have considered themselves anything more than decent human beings and that in itself made them wonderful.

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My Grandfather spent much of his life caring for other people. He was posted in various countries during World War II including Italy and North Africa. I’m fairly sure he almost died of dysentery at one point, then contracted malaria and was seriously ill for a very long time. ¬†He hitch-hiked the length of Italy to rejoin his unit and was very close to Mount Vesuvius when it erupted in 1944. He spent time in Austria, though I can’t remember how that came about and he told us of a mysterious and frequent whistling sound in the desert. It happened to be the sound of bullets flying past and sometimes into people. When my Grandmother was alive we used to joke that it was a miracle Gramps made it home from the war, he’d had so many brushes with death. He served with the Royal Army Medical Corps so although he was conscripted, his mission was to preserve life rather than deny it. We know that he had some truly horrible experiences and saw things that no-one ever wants to see, but he never spoke of this and he never let it cloud his nature.

When I was growing up my Grandfather was simply the best¬†anyone could have. ¬†He’d make things with us kids, normally messy things like papier-m√Ęch√© or exciting things like dens and secret hide-outs. He’d take us to the zoo, play conkers, go fishing for tiddlers, sing songs and play games like ludo, monopoly and snakes and ladders. He also let us collect butterflies, caterpillars, grasshoppers and spiders (not in the same jar) as long as we treated them kindly and always let them go again. When I had my own son my Grandfather¬†was as great with him as he’d been with me and my brother and although J was very young, he still has some memories of his Great Grandfather. A gentle man in all sense of the word, my Grandfather was empathic, knowledgable, encouraging and very good fun to be with. He was also an accomplished artist and musician, a good listener, hugely supportive and had a love-hate relationship with a rather large ginger tomcat my Grandparents took pity on as a 4 week old abandoned kitten.

My Mother was a kind and gentle person who always put others needs ahead of her own. Forced to leave school early to earn a living and care for her step-sister, she spent most of her early life being told she was clumsy and stupid. Today the things that happened to her when she was growing up would probably be considered neglect, or child abuse. ¬†I know she used to clean the house and clear the fireplaces, polish the floors and fetch all of the groceries, almost like Cinderella but without pumpkin coaches, glass slippers or a ball to attend. When she met my a Father she said she knew he was ‘the one’ and her life improved enormously once she went to live with him and his parents.

My Mother had a talent for understanding people and animals, I suspect because she appreciated the sanctity of all life from an early age. She was a very loving and giving person with a strong sense of right and wrong, a placid temperament and the ability to turn her hand to almost any task. ¬†She had a high work ethic, well-developed personal values and no ego at all. Though she was very talented, my Mother never quite believed she was as good or as talented as others – deep down she probably never completely recovered from her horrible childhood and that made her determined to ensure my brother and I never endured undue criticism, lovelessness, isolation or insurmountable chores. Because she was multi-talented my Mother spent time teaching us to make cakes and biscuits, identify plants and animals, read, write and draw, make models, build things (with Lego, scrap cardboard, or bits and bobs from the house and garden). She helped us understand that there’s no sense in violence, you should never sleep on an argument, and there is always room for another hug. My Mother loved music, the countryside, nature and her family. She found pleasure in the scent of a freesia, a starry night or a walk in the park with Dad and the dogs. I can’t ever recall my Mother asking for anything from anyone. She spent her whole life making other people’s lives easier, happier and brighter.

Grief is a funny thing. When we lose people a period of grieving is inevitable, it might last for weeks or months or years, but one of the downsides of grief is that it draws our focus towards the gaps in our lives – the people who are missing and how sad we are without them. ¬†It can become all-consuming to the point where it blocks out the happier memories, the things we’re grateful for, and can make us lose sight of the fact that our loved ones probably wouldn’t want us to be broken-hearted, miserable or withdrawn for the rest of our lives. It seems there’s no easy way to understand this without going through the process of loss, grief, readjustment and reflection.

Although I was deeply sadden by the deaths of my Grandfather and my Mother I’m no longer consumed by sadness and grief. I can now draw on memories and stories while being happy for the time we had, the experiences we shared and the things I learnt from them. Gramps and Mum are in my thoughts and here with me every day bringing love, warmth and inspiration. I can’t wish them happy birthday in person but in my heart they live forever and we celebrate the good times.