I can’t even remember how long you’ve been dead for. Is it eight years or nine? I think it’s nine. It’s probably bad that I don’t remember, but don’t take it as a disregard to your memory – I think I’ve always tried to block it out to be honest. If you try hard enough to block something out it becomes intentionally blurry in your mind. I have a good memory you see. I always have. You used to comment on it frequently. So it’s not that I physically couldn’t remember – I’m sure I could if I tried. But it’s like you used to say about Granddad’s Sci-fi shows – you could’ve understood them if you’d wanted to, but you didn’t so you didn’t. I don’t want to remember the anniversary of your death – why would I? So I never have. I know it’s in November sometime. I never remember the exact date though.
I feel like a different person now to then. I am a different person. It saddens me to think that you don’t know me anymore. I don’t think about you often but I do have a sort of absence there, a place in me that feels you missing all the time. It becomes more acute, and I become more aware of it, in certain situations. In times where I’d give anything to talk to you. I miss talking to you on the phone. We used to talk a lot on the phone and looking back I can’t understand why. I was only sixteen when you died (I think) and I still lived in Sheffield. I still went to dancing three times a week – the studio that was five minutes from your house. I saw you on all those days, plus more. So why did we still talk on the phone so much? I can’t remember, but we must have had a lot to talk about. I miss that. When I was away at University I could have done with that – with someone to talk to for hours about anything that came up. My mom took the brunt instead – but you know her better than I and you know how bad she is at talking on the phone. She would duly listen to me for hours on end, but she fails to converse in return. I could rant for hours but likely she’d not be paying real attention to what I was saying, she gets distracted by other things too easily. You, on the other hand, would listen attentively and return conversation sharply, on any subject we spoke about. I never, ever, remember talking to you about anything with the feeling that you weren’t listening to what I was saying. It spoilt me really because I came to appreciate that more than you could know – there is nothing better than someone really listening to you. Not just in order to say what they want to say, or to let you rant, but because they want to hear your opinion and your voice. I don’t know how you did it.
You missed my time at Skylarks – the charity I volunteered and worked for before I went to University. It provided holidays for physically disabled people and their carers. I was like a Butlins’ redcoat who also did personal care. In a way your death prompted a fresh direction in my life, and led onto the extent to which I grew up whilst there. Things get worse before they get better, and to put it frankly I was a bit of an idiot on more than one occasion; but it all led to me becoming the person I am now, so I don’t regret it. Still – it’s probably good you missed it. It was a fulfilling job though and I learnt so much about diversity, life, openness, and, by way of opposites, prejudice; so if you take out the partying and the minor wildness it was something you may have been proud of.
I met hundreds of disabled people with all manners of illnesses and I learnt more than anything to not judge a book by its cover; to put it in the form of a well-known analogy, which seems appropriate given your love of books. I would like to think that I was that person when you knew me, a person who knew how to see a person’s inner self free of the shackles of aesthetics, but I’m not sure I was. I remember you in that care home, before the hospital, and the things I saw – it horrified me. I stayed away because it was horrible, I couldn’t see past the things that told me it wasn’t you. I won’t mention them because I don’t think you’d want me to. With hindsight, I wish I’d had the strength of character to see past those things. But, for one, I don’t think you ever wanted me to see them, so it seems right that I tried not to. And, secondly, that’s exactly what Skylarks taught me to do. So, who knows – if you hadn’t died when you did I may not have learnt that – I may not have gone to Skylarks and I may not be the person I am now. Good or bad.
At university I studied Art History. I don’t know why actually. I guess it interested me. I’ve been interested in drawing from an early age – you used to teach me how as you probably remember. You would show me the correct manner of sketching people and figures, with lines swept across their eye line and mouth line – through the oval shape of a face that you normally start with. The eyes are always half way down the face, which most people don’t realise. You’d think they were higher. The head is about one seventh of the body – according to proportion. You would fetch your fashion drawings out and show me them in detail – because I asked you to. Not because you readily had them on show – you didn’t. You were quite magical really. So clever. So skilled. So inspiring. You were my role model. I was in awe of you, and your old photographs, from when you were my current age, still enthral me because you were so incredibly beautiful. You looked just like an old movie star in a black and white film – and Granddad too with his trench coat and cigarette.
Anyway – I was interested in Art but not good enough to pursue it as a career (so I thought. In truth I wanted a stable career and Art wasn’t certain to give me that). So I studied Art History instead. Not for a career choice, just to get a degree in something I wanted to learn about. It was so fascinating, I am sure I could have spoken to you about it for hours. Somehow, I managed to finish with a first class honours degree. I would have loved to tell you that. I hope you would be proud.
I still love to read. You, as well as my mom, instilled that love in me. I remember sitting in your attic for hours and fishing out old children’s books such as Famous Five and Nancy Drew. It was like a treasure trove up there and I loved it. I also loved our weekly meetings at the library in town, which as a kid I thought was huge. I went back recently and was heartbroken when I realised it was actually tiny. I would take out as many books as I could, filling my allowance and my moms. And I might read one there for good measure. (I was a sad kid. I even used to read in the dinner queue at school.) Sometimes we’d go to the cafe upstairs, where the Graves Art Gallery is. I enjoyed that.
You had shelves of books yourself, in the dining room, amongst other places. I admired how you would get up and investigate anything we discussed that you didn’t know. Even if you were in the middle of dinner you would get up and look up the word in the dictionary, or get your encyclopaedia out. You would’ve loved the expanse of knowledge on Google if I could have taught you how to use it. Without realising it I have adopted a similar habit. Half because of the ease of the internet, and half out of a curiosity to know the truth, to learn things. If we discuss anything at work and I don’t know the answer then I’ll look it up. Maybe I’ll be nearly as clever as you when I reach your age.
In fact I enjoy writing as well as reading now, which is possibly due to having read so much. So thank you for giving me that – the world of books is truly magical and I can’t imagine my life without them. I have nearly finished writing my own book. A work of fiction. It sounds crazy just saying it aloud but I just had the urge to take part in National Novel Writing Month (November 2014) and half way through the month, on the tenth, I joined in and started. I wrote over 50,000 words in 21 days and succeeded in completing the competition, which means I receive free self-publishing. So my book, whether it’s good or not, will be available to download. (Electronic reading). That’s awesome right? I wish you could read it for me though and tell me what you think about it. I would love to know your opinion.
I’ll never forget your conversation with me, as you must have had with other members of our family; you felt guilty for letting your sister put your aunt in a nursing home, and you swore you would never go in one yourself. We promised we wouldn’t do that. We had to break that promise, and though I was but a child I will apologise for everyone. We didn’t want to. The adults had no choice. I hope you can forgive us. At least it wasn’t for very long, by some small grace you broke your hip after they left your bed rails down – you rolled onto the hard floor. It was only then that, in hospital, they discovered you had a serious form of terminal cancer that had spread to your heart and lungs. That was where all the trouble had stemmed from, we just hadn’t known it. You’d been a walking time bomb for months really.
One regret I have is that I wish I had said something to you before you died – I was too scared to say it to you that day when I came to visit you in hospital by myself. My old school friend came with me and waited outside with her dog, but you were about to be taken for tests by the time I got there and I only had a few brief minutes. In that few minutes I backed out and couldn’t produce the courage to tell you what I wanted to say. And though I said it afterwards, when you were tucked away in that private room where they had put you to die, holding your cold clammy hand in mine, it wasn’t enough.
I want to tell you again, properly…
I promise that I will be successful in my chosen career and I will work extremely hard. I will get a good job, one that is well paid, I will strive to make you proud, and I will look after my mom.
My only consolation, though it is not much for someone who doesn’t believe in God, is that you are with your daughter somewhere. The one you lost. The one that died a week before I was born. I never knew her obviously but I have often wondered if that is partly why I felt such a deep connection with you – as if you were my mother, and my mother were my best friend. It is probably more to do with my mom being in hospital so much when I was kid, and as my dad had to work a lot, I lived with you and people thought you were my mom – that you’d had another child. I am so lucky to have had that bond with you. To have known you throughout my entire childhood. So incredibly lucky. And if you are together somewhere with Jane, then that is a blessing at least.
I have to say good-bye now. I miss you so much. I will always miss you. But I am alright. I’ve done alright – and I want you to know that that is mainly because of you. It is because of you. You are an amazing woman who led an amazing life, and I will always aspire to be even a little bit of the person you were.
I love you. Wherever you are. Always.
x x x x x x x x x x
(I know you like lots of kisses)
x x x x x x x x x x