Dear Readers, it was five years ago that my Mum and Dad had their 60th Wedding Anniversary party in Dorset. They got a card from the Queen too, as everyone who manages 60 years married did. There was so much then that we didn’t know. Five years later, all the people in the photo above are dead.
Dad got very confused when he was giving his speech of thanks. At the time, he blamed it on his glasses, but thinking back it was clear that he was deteriorating – five years earlier he would have extemporised, but this time he was completely lost. I can see the concern on Mum’s face, looking at this photo. A year later, he would be diagnosed with vascular dementia. Fifteen months after this, both Mum and Dad would be in a nursing home. On 18th December 2018, Mum died. Dad followed her on 31st March 2020.
But I still remember the joy of that day. Mum said it was the best evening of her life. Both of my parents were surrounded by people that they loved, and who loved them. They were together, and so they would be until the last moment of Mum’s life. Mum was always worried that Dad wouldn’t cope without her, but because he was already in the nursing home, which was familiar to him, and because his memory was failing, he seemed content. It is strange the way that things sometimes work out.
Looking back now, a few things come to mind. One is that it is important to celebrate things, to make the effort, to make memories. Often it can feel as if it isn’t worth the bother to go that extra mile, but it is. It would have been so easy to let that 60th Anniversary be just another meal out at the local pub, but I am so happy that it was more than that. We need reasons to be together, to rejoice in other people’s happiness and successes. So often, as people get older, we only meet at funerals.
Something else is that we waste so much time worrying about things that don’t happen. We can plan and prepare for every eventuality, and there’s something very comforting about feeling that we’re in control. So often we aren’t, as the Covid pandemic has shown. I think that many of us are in a state of high anxiety all the time these days, and sometimes we can’t help it. I occasionally reach a state of equanimity which is very refreshing for me, where I plan for things in the full gut-knowledge that something else entirely might actually occur. It doesn’t feel like resignation, it feels like freedom. I don’t know how I got here, but here I sometimes am.
And finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that we mustn’t put off saying and doing the things that are really important to us, especially with regard to the people that we love. When my lovely Auntie Rosemary was dying, I wrote to her to tell her all the reasons that she mattered to me, but actually I’d been corresponding with her for months, so I’d said most of it already. I am operating on the basis of no regrets these days as far as I’m humanly able – no arguments unsettled, no love unexpressed. If I think of something that I want to do for someone, I try to do it rather than putting it off. We do not have forever, and neither do the people that we care about. If there is one lesson that the past five years have taught me, it is that the Buddha was right – we are children playing in a burning building. Life can be so beautiful, but it is also so short.