Eulogy to the Living.
It was my father’s birthday; he had reached a significant age. I was in the city center, and it felt quiet enough to chat with him.
Then he broke the news that my mother was ill, and that he did not know what was wrong with her. This stopped our conversation, whilst I made haste to start another.
Panicked, I walked down an alleyway, close to the square where I worked. I was lucky to make contact with my sibling. I spoke about: how far away I was, how anxious I was, how difficult it would be to visit. My brother listened. It was pure shock on my part, but also a realization that my parents were getting older, and things could get urgent sooner than I would like to think.
Northern workmen, with their neon-vested garb and safety boots, saw me sob down my phone as I hurriedly conversed and was calmed with understanding words. This from the one person I have a complete history with: my brother. It was a very human moment. Perhaps these sympathetic onlookers had been through a similar conversation too? Perhaps they understood real unaffected emotion?
It is natural, when a precious life fades, that we ask the person’s age. And with increased age comes the finale. I resolved, from this point onward, to treat my mother with more care, as in my adult life, our relationship had never been ideal. The ultimate test had been smacked in my face, even though the truth-sayers have repeatedly told me, “You will never have another mother — value her!”
Now, I realize my mother and father are hardwired to my soul.
It is pointless to curse and quarrel over foolish and unprepared decisions made about my health in my youth. Neither of my parents had the far-reaching resources and support or their own knowledge when they thought they were acting like any parent would. Undoubtedly, it was an overreacted judgment call. Later I would reconcile this down to just pure inexperience.
But then again, mental health was only whispered about behind closed doors, and not discussed out in the open, in that era.
Instead, I would focus on the wonderful and costly education they both afforded me. As a family, we sacrificed memorable holidays, and spent time apart during the working week, yet I managed to fulfill my college ambition.
Did they appreciate how I was seen as an untouchable by some in our big house they both re-rooted us to? But again I made new sophisticated, and sometimes loyal, friends, although I would always be a nice girl as my father would affirm.
They were both good at weeding out those who were not worth traveling to see once I was removed from my childhood roots. Letter-writing ensued, but I was denied access to these old friends at a drop of a hat. Selfish? They both knew best. These were never friends. Nothing, not even a cheery letter or card from me, which stopped dead at 18 years old, could rekindle those connections. Not even later on in life.
Surprisingly, when I was not the academic star, just a regular girl in a local primary school, I established lasting foundations with a few. Life does meander, and although life’s journey will never be easy for any of us, I have enjoyed the real-life tales of lost and found friendships.
Gratitude was high on both of their lists of parenting skills from an early age. Moans and sulks were discouraged. I want was always replaced by I would like. And so I had a good base to develop as I grew older.
My real education would be to find a job, my father announced. I was wised up to work after gaining some employment during my school years, and the value of this experience helped me in my working life.
We have lived apart for over two decades, and we have experienced given life situations, debated different politics, and both my parents have guided me. However, what I would like to thank them both for the most is my backbone. A culmination of hard times, appreciation of wonderful moments, and the insight to make decisions based on right and wrong.
And do I protest how different we are now? Hardly. I am losing my shyness in the same decade as my father did. I channel my creativity like my mother does. I am glad my mess was made for me at an early age. It has been rewarding unraveling with what, at first, I thought would suffocate me.
This is full-circle beautiful reconciliation. And when the curtain does fall and I am not able to be on the train or coach to see them, I will still be on that ever-advancing vehicle. This is the analogy of our entwined lives. Both my parents will always be a passenger on my train. And my daughterly love for them will never leave that train’s carriage.
Keri France is a sensitive and strong soul, who believes in the power of creativity for personal growth. Originally a southerner, she has returned to live in Manchester, after 19 years, and has found a new confidence since her relocation.