This has seemed a really long winter. So, so cold. So dark. The kids have just gone from one bug to another, to another. And for a good few friends, relatives and acquaintances this winter has been their last.
Yesterday there was a memorial service for a dear friend of mine from college, snatched away early by a vicious cancer. She was the same age as me. She leaves a two-year-old daughter. And she was one of the truly good people of this world. Quiet, unassuming, highly principled, caring, motherly, uncomplaining, selfless. Her old tutor said, “they don’t make them like that any more.” I can’t put it better than another friend: “there are so many arseholes who could have gone in her place.”
Faced with this I find it all too easy to think why bother? Why do we keep on fighting, when good people die young? When blameless babies are born to suffer? When well-meaning parents are faced with horrible choices and unending guilt? Sometimes it hits me, just at random and unexpected: like sitting in the Parents’ Room in John Lewis, looking out over the rooftops to the Firth of Forth, feeding Benjamin tiny spoonfuls of pureed chicken at a painfully slow rate. Just for a moment I think, why am I doing this? Why did I put us all through this? Will I still be doing this in fifty years? And, fleetingly, other thoughts that I dare not put to paper.
I have coping strategies. Sometimes I just have to look forward, to get to the end of this day, this week, this winter. Sometimes I prefer to feel removed, like I’m looking down on myself, watching a movie of my life, it isn’t really me doing this. Looking into the past I see a young woman hearing that her unborn baby’s brain hasn’t developed, but that woman isn’t me. Looking into the future I see a mother feeding a wonky teenager through a tube, a grey-haired lady pushing a middle-aged man in a wheelchair, but that isn’t me either. Sometimes I revel in the moment – in the snowdrops, in the oystercatchers gossiping on the playing fields, in Jackie’s laugh, Benjamin’s smile and my husband’s strong embrace. Then I don’t think about the past, or the future, at all.
Reassuring friends and family tell me that I am strong, that we are a strong family, that we will cope with whatever life throws at us. I’m confident that we will. But the challenge is not just to cope, to manage, to survive – what is the point of mere survival? Our challenge is to enjoy life, to enrich the lives of others, and to try always to leave things a little better than we found them, whether in the excitement of spring or the drudgery of winter. That is what my dear departed friend did, every day of her life, and I owe it to her to follow that example.