I made the call at one minute to eight on the Saturday night. I’d been away for a couple of weeks in Scotland, and even though I’d called him a couple of times just to check that everything was okay, on this particular evening, my birthday, I felt that I should speak to him. It had been a nice day. We’d gotten to Kirkcaldy at lunchtime, been to the bay, for lunch, and to see Raith Rovers play Falkirk at football before driving straight back to the hotel. No particular plans, no particular place to be. My train back was at noon the following day, the Sunday, and five hours spent staring out of the window from Glasgow to Euston felt like as nice a way to wind down as I could hope for.
The call lasted for a minute and forty-two seconds.
I called my sister, who confirmed what I’d already understood through that brief first call to my Dad. Mum’s condition – she’d been in hospital for several weeks after falling at home – had seriously deteriorated, and the doctors had already told them that they were measuring her remaining time in “minutes or hours” a week previously. They hadn’t told me because they knew that I needed the break, and that nothing could be gained by my fretting about it all from a Proclaimers-esque 500 miles away. I cried a lot that evening, and all the more the following morning, when I saw that I had an answerphone message from her timed at just after two o’clock that morning. I knew what it was going to say before even listening to it.
I got to Glasgow Central railway station at 9.15 the following morning, just as the Virgin Trains ticket office opened. When I got to the counter, I spoke through thick, fat tears. To get an earlier train back would cost me eighty pounds that I didn’t have. It didn’t matter, per se, but I wasn’t in control of my emotions, and I needed to be with my boys. A kind young woman came out from behind the counter. I could barely get my words out, but explained, as discretely as I could. She was wonderful. They expressed their sympathy and bundled me onto the next train back to London. I don’t think it’s possible to understand how much I needed that gesture, at that moment.
The grief comes and goes in waves. I’ve been in regular contact with my family – who live about thirty miles from me – and have visited regularly, but even now the funeral isn’t until the end of this week. Two overwhelming feelings have hit me, over this last couple of weeks. The first is obviously loss. I have to keep correcting the things that I say. She’s just not there any more. I wasn’t always the best son for calling home, but I probably wasn’t quite the worst either, and having children of my own made me keener to get up there as often as humanly possible in recent years, despite the best efforts of Southern Rail to keep us apart at weekends. And the kids really love granddad and they loved grandma. It was never a chore to them, always a highlight of their week. I did my reading up on how to explain death to a young child, and sat my oldest down to explain to him as best I could. He knew that grandma had been ill, but it would be unfair and unreasonable of me to expect any more than the most cursory of understandings on his part.
There’s a numbness at the core of me, at the moment, though. Just a tingle of emptiness. I think I’m self-aware enough to know that I can and should vent my emotions as and when I see fit, and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, but a tiny part of me is worried that there remains a meltdown yet to come, and where and when this might occur. For now, it comes and goes in waves. They get smaller, of course, but they still lap against the shore. I’ve thought a lot about our lives together, about her sense of humour and her foibles, and about who she actually was, this last couple of weeks, filling that space.
That feeling of inertia has spilled out elsewhere, too. I haven’t been interested in football. I don’t feel as though I have much to say, right now. I’ve been consuming it, but with the semi-detached air of a man distracted. Last weekend, I took my children to a 5-5 draw, as much to get out the house as anything else, but I had no inclination to commit pixels to a screen about it afterwards. That night’s Norwich City versus Manchester City match was similar. I could partake of the social media conversation, but the actual match itself passed through me like a ghost. So I’ll go at my own pace.
I may not have written anything about football this last couple of weeks, but I did somehow summon the energy to record a podcast, and I talk about it a lot with Dad (in common with so many other fathers and sons, football has long been our shared language), who regaled me of the time that he went to see Spurs play Blackpool in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Villa Park in 1953. We watched the Pathé newsreel of the game on YouTube, such are the wonders of modern technology. Beyond this, I have also found that I have been watching a lot more comedy than I had in recent years. I didn’t spot that I was doing this for about ten days, but funny, clever people making me laugh has been good for me. But I’ve also felt tired, physically tired. Drained. That, surely, will soon pass, though.
That second big feeling, though, is what dominates me at the moment. Gratitude. The last time I saw her, in the hospital just before I went away, I had five minutes alone with her. I told her that I loved her, that I am safe, loved and cared for, that Dylan and Dorian both love her very much indeed, and I said thank you to her for everything she’s ever given me. I’m not completely certain whether she heard me or not. I hope that she did. There are a lot of dysfunctional people out there, and a lot of dysfunctional parents. Mine were neither, and I’m very lucky to have had that. I hope it is a positive influence upon my own parenting.
I’m not going to speak here about anybody else in the family, of course. It’s sad, of course it is, but the condolences that I have already had from family members and family friends have been sincere and heartfelt. That means a lot to me. It’s easy to lose sight of the milk of human kindness in this day and age, but I have felt a lot of that, of late, for which I am exceedingly grateful, amongst many other things. This amount of love should be what everybody has a right to throughout their life, and I will never lose that feeling that I was cared for, or that I still am. I don’t have anything to profound to say here, other than that it is miracle of the human condition that this feeling of warmth could be unconditionally available to anyone.
Thank you, Mum.