I sat down today completely prepared to write my next blog post about the next steps in my plans, or on books I’m currently reading, or what this week’s exercises in The Artist’s Way are. However, I’ve just been told the bad news that a friend’s father is in hospital and is critical enough that the family have been called home. So of course, everything else of substance has completely left my mind.
I’m thankful that, so far, while I’ve been old enough to remember neither of my parents have had any major health scares. My mother was ill for a time when I was younger – not old enough to really remember what it was like, but old enough that I have a deep-rooted sense of dread and fear whenever my mum gets a bad cough or cold. Clearly her illness when I was younger was bad enough that it hit my subconscious hard. But thankfully in recent decades (gosh, it’s weird that I can write decade(s) plural now) thankfully our family has been mostly in good health. I sometimes worry about the fact that my dad is forty years older than me, but we’re a close, tightly-knit unit of four and for the most part we’re immortal.
There have been illnesses and deaths in the wider family. Grandparents died before I was born or in my teens, with my great aunt dying just before I started writing this blog in 2014 (one of the catalysts behind it, in fact). Our wonderful next door neighbours, like family – now in their late 80s – have had more and more health problems in the past few years, with a scary touch-or-go situation earlier this year requiring an extended hospital stay.
But obviously my immediate family of four, we’re immortal.
When the same neighbour who had the extended hospital stay suffered a heart attack a few years ago, it was again touch-or-go but thankfully (obviously) one where she pulled through. It was late Autumn, and that Christmas on returning home, the neighbours stayed in their house for New Year’s Eve rather than joining us in my parents’ as usual. We all visited my newly-recovered neighbour of the course of the evening, one-by-one or in drifts and drabs, not wanting to provide too much stress or make her too tired.
As the fireworks hundreds of miles away over London were shown on the TV, she began to cry. It turns out that they were tears of relief – she hadn’t expected to live to see the New Year with us and thank anything that’s out there that she had. And has for every New Year’s since.
My close, wonderful, tightly-knit immediate family of four. Immortal.
Sometimes when I’m talking to mum I can feel that she’s aged. She’s no longer the 30-something who raised small-child me. We’ve had decades pass since then. We’ll be talking about plans, about books we want to read or places we want to visit, and we start to become aware of time. That there’s only so many more birthdays, or Christmases, or New Years. There’s a sense of needing to become realistic about what can be achieved. It’s a need to prioritise.
My dad is forty years older than me; sixty-six. I was alive when his parents were my age. While I think I would like children at some point, I’m currently enjoying being single and living a life free from responsibility. They’re not in the cards any time soon. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that I don’t want my future children to have a grandparent die while they’re really young. It’s a horrible, morbid thought, but we only have 20 years until my dad’s mid-to-late 80s.
We don’t have that many Christmases left.
But despite all of this, aren’t we immortal?
No matter how much I notice or think about time passing, or if things happen to extended family, it’s impossible to imagine anything hitting us until it happens. You can’t prepare. All you can do is hold onto the moments that you have tightly, to remember in moments of irritation how much you love each other, to not to take anything for granted. It’s me realising that I need to make an effort to get home more frequently. Thankfully no one can tell me I need to ring home more often, that I have done in abundance, but nothing that takes place over the phone can compare to the moments that you’re with your family in person.
There can always be an excuse why this isn’t a good weekend to travel home. I live too far away, I work out of town so I have more things to cram into my weekends, I want to travel somewhere else, why can’t they come visit me instead?
But they’re all excuses.
We’re not immortal. I should remember that.