I sounded a bit ungracious yesterday, saying that a swiftly-put-together dish, however kindly meant and gratefully received, is not quite the same as a specially shopped-for and cooked fresh dish, but I was remembering a time when a friend had died. He was in his forties and had had a brain tumour, and left a wife and two young sons.
We went to the house before the funeral. Friends were calling to sympathise and offer support, and several had brought helpful dishes of food. “It’s awfully kind of them,” said the teenage son, carefully, “and I don’t want to sound ungrateful in the least. But we have been living on shepherd’s pie for days now, and there are still three or four of them in the fridge. Why is it always shepherd’s pie?”
I went to a funeral today, of the Sage’s cousin A. Her daughter and sons are coming to terms with being the oldest generation in the family now – it’s a mental adjustment you don’t realise you are going to think about until you find yourself making it.
The two sons are twins, now in their late fifties. It’s quite odd, seeing middle-aged identical twins, especially men in dark suits as there aren’t differences of hair and clothes between them as there would be with women. One is slightly shorter and thinner than the other, but they are very alike. I hadn’t seen the children (A’s grandchildren) for a long time – they are now aged between 18 and 35 (ooh, Ellie is expecting her A Level results tomorrow, spare her a thought please).
As we left, I told A’s daughter, my good friend and cousin Charmian, not to be surprised if it took her a long time to feel herself again. It took me three years, I said. She looked shocked. I explained hastily, that I was not unhappy or in a state of mourning for that time, and it was not until I recovered that I realised that the pessimism that I had thought was absolutely understandable and keeping me safe from foolish hopefulness was actually the after-effects of looking after someone who had been both unhappy and unwell, and of bereavement. I had not needed treatment of any kind, just time and patience. My own patience for myself, that is. If I seem (for I am) self-indulgent, it is absolutely deliberate. I want to accept myself and be really quite kind and loving towards my faults. I want to take every bit of enjoyment from life that I can, but I want to like myself too, which means I must look after other people too, if I can.
I didn’t go into all this, of course, but I did tell her to be gentle and not push herself until she felt ready. Her husband, who is a darling, will understand. He told me that when his mother died, he felt really guilty that he could do what he wanted on a Sunday morning instead of spending the time with her.
A will be lovingly remembered by her family – a pretty good legacy for a long life, really.