Today, as every Sunday, I did the ironing in my pyjamas whilst listening to the Archers Omnibus. I only remembered afterwards that today is the sixth anniversary of the day my dad died. My husband was working in Paris at the time, and the children and I were celebrating the final afternoon of the summer holidays with a trip to Parc Asterix when I managed to pick up a voicemail from my cousin’s wife, telling me that I’d better come home that evening. Well, my dad was unconscious in hospital when I arrived in London at about midnight, and slipped away the following afternoon as I was trying to engage my mother about switching off his life support machines. I took over the formalities with no fuss and, after the funeral two weeks later life went on as usual.
There was no commemoration today. I’m pretty sure my mother doesn’t remember the date my dad died or that today is the anniversary. She’s not great with dates, never has been, and doesn’t remember anyone’s birthday except, of course, her own. No-one else in my family is really interested in dates and anniversaries and things. My cousins, with whom I’m glad I have become closer recently, commemorate their mother’s passing by spending some time together. So do my friend Jeannie and her two sisters even though that was many more years ago. I find that touching and sweet.
But I have no brothers or sisters. My mum and I struggle to find any common ground at all. It was like this before the obvious deterioration in her mental faculties, and I think we live in parallel universes, just meeting up for a while on Wednesday afternoons or when she has a medical appointment, and inevitably going off at tangents.That’s it.
When I was small I used to have huge birthday parties, and my parents were highly sociable people who threw huge parties at the drop of a hat for anniversaries or engagement parties or whatever. And we’d celebrate with lots of people and lots of fuss and embarrassing, inappropriate speeches. But they found personal, quiet intimate celebrations, going out for a celebration meal or making a cake, almost impossible. As I’ve probably said before, I think it’s because they both came from such large families that they just got on with life without having time for cultivating emotional intelligence. It was a different world, rural India in the 1930s, but as an only child growing up here I reacted against the inevitable bluster and fuss and paper plates by withdrawing into myself. Yes, I’d always be on hand to wash up and fry puris and look after the little ones, but it really wasn’t my idea of how to live. I’m more sophisticated than that, you see.
My husband is similarly an only child who grew up quietly in family circumstances that eschewed noisy celebrations. We are quiet, hard working, socially anxious. We don’t tend to make a fuss about stuff. Noisy celebrations are not a priority. Every year I inevitably forget about Diwali until it’s too late and then feel resentful about making at least a bit of a fuss at Christmas. It’s all rather sad. Perhaps it’s a function of our lack of religious faith or a resolutely Northern European approach to life that we don’t really see any meaning or relevance in all the legends and festivals. Or perhaps the sheer, unrelenting grind of everyday London life takes precedence over everything else to such a degree that there is simply no energy left to expend having a good time. I don’t know.
But I think our rationality has made us throw the baby out with the bathwater somewhat. So I’m finally determined to get someone to come and put some lights up around my house to switch on at Diwali and at Christmas. Even if the necessary scaffolding for our sloping drive is expensive. Because sometimes it is good to make at least a bit of a fuss. It’s important to mark the passing of the years before it’s too late. Which brings me to my dad. I haven’t forgotten him six years ago today.