Too many people have died this month. Actually, one, the husband of an acquaintance, died several months ago, but I’ve only just heard. That comes of being the kind of person who is always the last to know. About anything.
Not that that is the point now. The point is that . . . The death of people we know has a kind of cumulatively depressing effect that accelerates exponentially as one’s own death approaches . . . No, the point is I feel wretched.
Felicity was my mother’s dearest friend. They met when my brother and I were toddlers, some fifty years ago. We were the new family on the block, or rather rural parish, she and her husband established community movers and shakers. He was a popular GP, she local artist and teacher, housewife exemplaire, and entertainer extraordinaire, especially of young children. Not being clever enough for my own family, but reasonable at art, I came to love them both more than my own parents, and fantasized about having been swapped at birth. Their daughter was my age, but large, insensitive (so I considered) and fiercely competitive, so temperamentally better suited, I decided, to my highly academic home. My oaf of an elder brother’s crush on her confirmed it. One day we would be swapped back . .
This daughter, fifty odd years on, spoke and sang movingly at her mother’s funeral last week. Her loss, having had so much more, is now far greater.
With my own mother, now in her mid-eighties, I am now engaged in a one-sided correspondence, which has largely replaced any direct communication. When I say one-sided, I mean endless unsent drafts from me (perhaps this blog counts as another one) in response to terse, age-old ridicule from her, the most recent manifestation a brief typed letter she has also, she makes me aware, copied to my brother and sister.
It’s her response to a letter she did see, sent by me some months ago to a literary magazine. The magazine had reviewed a recent biography of my moderately distinguished father. I liked the long assessment of my deceased parent and wrote in to say so, adding some minimal contributions of my own. In her letter, my mum puts me straight on a number of, as she sees it, key facts. Sad, silly girl, as usual.
There is no point in arguing, for this is our most basic disagreement, from which several others stem. To her, my father (deceased 1995) was loyal, loving, brilliant, the envy of her friends, a great provider and committed family man. To me, he was pompous, egotistical, solipsistic, misogynistic, emotionally abusive with more than a hint of sadism about him. He was certainly (a “fact” she will never mention, though she knows) serially unfaithful, though I barely hold this against him.
Neither of us, of course, can tell the whole story about this man. It is possible that the new biography (which I haven’t read, but of which Mum approves) goes some way. But my own memories – I have, pathetically, to keep reminding myself – are also valid. They are telling, vivid, and recalled in detail. I am sorry my mother had to read this tiny excerpt, knowing her views are so different. Ever since I realised I could not influence her, I have tried to keep my feelings to myself, for my own sake more than for hers. And that was a very long time ago. But this little one just got away.