Sally Brampton: sweet sorrow

Sally Brampton: sweet sorrow

This time of year is made more poignant by the place I find myself, stuck betwixt and between the past and the future. We are moving my parents into a care home. We are fortunate that my brother works in one, so he has the wisdom to know where they will be most comfortable.

Even so; it will be the saddest day. My dad is apprehensive but, we hope, will come to enjoy the life going on around him, having been isolated for far too long in the prison their house has become. We want him to be happy, or as happy as he can be in a world that is not of his choosing. One of his children, at least, will be close by and my sister-in-law is an angel, of the practical sort.

None of this is consoling to my mother who says she would rather be dead. She has wanted to die for years, and tells us so every day, embittered by the boredom and indignities of old age. Now, her memory floats though the mists of time, punctuated by moments of sharp lucidity when she berates the heavens for keeping her alive. “I know,” I say, holding her hand. “I know.” I want her to die, not because I wish her dead, but because I know it is what she truly wants.

It is my parents’ suffering that matters, not my own, but the complexity of my grief has taken me by surprise, made more complicated by the fact that my relationship with my mother has always been difficult; in fact, has been difficult with all her children.

Over the years, I have moved from anger to a place of compassion. I have never been unkind; she has all the self-absorption of a child who knows not what she does, an absorption that stems from unhappiness, not malice, so sharp words simply hurt.

Instead, it has been my own interior struggle and, happily, I have finally found a place of peace, which grows ever more important as we approach the end. It is echoed in one my favourite poems by Rumi, the 13th century poet and Sufi mystic. “Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

Even so, for my mother, words are no consolation against the passage of time, so my inarticulate attempt at comfort is to buy her a cashmere shawl; a virtual hug in her new home. I have also been searching out old family photographs of past happiness. I was about to write “lost” happiness, but I hope that happiness can never be lost; that it remains embedded in our hearts and memories. There is a photograph of my mother, young and extraordinarily beautiful, her smile dazzling and optimistic. I have framed that image of past joy in silver, to eclipse the sadness of the present.

As a new era dawns, I want to embrace change. Wishes do not always come packaged in silken ribbons. Some come on a whisper and a prayer, so mine is to put behind me any regret about my relationship with my mother. Of all the emotions, regret is an extravagant waste, so my wish is to help her find a gentle and peaceful journey into sleep, with some sweet comfort along the way.

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