Breathing in the Past

The time I spend in my childhood home between the day of Dad’s death and that of his funeral takes on a light, breezy quality. Once the arrangements for the service and party are sorted and the death certificate has been obtained and the most important utilities and financial institutions have been notified, something lifts in the atmosphere. It is as though I am being supported or carried through these days.

I slot back easily into living in the house – this house that I have not enjoyed visiting for many years. I love throwing the windows and doors wide to let in the summer air and the light. It is a house full of light, I realise. Yet it has not been in recent times. Mum had not wanted to let in light or air. It upset her. Agoraphobia kept her a prisoner in closed rooms, confining her to the same green chair, day in, day out.

Now I get up early, open the back door and listen to the birdsong, watching the one friendly blackbird who comes to sit in the bush outside the kitchen. There has always been a lone friendly blackbird in the garden. One year we were visited by a blackbird with a streak of white feathers in its wing. Dad christened him ‘Punk’. I remember this and other things about this garden: the badminton net that we put up every summer, the games of boules, the handstands and cartwheels we practised and perfected, the skipping games, my little tortoise whom Dad insisted on putting on a fabricated leash ‘so that he will not run away’, the school that was once our neighbour and the little boys who would peer through the fence and laugh at us. Some of them were the brothers of our friends. I cradle my coffee cup in my hands and think of these things and breathe in the past.

As it is the summer holidays, old friends are around. I link up with four of my oldest and best friends from my school days, spend time with them, their children and their parents. I walk my Labrador with one friend who has recently acquired a black Labrador as well. We take the dogs to the cemetery where we used to hang out as teenagers. It doesn’t seem morbid or strange. The dogs career around, jumping on each other, tails whirring like helicopter blades. Their happiness is infectious. I have always loved the vast, open space of this cemetery with the views it affords. It was a favourite place for all kinds of illicit behaviour too, of course. Probably still is. We walk and reminisce and laugh. We talk about our parents ageing and what this means for us. Her dad is becoming very frail and she is worried about her mum’s health.

I spend an afternoon by the river with another friend and her four boys. Someone is fishing for crayfish which arouses much excitement. We play football, laugh, reminisce. Her mum joins us. Her father has early on-set dementia of some sort, as yet undiagnosed. Everyone is carrying fears and sorrow about the end of something in their family. We are all faced with the same things. But, for now, we don’t dwell on them. We enjoy being together.

It is as though this is Dad’s gift to me: a glimpse back at all the happy times. It is as though he is here, in this light and lifted atmosphere. As though he is saying, ‘Stay in this house which I bought for us. Enjoy the life I built for you. Remember the good times, Anna. Do not be sad.’

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