The last day you do something

wedding photo 1948

The last day you do something

You won’t know which day or what the thing is that you will never do again, but each day might mark the passing of someone’s conversation, a place you visit, or your doggedly independent struggle with self assembly furniture. Once upon a time, you fell in love for the first time, for the last time. You believed in fairies. You nodded to the woman on the bus who always had a red shopping bag on her knee. It may not have happened yet, but one day it will be the last time you pitch up at work at eight a.m. after walking home from a party at five with your shoes in your hand.

I don’t have the last message either of my parents left on my answer phone, because I didn’t know it would be their last. I do know that I’ve seen both of them for the last time, although that was only evident in advance for my dad. Mum, only superficially aware of who I was but up for a chat anyway at my last visit, was chuckling and waving when I left. My sister and I were on our way to see her on Thursday after a far from explicit indication from the hospital that things were not as straightforward as they had told us earlier. We arrived a few hours too late.

And so our trip was suddenly re-purposed towards a sadly familiar set of functions: solicitor, care home, funeral company, then back to the garden centre for another shrub. We knew what to do this time; if we had another parent, we would have this off pat. So we clinked a toast to our mother as the hotel gave us McGuiness Flint’s ‘When I’m Dead and Gone’ on a muzak loop, and the next day set off to variously baffle, confuse, and plainly perturb a series of people just trying to do their jobs. Our mother was brought up in the Harp of Erin in Bradford, the granddaughter of County Mayo publicans. She danced on the tables and dived under them when the local copper showed up because she was under-age to be in the bar. So we will have an Irish wake at The Limes. There will be a Ceilidh band. We will plant our mother’s ashes under a Mock Orange shrub next to Dad’s Cherry tree in the home’s garden. Then we will leave The Limes and we will know it will be for the last time.

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14 responses to “The last day you do something

  • Alannah Murphy

    I’m so sorry Suzanne, truly. I know this is a path we will all have to face, I truly don’t know how I will bear it, for my dad is everything to me. It’s true we need to treasure every single day, as it were our last.

    I always have found this quote from The Sheltering Sky one that really truly captures that feeling you speak about:

    “Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
    ― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

    Sending you a virtual hug through the blogosphere.

    I’ll raise a toast to your mum, I’ll make it an Irish whiskey too…

    • Suzanne Conboy-Hill

      That quote hits the spot. All those last times that slip by without notice, some of them welcome, some out of their time – expired and no longer relevant, but some always anticipated and only after a long absence, recognised as gone forever. I’ll share your virtual moonshine, Alannah, thank you!

      • Alannah Murphy

        The sad thing is, most of us, do not realise this when we are young, so many moments pass by unnoticed but I had a childhood friend die, and another one when I was a teenager, so I became aware of the moments in time not lasting, early on.

  • Alannah Murphy

    I do love that photo as well, remember you posting it before. Glad you have it…

  • anaspanish

    That’s such a poignent piece Suzanne and, in a few words, paints a rather wonderful picture of your Mum – I am truly sorry for your loss. The idea of scanning the photos is a great one and what a fabulous photo that is you’ve posted here.

    • Suzanne Conboy-Hill

      Thank you. I do wonder what we did before blogs and Facebook – we have filled mum’s FB page with photos and she was looking at them all not long before she died, via the care home’s own page. And of course, it’s such an effective way of commemorating, remembering, dealing with the moment, and leaving something for the future. I expect we’ll have more to say, and some pictures, after the wake.

  • anaspanish

    I think just the title of your piece of writing is heartbreaking for anyone who has experienced the loss of a parent or loved one.

    It’s lovely that your mum had a chance to look at the photos and was something special for her I’m sure. And of course, sad and lovely for the rest of you to see those photos of her too…

    I do like the idea of creating a virtual photo album for all relatives to share. I’m a bit of a luddite but I will try this myself.

    • Suzanne Conboy-Hill

      I read a short story a while ago which was called ‘Deathday’. It was about how you never acknowledge your ‘deathday’ because, even though you pass it every year, you don’t know which it is. There’s something about that idea that feels like shifting sand in a sand dune – the surface looks the same but everything in its composition has changed. It made me think of all the other things that have unsung endings along the way.
      Photos – yes, it’s been a very worthwhile exercise although the scanning is a little tedious! I still have bundles of albums to get through, and we’re about to reach the more embarrassing teenage years (for my sister and me) now. A bit of judicious censorship might be in order!

  • Linda Cassidy Lewis

    Oh, Suzanne, I’m so sorry to hear this. Again you amaze me at how well you write such poignancy. I love the image of your parents’ symbolically standing side-by-side in a garden. My heart is with you.

    • Suzanne Conboy-Hill

      Dear me, Linda, what a few months this has been. Sometimes I don’t know how I write what I write, just that it seems to want to be written. Whatever I’ve learned about how to do that, it’s been through people like you sharing, writing, dissecting, and most of all, showing how to feel the words. We have a way to go on this particular journey but we will give it our all. Thank you for being here :)

  • Cathryn Grant

    I’m so sorry for your loss, so soon. I’m in awe of your grace to express your experience with such perfection … so soon. Take care.

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