So I missed the obligatory New Years post that seems customary for these types of blogs. Though this time, I think it’s probably for the best. If I’m honest, it wouldn’t have been that encouraging or particularly uplifting – the me of 2017 will be most likely identical to the me of 2016 and I’m not one for trying to persuade people that “new year, new me” is the best way to go anyway.
Instead, I’ve been hiding away in the wilds of Wales with my family and trying to learn how to live in a world that has one less father figure than it did before. As most of you who read this will probably already know, my step-dad passed away at the beginning of January after a well fought 5 year battle with myeloma (a cancer that, in a very basic description, affects the cells within bone marrow).
Learning to live without someone who has been in my life since I was a child, watching my mother deal with the new terms of her existence and trying to navigate how to feel and respond to a situation that has been inevitable is possibly one of the most surreal things I’ve ever dealt with. Knowing how poorly Mr B had been for some time (if not quite understanding how brutally he was struggling) I think I am possibly more equipped to deal with the whole affair than I otherwise might have been. I do not mean to say that my emotions have been lessened or that the reality is any less heart-breaking, but instead that the process of learning to cope started years earlier. I heard someone say that there’s something called “anticipatory grief” where one can start to grieve for someone or something before it is truly gone, and I think it’s something that is probably quite common amongst families dealing with terminal illnesses. What I can’t comprehend though is how genuinely awful this has been for my mother, who has been living almost as close to this as Mr B had and seen every step of it day in and day out. I know it is clichéd, but I really don’t think I have ever seen anyone as resilient as her – indeed she has done our stoic welsh female ancestry proud. During the few weeks I spent with her, she has never broken, not even after the hubbub quietened down and she was left with the painfully stark reality of filling forms in triplicate and collecting Mr B’s items for the hospital. She has been so composed and serene and I don’t think I ever realised that someone can be so exhausted but still look so strikingly beautiful. From sitting at the hospital bed side in a sickness mask for days at a time to standing tall during the funeral and singing welsh hymns with the power and talent of full choir, I have been truly amazed at her strength and dignity, and I know Mr B would have been proud too.
To go back to the beginning, I think I always dealt with my parents divorce and consequent recoupling better than most and to be honest, I think my parents did too. After the couple of obligatory years of struggling and sadness, I have ended up with a family that is a lot bigger and a little more convoluted than most, but I would never even dream of resenting or giving up the tribe I have now. Having a dad who can still go to the pub with his mother-in-law and a mum who can happily invite her ex-husband and his girlfriend to a party is something which causes some people to raise their eyebrows, but is a delightful truth for me. Mr B (or Paul – though I only ever called him that if I had to shout at him) slotted right in to that dynamic and has been everything a perfect step father should be; never once trying to replace my dad, but always willing to provide support and guidance when needed. He introduced me to the joys of listening to Bruce Springsteen on vinyl and making countless excellent mix tapes, as well as finding humour and delight in the silliest, smallest thing. I mean don’t get me wrong, we had some bad times too. There was the time he turned up to collect me from my friend’s house in socks, sandals, a white vest and a rather vindictive grin. Or when he convinced me to put a DIY zip wire between the car and my second floor University room window to help speed along the packing process and succeeded in ripping through the handles of one bag and spreading my underwear across the car park to the amusement of my housemates.
I like to think this perfectly encapsulates all the things I loved about Mr B in one stylish wetsuit.
Still, possibly the thing I am most grateful to him for his how happy he made my mother; loving her completely without restraint. Between the constant playful teasing and the countless tiny gestures left around the house, I have never been in any doubt that he did anything but adore my mother and make it his mission to make her as happy (and exasperated) as possible. Even though I have never really put much faith in notions of “soul mates” and being “destined for each other”; I think I will be hard pushed to ever see another example of such a suited relationship. Throughout the last few years they have done nothing to dissuade this belief either; indeed they are two of the most resilient people I will ever know, both in their own ways and in their joint efforts. They dealt with the myeloma with games faces and sunny dispositions and took everything in their stride, finding strength in each other when things seemed too dark to carry on alone. Although this has been indescribably cruel and something I would never wish on anyone (least of all them) I do find solace in the life they shared and the outlook they had (and still do).
As jaded as this sounds, I don’t really think there are any great life lessons to be learnt from this. Some people find hope in believing that there is a better place and meaning to this kind of thing, and all the power to them. For me though, this just shows that life continues on as ruthless as it always has and we are just dragged along in the wake. It’s a gritty reality and the only one we have. It’s just our job to solider on and do what we can to make it all worth it.
I know this isn’t the cheeriest blog post to start the year with, but I think it’s the most truthful. Even if it is about a topic I wish I didn’t have to live through, I am contented to know that I am able to celebrate Mr B in this post and share what I saw with others.
“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
The Old Astronomer to His Pupil by Sarah Williams
Please find a link below to the Myeloma UK website. It is a excellent place to learn about the illness and the scientific endeavours they are making to try and combat it. There is also a donation page where you can either give one off sums or recurring payments, as well as ideas on how to set up charitable events.