I’m sitting at the kitchen table, wanting someone to talk to, and missing him. So I thought I’d write you a nice long letter. Skype’s all very well but there’s things you can’t say, easier to write them down. New Zealand seems so far away today. I know you couldn’t bear to make the journey just to say goodbye. Dad understood, though he’d have been glad to see you one more time. But there we are, it’s too late now. Today’s the day.
Of course, they say you can go together if you want, even if one of you hasn’t reached their ‘D-Day’. I wanted to go with Derek, but he said it wasn’t fair on you and the kids, to lose both parents, and granny and granddad together, if you didn’t have to. Anyway he said it won’t be long till it’s your turn and I’ll be waiting for you. I’m not the teary kind, but I admit that made me well up. It was your dad who was the blubberer, especially in these last couple of months. Little things – happy or sad. The news of course, with all the fighting going on, and children getting caught up. But even seeing the first daffodil shoots in the garden. Though this year, whether it was because they were the first, or the last for him, I couldn’t say.
We knew the letter was coming but even so, it’s a shock to see it in black and white. Council-headed paper. Go to the coach station at 5 pm on the 17th. Don’t be late. People say there’s a police car sent round if you don’t turn up. Imagine what Irene and John next door would think if my Derek was led out in handcuffs! Sometimes he got angry but then he’d sort of slump and say it’s not worth fighting, we can’t win this one.
What makes it harder is that he was quite fit. His prostate was dealt with a few years ago, and he’s kept active – still club treasurer of course, and working on the allotment. We talked about how I’ll manage, and I’ve decided to give it up. It’ll be too much for one. Anyway, I’ve only two years to go before I get my own letter. As soon as you hit 80 you’re out, regardless. Too many of us, getting too old and costing too much to look after. Maybe it’ll happen where you are. But you’ve got more space, and I think more kindness. This isn’t the same country I came to with your grandparents when I was 8. You know the story – I’ve told you often enough. Starting out in a strange land with hardly any English, how they found work and settled in. I’ve still got your grandma’s MBE medal somewhere. Oh, we were proud! It had seemed so safe here after all the fighting and fear. Now we hear gunshots even round here, and – don’t know if you read the news? – there’s a curfew from dusk till dawn. No more evening trips to the cinema or meals out, unless it’s lunch. Do you remember my old schoolfriend Maria? I invited her to come and spend the day with me, thinking it would be company. But she’s too afraid to go out. She got attacked on the bus last month because of the way she speaks. Funny that I lost my accent but she kept hers, even though we were the same age when we arrived.
So – I went with your dad to the coach station yesterday. We decided not to cook a special meal the night before, just cheese on toast, and sitting holding hands in front of the fire, watching the flames. We got a taxi into town – I didn’t trust myself for the drive back. We went early so we’d be in good time and not get into trouble. There’s a special room for relatives to say goodbye, but it’s awkward with other people around. I believe when it all started there was such a backlog, they ran several coaches a day. Now it’s probably just one a week, if that. The letter says not to take a bag. But it seems everyone does. Just a few bits, so you still feel like a person and not just a number. Or a problem to be disposed of, as your dad would say. He packed that photo
of us all on the beach when your Tom was a toddler and Ben was a tiny baby. Do you remember? How Tom tripped up and got soaked, and dad carried him shoulder-high all the way back to the car.
He took his razor and a toothbrush too. Seems silly I know. But it mattered to him. Remember him lecturing you? ‘Appearances matter’. They’ll send the bag back with the ashes. I think I have to collect them from Council Offices. So I’ll get the photo back.
Kate, it’s a long way I know. And to you two years seems far in the future. But not to me. It’d set my mind at rest if I knew you’d be there when it’s my turn. There was a woman today at the coach station, had nobody with her. She was trying to be brave I could tell, and act as if she didn’t mind. But it must’ve been hard with the tears and smiles around her. So I went over and gave her a hug. Held her hands between mine and looked her straight in the eye. She didn’t say anything, but I think she was grateful. Could you do that for me, when the time comes?
I don’t know what time of day is his turn. This morning, I’m guessing. I asked to be with him at the end. But that’s not allowed. They get taken to a special building – it’s quite a system they’ve got now. I hope they’re kind.
With my love Mum