Time to take the long view. I’m here alone in San Pedro de Alcantara. It’s a trip I’ve planned for and dreamed about. To be a long way away from the responsibilities that occupy so much of my time, just for a month or two. How many people have the gift of time to just think and write? A friend has given me extremely favourable terms for my residence here. I feel lucky, safe, and well looked after. In this comfortable, air-conditioned living room, I am appraising the past and imagining the future. It is an ideal situation. On a clear day from the rooftop I can see across the water to Africa.
When Mavis died two weeks ago at the age of 92 I was prepared. She hadn’t known me for a couple of years. That’s not unusual these days; lots of us have family members with dementia. But it was a release for me in other ways too. I had been struggling to come to terms with our relationship my whole life. The family dynamic meant she kept me on very short rations of affection and at times practiced rather venal cruelties. When finally she forgot to do that, forgot to hold on to her grudges, we enjoyed some delightful interludes. It was very healing. And I wrote a show to honour her courage and creativity a few years ago. I always loved and admired her regardless of the faulty circuits in our connection. Caring for her in old age was a privilege and as she died two of the kindest people I know stayed with her all night and all day and gave her such sweet affection she made the most peaceful of ends. It was strange to be so far away, but I had done everything I could, and it was alright.
But when Ruth died nearly six months ago at the age of 62, I wasn’t prepared. Our brother had been critically ill with pneumonia the week before. In the midst of that, I’d had to have that ‘end of life treatment options’ chat from the Emergency Department doctors, so I was distracted. I still called her the night before she went in for elective surgery and I’m very glad we were as close as were in the circumstances. But I kick myself now because I knew her health was poor. Her organs had taken such a battering over the years. I didn’t consider the risks, not really, because she didn’t. She never admitted how serious her health problems were. And now I am still waiting for the Coroner’s report, because the processes that led up to her death were not clear-cut.
In the interim, I’ve settled her affairs and put her ashes into the sideboard with Dad’s, because one day, not so very far away, we’re all going up to the Dayboro Cemetery together. Our story started that way, all of us trapped in intractable shame and sadness, desperately trying to turn the awfulness into something we could live with. So, to me there’s poetry in all of us ending up together again, well beyond trouble and pain. God knows, the luck has been with me. I’ve had adventures, and I’ve traveled a bit, geographically, socially and artistically. But I would have dropped it all at any time to be able to share something less with my family. I always felt a compulsion to keep an eye on everyone. So I have a place there too under the Mango tree.
I went down to the waterfront here on the Costa del Sol to swim. I got out past the rocky shore into the cold Mediterranean and I floated there, imagining that I held Mavis’ hand in my left hand and Ruth’s hand in my right. I imagined that we were swimming together and laughing. And across the water was Africa. That’s the stuff that I grieve. They never got to travel. They never had the chance. So I’m going to write. And I’m going to embrace my good fortune. It is time to let go of the past, and accept that we all did the best that we could. There’s every chance of rough ground ahead. And I’m going to do my best to get over it lightly.