Sometimes it’s easy to remember where you were on a certain date, what you were doing. Kennedy’s assassination, Diana’s death, the twin towers – those big, shared experiences. And some of the big royal occasions. For a non-Royalist, how odd that big moments in my life seem to have been marked by the Queen’s jubilees.
I remember the silver jubilee in 1977 because I was a reporter on the Windsor, Slough and Eton Express and it was my first job. Every local newspaper in the country was filled with Jubilee-fever but for us we had the added bonus of being the Queen’s own local. As a junior I was sent round all the street parties, certainly not allowed anywhere near the Queen. On her golden jubilee in 2002 I was in Shaftesbury, just settling into the home I thought I’d be in for the rest of my life, and spending the day dancing on Park Walk to a Beatles tribute band. On the morning of the diamond jubilee, Monday 4th June 2012, I chatted to Mum and told her my plans for the day. I needed to go to see my friend Margaret to deliver a jubilee mug and I’d already put it off from Saturday, then from Sunday, so really I needed to go that Monday, the Jubilee Monday.
The nurses had stopped me going on the Saturday, and on the Sunday. I’d only be away a few hours, I’d explained, but their looks said I should stay. Mum couldn’t tell me what she wanted me to do, so I did what the nurses thought I should do. So I sat with her on the Saturday, and I sat with her on the Sunday. But on the Monday I had to take my parcel to Margaret or the jubilee would be over. So I told Mum what was going on and walked out of Abbey Room, the private room at the end of the corridor in Shaftesbury’s little hospital. The nurses looked reproachful.
And finally Mum had the freedom she’d been waiting for. I firmly believe people can control their own timing. Did she seek to protect me from the saddest of moments? Was she protecting herself from my reaction? Did she think I would try to keep her beyond her time? A mixture of these, probably. Whatever it was, it took me 25 minutes to get to Margaret’s house and as the kettle went on, my mobile phone rang. Before I could reach for it the signal cut out, as it usually did at Margaret’s house. I took it outside and wedged myself between the trampoline and the chicken shed and called the ward to hear that I had become an orphan. Expected, and shocking, all at the same time.
If I wasn’t to be beside Mum, there wasn’t any better place to be than in Margaret’s kitchen with a mug of tea. Her brother and his girlfriend bounded in from their walk. “This is Tamara” explained Margaret, waving towards the snivelling snotty mess of a person beneath a mountain of damp tissues. “Her mum’s just died.” You’ve got to respect their upbringing and their good nature – a mucousy hug, a second cup of tea, and they took over preparing the lunch, leaving Margaret to hold my hand and put me back together.
Bank Holiday Jubilee Monday. No doctors to sign my mother’s death certificate. Undertakers not in their office. The duty undertaker, or rather the call centre, went through the script. They were sorry for my loss and then asked if my “father” would be buried or cremated. A tad insensitive but you can decide not to be bothered.
What do you do on the day you lose your Mum? Nobody gives you an instruction leaflet.
I watched the hordes of happy people on the television waving flags and felt very detached. In the evening the Diamond Jubilee Concert filled some time, whilst failing to fill any of the gap that I began to feel opening up. The nation was partying, but the only diamonds I saw were splashing down onto the hands clenched around my umpteenth hanky.
I think that by staying with her, I had inadvertently put pressure on her to keep going. Five months later, a dear friend was begged by her husband – in the same Abbey Room – not to let him die alone. He could express his wish, and she kept that promise to him as she had all other promises. Mum couldn’t tell me what she wanted, but several days before when she whispered “I think I’ve had enough now” I had known she didn’t mean the water I was dripping onto her lips and tongue. What I didn’t know was that she wanted me to get on with my day, my week, my life, even as hers was ending, so she could do things in her own time, on her own.
So in the end the date I will always remember, Jubilee Monday, 4th June 2012, was decided because I had to deliver a Diamond Jubilee mug to Margaret before the end of the jubilee holiday, despite the nurses’ reproachful looks. Finally I got in the car and drove away from Abbey Room and along the winding top road to Blandford Forum. And as soon as I had gone, so had she.
Outside, on my Andalucían patio, the lemon tree I planted for her is thriving. This morning, 4th June 2014, new life peeped through the leaves.
© Tamara Essex 2014
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
Lemons – limones
Lemon tree – limonero
Oranges – naranjas
Orange tree – naranjo
This last is important as the famous square in the centre of Marbella is actually called Plaza de los Naranjos (the square of the orange trees) but is mis-pronounced and mis-written by a majority of non-Spanish folks who assume it is the Plaza de las Naranjas. The pretty tiled street-names DO correctly say los Naranjos but to little effect!