I’m back in the missing stage, today. Yesterday I was in the stripped of my skin stage. The day before I was in the baffled, hit a brick wall stage. Today, all I can think is: I miss you. Oh, I miss you.
It was every day, you see. I saw my mother ever day. That’s part of the problem. It’s the good part and the bad part. The good part is that we saw each other each morning as I went in to make the breakfast. On Saturdays, I collected her Racing Post from the shop and delivered it and stayed to talk about the day’s runners. (‘Oh, Ruby,’ she would say, a wistful, maternal note in her voice, as if these were not tough men at the top of their profession. ‘Oh, AP.’) On Sundays, we all had a lie-in and I would just get a telephone call if Hurricane Fly or Annie Power had done something marvellous at Punchestown.
That’s all good part. The bad part is that this means there is a vast daily rupture; a daily absence; a daily reminder. The lovely Stepfather and I eat our eggs and doggedly talk of the news. We speak of Paris and fundamentalism and tolerance and intolerance and the lessons of history, and we pretend that there is not a great, gaping hole in the house. We do a lot of speaking. The one thing we do not say is: ‘Oh, how we miss her.’
I write about my mother and father as if they were paragons. They were not. They were as complex and flawed as all human beings. They were both dazzlingly brilliant parents and occasionally absolutely useless parents. There were times when they drove me mad, and times when I drove them mad, mostly through my shocking stubbornness.
But the interesting thing about death (at least, it is fascinating to me) is that almost at the very moment of passing from the mortal realm to whatever lies beyond all those flaws and frailties and maddening bits are burnt away, as if in some grand Phoenix-like fire. And from the ashes rise all the glorious parts, the good bits, the moments of glad grace, the idiosyncratic talents, the laughter, the kindness, the sheer otherness. (They were both quite unusual, in their different ways. I only realise this when I tell someone a story which I think perfectly normal, and see the arched eyebrows and look of astonishment.)
I like that part. I like remembering them in their glory days; I carry their very finest selves with me, locked into my heart.
I got used to being without my father. It took about two years. I still think of him every day and sometimes miss him so much that I can’t breathe, but mostly I think of him with a great, spreading fondness and keen pride and a lot of wry laughter. I’ll get used to this too, although I think it’s going to be harder and longer, because of the every day aspect. A huge chunk of the cliff of my life has crumbled into the sea and I have to make a new path.
The Stepfather, who is a gentleman of the old school, as my brother said at the wake ‘the greatest gentleman in Britain’, said a very kind thing yesterday. We were talking about stoicism. Mum had it; he has it; it is one of the virtues that is still stitched into the culture of this dear old island race. I admire it more and more as I get older. ‘I think you are very stoical,’ he said, nodding his wise head.
I felt as if someone had given me a medal. When I was young, I wanted to be charming, brilliant, eccentric, talented. I wanted glittering prizes. Now, I want to be steady and stoical.
It doesn’t mean that emotions are not felt, or honoured, but that one does not make a three act opera of them. One may stare them in the whites of their eyes, but not wallow in them. It’s a very, very fine line to walk. Sometimes I feel that even writing this is a bit of a tap dance. Look at me, with my grieving. On the other hand, sorrow must have words, and this is as good a place to put them as any. I put them here, and people may read them and understand them, or they may pass on, and I don’t have to bore poor real-world humans and frighten the horses in the street.
Also, I want to remember. When the missing stage has faded, shrunk back to its proper place, become gentled with time, I shall take down this book and slowly read. I find it curiously soothing to know that it shall all be there, waiting for me.
The remarkable thing is that the one place I don’t have to be at all stoical is down in my enchanted field. The mares are so funny, affectionate, clever and beautiful, so authentic and present and real, so honest and absolutely themselves, that merely standing next to them banishes all sorrow. It is really quite odd. It’s my daily rest, my morning holiday from wearing emotion. I can’t quite work out what it is - their sheer loveliness, the purity of them, their own complete lack of sentimentality, their faintly flinty life must go on aspect. Or perhaps all of those things. Whatever it is, I am more grateful for it than I can say.
It’s gloomy today, so these pictures are from a couple of days ago, when it was sunny: