Twenty years on

Reading Speccy’s post about mothers, teeth, death and all that (and thanks to her for the way she has offered up my poem) has had me remembering all today that October 2012 is the twenty year anniversary of when my father died. My mother had died just six weeks before, her heart stopped, while Dad was in hospital. Then he died, he just stopped.

What with all the worries and other stuff going on, that October in 1992, feels like when mourning started for both of them – sometimes one, then the other, sometimes together. Just like they were for the last few years in and out of the hospitals, worrying about each other, and us, their three daughters, Darby and Joan style. Born 1909, met age 13, had on-off friendship through their 20’s, married in 1941, had three daughters, they were each 83 years old when they died.

Dad had been ‘semi-ill’ for some years, suffering balance/arthritis/stomach problems and general old age for a longish stretch – the contents of a chemists shop on the bedside table. He always thought ‘he would go first’. Then Mum had learnt only two years before that the breathlessness, suffered still playing golf, was because her heart needed a bypass operation. She was told to take it easy in preparation.

OOPs – no-one explained that this was a new concept.

They were both ‘well’ right up to death. Able to talk, engage with the ‘stuff’.

Weren’t we lucky really?

A lot to remember. So I left the computer and started to write, as usual, very surprised what came out – it is a very sad poem, there was too much to mourn in 1992. Perseverance, tenacity, endurance… grim stuff. For me, writing poetry is very like dreaming with its capacity to absorb sadnesses and re-create space for living.

Winter 1991- 92.

I remember the motorway
The rain on it
Driving to hospital
airport, in-laws,
home to parents' house,
back to Larne and Stranraer,
over and over
and again.

I remember 
journeys to Stranraer
the stories of a marriage.
Too much stuff in the car.
Boys singing, joking, yelling
eating, sleeping 
on the mattress in the back.
In the years before seat-belts 
tucked us all in safely.
Before the marriage buckled,
too much stuff.

In the years before 
twenty-four hour service stations,
Someone would not fill up
at Carlisle or Gretna Green.
I remember sleeping 
in a forecourt
somewhere near Castle Douglas
and another time
we made it to Newtonstewart,
or was it Gatehouse of Fleet,
before waiting in that forecourt
not speaking much
till opening time.
Long past sailing
Waiting on stand-by.

Now, I remember
another Christmas,
older boys abroad,
brought home,
to see grand-parents
to say good-bye
to grand-parents.
Their own parents
not too grand.
Recently separated,
the in-laws are ill, 
my parents are ill,
everyone has to be seen,
spoken to, comforted,
reassured, all will be well.

I remember, it rained.
I forgot to fill up
before Christmas morning.
That whole day
Smiling, driving,
exchanging gifts,
one eye open
for an open station.
Not one.
The needle stopped dropping
fixed itself below red.
For thirty miles of wet road
the empty car crawled home.

I am still wondering
how it is
that sometimes
when nothing is left
even a car just knows
it just has to keep going.

10 thoughts on “Twenty years on

  1. Beautiful poem. The car and us. My grandmother’s car used to keep on going when she first got dementia and safely moved her around many places. We still don’t seem to easily talk about death enough, I guess in 1992 it was harder too. It sounds like they had a very full life too.


    1. Thanks Jen – as you know me you will know how much I enjoyed writing it, even though it is sad. Family life is full of crazy stuff – try and remember all of it if you can.


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