Friday, 21 August 2009

Sybil Grace Proud

I went in to say goodnight and she had gone. At least I thought she had. David wasn't sure, either. It's not as easy to tell as you might think. After this morning's rain, it was a very beautiful afternoon, a perfect summer's evening and now, at midnight, it's calm and still. We have a candle burning as we await the doctor. Tomorrow the storm of paperwork and phone calls begin, but tonight it is calm and quiet. Deep peace of the running wave to you, Mum. God bless.
It was this time last week when a visiting out-of-hours doctor decided enough was enough and put Mum on the Liverpool Care Pathway. This recognises that death is imminent and puts comfort as the top priority. Our GP gave Mum 48 hours. A week ago.

It seemed foolish not to spend the time anticipating the funeral. After all, when somebody dies you spend a frantic week making snap decisions, not always the right ones. This time I would be prepared. I do so love to be prepared. So over this week I've been devising a funeral to honour a lady who loved bright colours, laughter and large earrings - funky but not so funky as to be inappropriate. So I've trawled the net and researched coffins, urns, shrouds. I've discovered - to my horror - that I've lost my taste for hymns and find them maudlin and sentimental. I've also discovered that there's no such thing, apparently, as 'non-Christian hymns'. A 'non-Christian hymn', someone replied archly to just that question, 'is called a song'. So I've been through other people's lists of great funeral songs. I've thought of some of my own and discovered the joy of thinking of something and less than a minute later hearing it coming out of the computer. An idea of 'bagpipes playing Amazing Grace' presented quite a choice on YouTube but the Royal Dragoon Guards stood out as if their music actually had an extra dimension to everyone else's - kind of quadrophonic out of two speakers. And so I've had fun, learned things, had my mind blown. Then today, thinking about her smile, I began to conceive a powerpoint presentation of just that, Mum's smile. And then the grief set in.

It's all very well being prepared, but I'm now in full-scale bereavement while Mum's still breathing, and that is horrible. I want to wake her up, out of her drugged dreams and shout, Smile, Mum, for God's sake, just one more time. But no, she insists on playing the withered, breathing corpse, with lips drawn in and puckered over protruding cheeks and sunken gums. Rembrandt would have loved to draw her right now.

I suppose the chief merit of preparing a funeral is that you get the chance to get all cried out before the event. Then you can stand tall and impervious while everyone else sobs into hankies. 'Smile' will bring the chapel down - we'll be carrying 'em out on stretchers. Anyone left standing will be downed by Amazing Grace. I've been to too many funerals where my objective to remain dry-eyed has been too easily achieved. Not this one. I'll get 'em all.

Do you know, the music of Smile was written by Charlie Chaplin?

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Night Visitors

I woke up around two in the most profound presence of the Muse. As before, she came in the guise of a male poet long dead, but so alive in the imagination that awakening was a shock and a bereavement. In my half-asleepiness I either picked or knocked a spot on my leg which began to bleed profusely. And downstairs Mum was wailing. But I had to hold to the vision for a little while at least, for just long enough to remember in my waking state what it was I had been given: a novel, whole and complete, in a shell the size of a hazelnut. That's the way it happens: it comes packed in minute potency and 'writing' a novel is just a matter of unpacking it and translating. Water-to-water, that was the gist of it. But how wonderful, to be visited by the Muse - like meeting a water-carrier in the middle of the desert and knowing him as someone so utterly familiar. I haven't written, not properly, for months now. Somehow or other, the draft of a novel - a prequel to the trilogy - has emerged, but it's like a patchwork quilt. So here I am, in this aridity of creative work, being offered the opportunity, suddenly, to work on two novels at once.

So downstairs I go to help David with Mum and lights are snapping on and things being said which don't do self-esteem any good and Mum's wailing and wailing. We administer a sleeping draught to this writhing bunch of twigs. And while all this is happening, I clutch at my hazelnut and hope it doesn't get forgotten or trampled in the mud of frustrated negative emotion. Then back to bed to lay there thinking, air-writing, developing a frozen shoulder, until a couple of hours later Mum's calling again. I think she's feverish and may have an infection, although the thermometer says different. All normal. But now I'm at my desk, it's dawn and I must try and recollect as much as I can of the song I was given in that magical time which is 2am (see R L Stevenson and Travels with my Donkey).

I've been listening to Adam Nicolson's reflections on Homer on BBC iPlayer - a facility which prolongs your opportunity to hear something but at the same time makes it feel even more ephemeral since the caption tells you how many days left you have before this programme is wiped forever from the aether. Nicolson, as usual, is magnificent and his insights into the Iliad are startling. For instance, Troy wins the war when Priam kisses his dead son, Hector, in the presence of Achilles 'and Achilles understands'. Nicolson says the book is dealing with two main archetypes - Achilles, the cold-blooded killer, and Hector, the family man. These two are in all of us, he says; he also says that he hasn't resolved the tension within himself yet, which must have made unhappy listening for his wife. Whether as Achilles or Odysseus, Nicolson needs to travel alone to write. This is the image that haunts me; perhaps it's the image that provoked a visit from the Muse, immediately attended by all hell letting loose within the family.

And so it is dawn, and the spooks begin to vanish, normality returns - whatever delusion that is - and soon carers will be bouncing in full of life and blissful ignorance. But somewhere on that far horizon of grey and pink, the notes of an Orphic lute are sounding.