With Christmas rapidly approaching, thoughts inevitably turn to the memories we make. Particularly in our situation this can be a priority.
Unfortunately, the reality of terminal cancer is that I feel we never know when my wifes health may take a sudden turn for the worst. It has happened before, when on the eve of a family holiday she was admitted to hospital with suspected pneumonia, only to end up in a coma for a week or so.
I have started to notice my wife trying to do more for the children. Booking trips, and arranging experiences. Meeting with friends and family. These are what I would call the big extravagant gestures.
However, looking back on my childhood, the memories I have are different. The holidays away are seen fondly, as are birthdays and Christmas, though to be honest I struggle to distinguish years. No, the memories that are most vivid are the smaller things.
I can smell walking into the house at lunchtime when I was at primary school. I lived three doors away, and so came home to the sound of Gloria Hunniford on the radio, and often fired eggs and ham on the table.
I can smell the beef soup and pancakes my Grandma would make for lunch when we stayed. I can still see the pile on each plate, and the way my Grandad would sugar and squeeze orange juice on each one.
I can remember the beep of my Grandads car as they pulled onto the drive. The blue Beetle I later owned. I can also remember playing in the school he was caretaker at. My Grandmas voice, and the feel of the trim around the bottom of the fancy sofa in the room we never went in.
I remember playing in the back garden with friends in the endless summers. I could probably still get a decent score playing Elite on a BBC B computer.
But I also remember vividly the time my mother was invalided with a bad back, laying in bed for days on end. The worry and extra stress that caused on my father.
I remember trips to hospital to visit my Grandad, and seeing him deteriorate in a home. I can smell the hospital smell, and can still see how his hands shook, how his skin grew paler, and less alive. I can see the thinning hair, and weight loss.
And this is what I worry will be my childrens memories of their mother when they were growing up. Seeing her lying on the sofa asleep because she has lost her strength. Sitting at the dinner table with her head in her hands, struggling to finish her meal. Seeing her shivering in the cold, unable to walk far. Lying in bed, weakly interacting with them. Holding her stomach because it hurts.
The big events, the fancy trips look great on camera and social media. But it is the small things that will be remembered.
Childhood trauma can be a big cause of mental health issues later in life. There are real linkages between what you experience in your formative years, and how you are as a person in your adult life. (A great article is here https://life-care-wellness.com/how-does-childhood-trauma-affect-adults/).
Anxiety can already be seen in my children. My 11 year old son has separation issues, and struggles to be away from my wife over night. This has been exacerbated by a recent break in at a friends house.
My older daughter can be very quiet. Some would say she is a typical teenager, but part of me thinks that the last six years has contributed.
I have heard of terminally ill parents writing letters and recording videos as a note to their children in later years. This can combine both a memory and also a way of being part of their lives. I think this is a really good idea. Any way of preserving our loved ones has to be good.
However, I truly feel we have to be conscious of the things we do every day. It may be hard, but trying to make the simple daily life fun and happy is the best way to preserve memories. Engage with children, joke around, cook nice food, write down the recipes for them, help them with homework, teach them skills. This is how we preserve ourselves.
These are the ways to make happy memories at Christmas. Play the dominoes and watch the festive films. Make biscuits and pies. Finish that puzzle, and laugh at bad cracker jokes. We are going to do that over the coming days, and I fully intend for us to enjoy it, despite how we are feeling mentally and physically.
I have finished this whilst listening to the Terry Hall album Home. I was shocked at his passing last week, and even more so when discovering it was of Pancreatic Cancer, and with a very rapid decline. His work with The Specials shaped the fabric of modern Britain, and documented racial tensions extremely succinctly. The following track was co written with the Lightning Seeds on Home.