In the next room

If my mother was alive today she would be celebrating her birthday. Chances are we’d have caught up for lunch or dinner over the weekend and shared in a few bottles of wine.

She’s not alive and so tonight I’m celebrating it quietly with Donna, who was very fond of mum and always mindful of these anniversaries. It’s nice to do something for it. Mum would approve.

We’re going to a Vietnamese restaurant in Collins street called Uncle, well reviewed and said to have excellent cocktails – something else mum would give a big tick to. We’ll remember mum and share a few stories before moving on to our own stories. It’s something I look forward to. I don’t get out nearly as much as I used to, and it’s become a treat. I look forward to the excellent food, a cocktail I can’t afford, but will justify, and of course the conversation, which is always fun. For a little while I’ll feel different.

I’ve written about mum a lot here. If I was to be purely objective I’d say it has been an interesting exercise losing a much loved parent. I find that interesting, and much of that I’ve articulated here before. There is another piece of it I’ve never written of, and which I only formulated to myself the other day.

My mum is dead, my father is estranged, and my sister is a ratbag. There is no family in my life in general, and certainly no-one from those formative years when I was growing up. What that means is that when I look back to that time it is entirely self-referential. I don’t have access to other perspectives or memories. There is no-one I can question about the fragments of memories that return to me randomly. Living like this is like reading from a book you have written yourself. Not only are other dimensions missing, but it makes you feel solitary. That’s as it is, though.

Just in reference to mum I was doing some spring cleaning recently going through boxes when a slip of paper fluttered from one. It was a copy of the poem mum had read at her funeral. I remember her selecting it. When she knew she was dying a lot of thought and planning went into her funeral, and the things around it. I remember one Sunday going over to her place and sorting through things in preparation for it. It was a lovely day, and surprisingly upbeat.

Of course it happened, she died, and none of it was easy. And so the poem fluttering out was a surprise and, as so often these things do, felt meaningful. It’s her birthday, so let me reprint it here – perhaps, after all, it’s true:

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ. (This part was omitted from the reading).

– Henry Scott Holland

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