I never know quite how the day is going to work out, have never known even after all these years whether I will get off lightly or will I be ambushed. All of which confirms for me that losing my only sibling was not about 'getting over it', or ever forgetting him but about mourning however I have needed to at any given time. It is a guiding principle I have adhered to in order to find a way through and around that allows me to think about him peacefully, which I have been able to do for many years now.
Thinking about motherhood too this week, and with sons of my own also in their twenties, I understand even more perspectives as the years go by.
And that old chestnut about 'time being a great healer' which I now realise (and with thanks to Carol Staudacher's book A Time to Grieve for confirming this ) is not necessarily about how much time has passed, but what you do in that time, and about feeling what you feel whenever you need to feel it.
I woke yesterday and was thinking about it all immediately...some years it may be much later in the day, but on a whim I googled the name of Malcolm's consultant who had specialised in leukaemia and bone marrow transplants at the time. Still in practice and now one of the country's leading professors on the subject, and there was an e mail address and I wondered...shall I.
I thought then about those anguished conversations he used to have with us about the risks of bone marrow transplants then very much in their infancy, and how he would lie awake at night as he tried to make those decisions about confronting and taking that risk given that so many of his patients might die anyway. In the end, over the eighteen months he lived after diagnosis (which was made three weeks after he had married,) Malcolm never made it into complete remission, and none of us were a close enough bone marrow match. The risk of graft versus host disease was considered too great at a time when immuno-suppressive drugs were also in their infancy and the transplant couldn't happen.
Then I thought about the letter the consultant wrote to us after Malcolm died and which is in my safe-keeping.
It is dated 18th March 1975, just three days later, and given that March 15th had been a Saturday that impresses me.
He couldn't have written to us any sooner.
But then I notice that his letter is in response to one from my mum and the Tinker who had written to thank him. They must have written to him the same or the next day.
In his reply the consultant says...
..."as must be obvious to you, we will miss him very much indeed as his personality and will to live was an encouragement to us all in, what at times, becomes a very difficult task.
At present it is impossible for you to think of anything but sadness, but I must say to you that we learned a great deal about the management and ultimate control of this very distressing disease from Malcolm's case, and hope that his loss will not be wasted, and he may ultimately have contributed to the cure of leukaemia..."
And ever since, whenever I have read encouraging headlines about improving outcomes for leukaemia, or I hear of people who have been treated successfully for any form of cancer I smile inwardly and happily and think about that letter and that life.
It has taught me never to doubt the power that a letter can have from the day it arrives and for time thereafter. I have often remembered and written letters on the strength of it, and that I may not have written otherwise, so in the end I did send an email yesterday to say thank you...again.
And then today, on March 16th, it is 'sunny' again, and we celebrate the Kayaker's birthday and know that our winter is over and no matter the weather, spring is really here. And something I have also learnt and kept tucked up in my heart, is that those we have lost do live on within families in the quietest, most mysterious and unexpected ways.
I don't know if anyone knows and loves Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley as much as I do, I recommend it far and wide. It can offer solace and comfort to both the children it is meant for but also to the adults who may read it with them...
As Mole, Frog and Fox ponder the skills that dear departed Badger has taught them, Mole speaks for them all...
'As the last of the snow melted. so did the animal's sadness. Whenever Badger's name was mentioned, someone remembered another story that made them all smile.
One warm spring day as Mole was walking on the hillside where he'd last seen Badger, he wanted to thank his friend for his parting gift.
"Thank you, Badger," he said softly. believing that Badger would hear him.
And somehow Badger did.'