From my university days onwards, the distance between us meant I’d only see my parents three or four times a year, and then for just a few days at a time. That was usually enough because we tended to slip into old patterns of behaviour: the picky, argumentative parents and the touchy, truculent child. We loved each other best in small doses.
It was the same but different with my mother-in-law. She’d already moved to Aberystwyth to be closer to us, but she also kept her life separate. She had her own interests and her own friends. Our worlds never fit very comfortably together, and she had a knack of saying things that wound me up a treat. She liked to get a reaction and I bit a little too easily.
Things began to change for our family when my wife’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s an aggressive disease, shocking in its speed. I acted as her primary* carer in the last few months of the illness and it shook me to the core. In that time I came to re-evaluate her as a person, I re-evaluated (and damned) myself as well and, between the two of us, my wife and I did all we could to make her feel as comfortable and as happy as possible.
We weren’t too late, thankfully. Our familial relationship bound tighter during those months and she passed away knowing she was loved, she was valued, and that she would be mourned by us all. But there were regrets. Things that were never said. Opportunities we’d missed.
My own parents have moved up here now, just a few miles away. They’re perfectly fit and healthy for their age, but I think we all realised that sooner was better. You just don’t know how much time you’re going to have. We pop over to the new house two or three times a week now. At first I feared there’d only be a short honeymoon period and then we’d slip back into our old patterns again, but months have passed and it just hasn’t happened.
Facing mortality changed us all. It certainly gave me a new perspective. The fact that they’ve finally left my childhood home also helps, I think. There are no lingering memories in the architecture, no echoes of the old neighbourhood. When we visit them we are partially in their territory but they are also partially in ours. (Their new home is in the first village we lived in when we moved to Wales.)
Mainly though, I think it’s because we’re making time for each other.
It’s been absolutely wonderful to reengage in each other’s lives, adult to adult and, increasingly, as close friends. There are hundreds of inconsequential moments (lunches shared, tele watched, darts matches together at the local pub) which have helped weave us closer together, but I’ve also had more conversations – meaningful conversations – with my parents than I think I ever have before.
When I began this post I thought it was going to be about editing. That’s what you’re all here for. That’s why I began this blog. I’m sorry if you feel let down today. I’d planned to compare and contrast the ways parents communicate (and sometimes mis-communicate) with their children to the way editors can build (or utterly wreck) their relationships with writers. I guess the background context is still too raw, too present in my life to just skip over. I owe our parents more than that.
I’ll dig deeper into the editorial side on my next post, but I’ll leave you with a nugget to take away in conclusion. It’s applicable to life and editing in equal amounts:
It’s not enough to have generally good intentions, it’s not enough to spot the flaws in others and tell them where they’re going wrong. Look to yourself first and think. Everybody makes a hash of things from time to time BUT – with a little bit of reflection, with patience and true consideration for others, and by putting in some proper, quality time – you can always make things better.
So go and do just that.
Don’t put it off.
*During this period of time we received tremendous support from the NHS and from the Hospice At Home Aberystwyth Volunteers. I really can’t praise them enough. Any and every donation to their cause would be very much appreciated. Help them to help other families by donating here or please give to your own local equivalent. Also of huge value were Pancreatic Cancer UK. Any donations there would be most appreciated. Thank you.