Simon Parke  
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Winter trees

These beating hearts

Newsletter: January 2021

Dear web friend

Welcome again to my day. And this morning, I gazed on their clothes, piled high; hers on the right of the bed, his on the left. Jumpers she’d knitted, dresses she’d worn, ties he’d accumulated, huge amounts of socks – but neither will wear them again. Since November 21st, both my parents have died; my mother on that date and my father, six weeks later, on December 30th.

My mother was the more unexpected. I suppose we reckoned she would go on forever. It’s sort-of what she did, carry on with jaw-clenched commitment. But after I took her up to see my dad in hospital, and he didn’t recognise her, she declined very quickly, disappearing before our eyes, as if that was that. And two weeks later – at home and surrounded by family – I was holding her hand when her heart, after 93 years of determined beating, finally called it a day. A heart only has so many beats to offer.

Meanwhile, after hospitization due to a bad fall in the street in October, my father passed through various wards in various hospitals and care centres. He survived brain damage, sepsis, a spinal infection and pneumonia on the way; and then he got Covid. Whether this killed him, we don’t yet know; perhaps it was just part of the mix when he was rushed to A&E ‘gurgling’, and died there surrounded by strangers. We hadn’t been able to see him for five weeks.

I sense for them both that they were happy deaths; it was time for them to take their coats and leave, death was a mercy, their lives no longer an adventure; the flame of adventure does die. What was there for my mum if her partner for seventy years didn’t recognise her? And what was there for him to come home to, if his partner of seventy years was not there? When we told him she had died, he said ‘Oh dear’, as if I had spilled the milk. But I suspect these things register in ways and places we know little of. We didn’t see him again.

So maybe a mercy for them, but for those who remain – those of us who sift through their clothes and ponder their furniture, things left behind – it is a severe mercy. A hole is left in the world, a space where we met is vacated; we won’t speak again, the fabric of shared lives torn.

I’ll write of other things another day. But I write of this now, not because it is somehow unique, but because is it somehow universal. Covid has crucified plans too numerous to mention; and for many, with the nails of separation, has crucified good endings.

I sang this song at my mother’s funeral. I didn’t write it for the occasion. But all sleep is a death and every lullaby, a blessing. This is my prayer and wish for them both.

I don’t worry for those who journey on. And for those of us who remain – well, we won’t stop feeling; but follow our hearts into the future; our adventure is not done yet.

Peace to you and yours today. And I leave you with a poem by Robert Frost, called ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’. It is for those of us who remain.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Simon x

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