The Red Sweater

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time” ~ Banksy

He had been dreading the visit for days.  He walked through the park with his daughter thinking of  ways he could bail out. He could remember an urgent business appointment. He could feign a sneeze, a temperature and cancel on the basis that he was a potential health hazard. If only his phone would ring, damn he should have arranged for his secretary to call him back the the office with some pseudo emergency. It was too late, they approached the park gates and the care home that stood beyond where his mother had been resident for some time. Slowly this vibrant, funny and independent woman was losing herself to the dark and relentless onslaught of dementia. His weekly visits grew bleak as she forgot  aspects of their life and relationship, their history, and most recently, who he was to her, convinced that her son never visited. His daughter, expecting her first child, always accompanied him. She spoke gently to her grandmother of simple things; the view from the window, the weather. She showed her pictures of her unborn child and discussed what names they liked best. She did not press her grandmother to remember, she held her hand and chatted, brushed her hair or read from a magazine. As they approached the exit to the park he saw her. She sat on the park bench knitting a red sweater for a baby. She looked up and smiled, he thought he saw recognition in her eyes.

She loved her grandmother dearly and was heartbroken she would never know her son, but she was determined to stay strong, for all of them.  Her dad was struggling.  She was witness to pain and frustration as he tried to get his mother to recognise him, was shocked by how frantic her grandmother  became at his persistent questioning that would end with him storming upset from the room.  She learned to alleviate the tension and calm her grandmother.  Dad got sent for coffee leaving them to sit and chat about every day things. She discovered that her grandmother would watch birds and could tell her the breeds. She named her favourites  Cheeky, Skittish and Greedyboy. It was a memory as yet untouched by this grim disease, an oasis in a slowly encroaching desert. One day her grandmother had placed her hand on her bump and told her how she had child but he never visited. Her dad had got up and left. It had been his last visit and several weeks had passed. She had to persuade her dad to come with her today, had begged and pleaded as only a daughter can. As they walked through the park she gave his hand a squeeze.  Her grandmother sat on the bench near the exit to the park. She was busy knitting a red sweater for her unborn son. They had picked out a pattern last week when they had flicked through a magazine. She never imagined that her grandmother would actually take up her needles and begin to knit.

It’s bright today, I’ll go out. I need real light to see the stitches, its too dark in here. I wonder if the girl will come. I like the way she brushes my hair, like my mother used to when I was young. I think this is for her. I think its for her boy….. or my boy?… yes my boy. I’m knitting this for my boy. Red was always his favourite colour. He wanted to be a fireman, I remember…my boy. Here, this bench will do. I can watch the birds from here. I’ll sit here a while and knit this sweater for my boy. He’ll be here soon…

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Lost and Found.

The only thing I had of my mothers when she died was a ring. It was gold, set with garnets and was given to her by my father as an eternity ring. I wore it occasionally and people would often comment on it, but it wasn’t really my style, I kept it for sentimental reasons. One day I realised it was missing. What concerned me, what caused me such remorse, was that I couldn’t remember the last time I had it or how it could have been lost. I felt that I could not have loved her enough.

She stopped wearing the ring a long time ago; in truth I can’t remember her ever wearing it. It got too small for her finger and she couldn’t afford to have the necessary adjustments made, but it was the only possession I had of hers after she died, the only corporeal object I had to connect me to her, at least that’s what I thought until I discovered her diaries

She began to write a diary following the death of my father. They explored her feelings of loss, guilt, depression and despair. They expressed concern for her children, love for her grandchildren but mostly an, aching, insatiable desire to be with her husband again. 11 years after her death they are still a tough read because they expose a side to my mother that she rarely showed her family. If the ring represented her earthly body; solid, beautiful and precious, the diaries were surely her soul laid bare.

How I wish she had shared those feelings with me, written so honestly and openly in the pages of her diary. I could have given her comfort, told her that I understood, reassured her that those terrible, difficult and lonely decisions she had to make when Dad was dying were the right decisions.

On reflection, I lost a ring but I discovered something more precious. Writing can be cathartic, can provide immediate release from negativity and darkness, but sharing your feelings with those who love you, this is how to heal.

The Letter

It was clear that it was too late for her. However much she had meant to him, she had burnt those bridges. Bridges made of paper.

It was type written, as if he didn’t trust his hand not to shake and give away the emotion. The words were cool, well thought out. A methodical goodbye.

He left no forwarding address, no number. Cutting the umbilical all over again, but this time there was no joy.

He signed off with no expression of love, no softness, no chink in the armour.

The letter was the only thing we found on her when the body was brought in. A Jane Doe found in a back alley, all curled up in childs pose, syringe still embedded. Eyes wide, searching for him.