When I was 17 years old, my Nan died. She was very old (97) and in many ways her death was welcome - she’d been suffering from Alzheimers disease for several years, probably longer. Her death affected me in strange ways, mostly because she’d lived with us for my whole life to that point. As she fell into infirmity, my mother had more or less sacrificed her own life to take care of her, or so it seemed to me.
My mum asked me to play my violin at the funeral. In my youth I was an accomplished violinist, and this was at the height of my musical career. After I left school a year or so later, I began a gradual and accelerating decline.
But let’s not dwell on that. Mum wanted me to play at her mother’s funeral, and as far as I was concerned there was no-one else whose thoughts on the subject mattered at all. Of course I would play.
On the eve of the funeral, my then girlfriend, Anne Marie, called and ended our 1+ year relationship - my first serious relationship. I was devastated. I went out with my good friend Andrew to the pub and drank away the crazy incomprehensible pile of wrong.
I played the last movement of Bach’s Sonata for solo violin in A minor. I killed it (so to speak). My violin wept for us all and our short, pitiful existences. It was perhaps the darkest moment of my life to date, mourning a death, confronting my own rejection and inevitable loneliness, and all in the grip of a callous pulsating hangover. If you know the piece, you’ll understand how perfect it was.
Today I found out that my mum is most likely dying. We don’t know a lot yet, but what we do know is very bad. Tonight, a lot of memories have been bubbling up into my thoughts. I had forgotten about that performance I gave way back when, but it somehow captures in a single memory the challenge that’s before me.
I don’t mean to understate the challenge that’s before my sister, and oh god, my poor frightened mum. But I can’t be inside their heads.
On Sunday I fly home to Leeds.