Eight years ago I went to the best - and the worst - party I think I'll ever go to. Hard to imagine something so beautiful could, in fact, be one of the most painful evenings of my life.
It was a small gathering, just my parents and me, together in a small space, holding hands, laughing, crying, reminiscing, deliberating. So much discussion with, in fact, so few words.
We remembered family holidays - those camping trips in the 70's which were our own version of Emma Kennedy's The Tent, The Bucket and Me. My Dad would pack EVERYTHING into Mum's Mini, the tent taking up the whole boot, the car filled to the rafters with everything else. He would build me a seat on top of a few boxes and then pack the car around me! And we'd be off, 'up north' with several other families to a campsite (I use that term VERY loosely - my memory is that it was simply a field with one downpipe on the edge of a forest and near a VERY cold stream that we washed in - if we had to!). Oh my, what fun we all had, though!
We laughed and remembered funny incidents..."D'you remember when Dad...?" "What about the time when....?" You know the type of thing.
We went 'travelling' together that night, remembering trips to the Algarve, Mallorca, France (remember, Mum, when you forgot what side of the road to drive on in Bordeaux and found yourself faced with three lanes of traffic heading your way?!!), me recounting my solo trips to France as a teenager and then my round-the-world travels after university, which then led to questions - I was so independent, how was that for you as my parents? How could you, Mum, feel comfortable with me doing that? How could you let me? At the time my daughter was 18 months old. I could barely cope with being away from her for the working day, let alone imagine her travelling the world as a young woman on her own. Really? Was I going to be able to do that for her? My Mum, with her usual strength of conviction, told me I would, that I would just know when the time was right for that to happen. That I would be able to give my girl the wings she needed, like she had given me, and it would be right. I'm still not sure I wholly believe her but I'm holding her words in my heart and trusting that she will be right.
And so it went on, our evening of extreme loveliness, heads together, remembering, imagining, dreaming and waiting. Waiting for the inevitable end that was coming but that none of us wanted to accept.
At the end of the evening, Mum said, quite clearly, "Thank you for coming to my party". The three of us squeezed hands and did our best to smile, despite the tears streaming down our faces.
My mum was at the end of her life.
This party was the last that we would share in person.
And it was beautiful.