It began before I was born. In the summer of 1972 my Dad was away, serving as infantry in Northern Ireland. She began speaking to me then, as I grew in the womb-dark waters.
She used to tell me the story of taking me out for tea when I was two and a half, and how I would sit and talk, like a grown-up. When Dad was away, I listened, heard her concerns, passed the tissues. When I was confused by friendship issues at school or consumed by existential angst (ever the thinker) she would counsel. She was the first person I spoke to about the girl I was crushing on. She was the one I went to with all the questions. We used to talk for hours about everything.
I married young, but we still spoke often, usually on the phone, or out for coffee. As I grew into my skin, I would find the closeness stifling and seek to create my own story, though the strands of our lives remained closely woven.
The ability to share your thoughts with another is a great gift, to have a secret-sharer. It wasn’t perfect, she had her own values and norms, and my own life didn’t always match those, sometimes I held back, but for the most part, for almost four decades we spoke often and deeply. She never had many friends and so I gave the same in return, hearing her story, sharing the journey.
When I met my second husband, aged forty, there was a pause. My parents wanted to give us time to get to know each other. I am grateful for this.
While I was busy blending lives and families, something changed. So that when I emerged from courtship and wedding preparations, I found her different. I would ring to talk and, after a few minutes she would ring off, she no longer called and I assumed some offence was felt, though could not place the cause. I missed the space to share, the time to open my soul safely with another.
Her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and subsequent dementia, began to puzzle the pieces together.
It is perhaps five years now since we talked freely. That conversation, forty years long, ended, and I didn’t notice the ending. The loss of it leaves me rudderless, compass-broken, North Star cloud-shrouded. I find it interesting that, as I write, in the moment of realisation, I have lost my voice. It is as though my body is telling me truths my mind couldn’t grasp.
I am tearful, mourning the loss without realisation, the passing of this fundamental part of life while I was otherwise occupied. There is a void there, a foreshadowing of life when she is no longer here.
We continue to talk; minutiae, incidentals, the strangeness of cats and marvel of flowers. Small wonders.
I need time both to feel the loss and celebrate the gift of knowing true conversation. In the meantime, I stand at night and whisper secrets to the moon and stars, or, by the shore, and tell the sea my dreams.