2012, the allegedly apocalyptic year, did get off to a grim start for us. While my family continued to mourn my Uncle Dougie, my Aunt Marion and my cousin Alex having to face the harsh daily grind of grief, Robin’s family were confronted with a death with reverberations throughout generations when his much loved grandmother, Joan’s mum Marjorie, died suddenly after a brief hospitilisation.
Marjorie Williams, always known as Madge, may have been 89 but her death was unexpected and a very great blow to her family. Robin’s cousins Yvonne and Alison were particularly close to her, as were Yvonne’s children Scott and Katie. Madge, who had attended our wedding and Andy and Katy’s last year, had been very active right until the last few months of her life and had a huge circle of friends. Her funeral at Paisley Crematorium was busy, a fitting testament to her popularity and a proper celebration of a life richly lived; one replete with family, friends and neighbours. It was a sad day and, thanks to some terrible but unavoidable timing, a painful birthday for Robin’s mother Joan.
I was too tired after that trip to be able to make it through to Glasgow the following evening. We had intended to attend a memorial tribute for the distinguished Scottish architect Isi Metzstein at Glasgow University. Isi had also died earlier in January (The Scotsman obituary of Isi Metsztein by his son Saul), Isi was immensely respected throughout the international architectural community and also hugely liked, especially amongst Scottish architects, many of whom he had taught with his design partner Professor Andy MacMillan. Through my work with the RIAS Robin and I had been fortunate to meet Isi and Andy and their respective spouses Dany and Angela several times over recent years and we were disappointed we didn’t make it through to ‘Toast to Isi’ to pay our respects.
This past month seemed to be filled with news of tragic deaths, too many to properly note here. During a visit Neil noted that a doctor friend had told him this surge of deaths in early January was an established medical phenomenon, one anecdotally believed to be due to people “holding off” dying until after the festive season. Whatever the reason these first days of 2012 have been a period of sombre reflection, a sorrow which was compounded towards the end of the month when I heard of the death of Mary McDermott, the mother of childhood friends, an excellent teacher, an inspirational activist and a woman who made a big impact on my life. Before she and her sister Ellen emigrated to Canada they taught me that you are never too young to be introduced to political awareness. Strong woman, who forged careers alongside motherhood, their example means I have never shirked from calling myself a feminist (as so many young women now inexplicably do). Mary was only 64 when she died and her family are heartbroken.
Despite such striking reminders that “in the midst of life we are in death” I haven’t felt overwhelmed by a sense of mortality or impending doom, although as an atheist I am mindful of the challenge of a non-religious requiem (and yes I am aware that the pedantic may consider that phrase to be an oxymoron). Robin and I are not ones to dodge harsh reality but we have always procrastinated that particular conversation. In fact its not so much the elephant in the room as the elephant in the room next door because right now we are very fixed on living and looking forward.
As usual I am writing this blog at the end of the month. I’ve just taken the last Sutent pills of this second cycle, again at the maximum 50mg dosage. The side effects have been bearable although over this last week the fatigue has been quite extreme. The balance however is still very firmly tipped towards good, nay great, quality of life. I may have days when I am drained, when I wince at the bathroom sink filling with blood every time I gingerly brush my teeth with a soft toothbrush and baby toothpaste, when digestive mayhem has me practically tethered to the toilet or random light fevers have me shivering under a gigantic duvet for fourteen hours but I have never doubted that what constitutes that good quality is having someone I love so much in my life, always at my side.
So what if I am inert quite a lot of the time… I may not have the energy to do much but it is not only easy it is downright wonderful to while away so many hours with my adorable husband, chatting, laughing, watching movies, debating politics and just being together. We don’t need a Bucket List. Every hour I spend with him is better than any fancy restaurant, summit view or spectacular sunset.
It’s Robin’s birthday tomorrow (or rather, considering the late hour, today.) I am a rubbish wife. Even with all this time on my hands I haven’t thought of an ideal gift to get him. He won’t care. He will tell me that his perfect present is spending time with me. He makes me feel valued in a way which enriches my life so much it makes cancer seem feeble. I love him with a strength which cancer cannot touch. So, even though so many people feel sorry for us just now, and even though in matters of spirituality I am one great big black hole, I nonetheless think we are truly blessed.
Mary McDermott’s daughter Kirsty told me the other day that her mum would say “live, laugh, paint, dance and sing, every day” which I think is a pretty unbeatable philosophy and one which I reckon, thank you Mary, will see me through to the end of my days. I predict many more to come. Thankfully Robin doesn’t mind if I sing off-key.