The Milkman can Sod Off
Just because your house has burnt down doesn’t mean your wife won’t run off with the milkman.
That’s what my dad used to say. It means that just because life gets really terrible, it can always get worse.
That makes him sound like a miserable old bugger, doesn’t it? He wasn’t, though. Not at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. He was the most cheerful, witty man before he got poorly. A bit flippant, perhaps. Didn’t always ‘pepper’ his observations. Becki came up with that terminology when she was trying to teach me how to be less offensive; you just need a sprinkling of delicate words, Louise. There are more sensitive ways of getting your point across. Dad had never received the benefit of her insightful advice, though. He just said what he wanted to say and got on with it.
I’d never actually heard dad say this, though. Jayne recounted his words when mum was finally delivered her fateful diagnosis. Because we never thought she would die, too. Because that’s not fair. We’d been through enough already. We had learnt too many life lessons from what we had been through with dad’s suicide. There were no more important messages that could be gleaned from mum dying, as well. But just as dad’s ominous words had told us many years earlier, things can always get worse.
We were already kind to each other in the knowledge that life could just be snatched away. We were already grateful for everything we had. We already loved each other and valued our mum more than anything in the world. As far as any normal, functioning young family could, we had learnt to forgive each other and lay feuds to rest. When mum got ill there was just no bigger ‘point’ to it. Life was just being deliberately spiteful.
At the back of my mind when the doctors came up with a petty diagnosis that didn’t accord with mum’s pain, I thought,OK. Maybe you’re right. Maybe she screams in pain because she’s developed overnight irritable bowel syndrome? Maybe it’s that, because it can’t be anything worse because that’s not fair. We’ve been through enough already. I want to agree with you, doctor. Because the world isn’t just futile, surely?
But the doctors were wrong. I knew with my sensible mind that they were wrong and mum was really ill. But in my mistaken trust that life was just and equitable, I allowed myself to believe that they could be correct. She may just have had a nasty tummy ache.
After mum died people told me that the pain would ease. I wanted to tell them to fuck off because I knew that already. At my grand old age of 22 I fucking knew all of the bastard clichés because I was already a reluctant, returning passenger on the train to complete devastation. The melancholic route had been callously etched into my very being. I could relay the ache of every twist and turn. I knew the pain would ease. But I also knew my mum was dead and I would miss her every single day for the rest of my life.
People told me to be grateful that she wasn’t in pain any more. I wanted to scream at them all to go fuck themselves because I wasn’t grateful. I would never be grateful. My beautiful mum had died and we, her children knew her better than anyone; she would suffer all the pain in the world if she could look after us just a bit longer. We were her everything. Today and every day I will never be grateful that she’s not here. And that’s OK.
I realised then and I realise now that people don’t know what to say. Because there was nothing they could say. Our lives had been decimated. So I would smile a meek smile and thank them for their well-meaning words. And I am forever indebted to them for being strong and kind enough to say anything.
Today we’re still practicing the reality that life has cruelly lectured time and time again: we aren’t safe from life’s blows just because we’ve already had a few. There is no deal to be struck with the universe. Life is not going to fairly distribute the trauma. Other people have been through worse, and we are the lucky ones.
I am so thankful that mum and dad bought us up the way we are; happy for today and each other, because we don’t know what’s around the corner.
When mum died we looked after each other. We were and are kind to each other. We try to have a ‘no-guilt’ policy: if one of us is late, or isn’t able to make a family get together or can’t help out, it’s OK. Life gets busy. We’ll have a brilliant time next time.
So the milkman can sod off. We’ll make the most of whatever life throws at us. Because that’s what we do.