Back in February I wrote, here, about time spent reviewing some of my “small data” from 2007. There were tens of thousands of words drafted in password-protected documents, and hundreds of photos taken on our first digital camera. Reviewing them for the first time in many years occupied several hours of my time. One of the news items that I made a note of back in 2007, and which I re-read for the first time in over ten years, has been on my mind throughout the last ten months. I have thought about it most days.
The news item concerned a Labour MP, Fiona Jones, who died aged 49 in January 2007. The cause of death was given as “alcoholic liver disease”. You can read her obituary here, and it was this piece by Patrick Barkham that caught my eye all those years ago, in the Guardian’s print edition. Here’s how I summarized it, in among the thousands of words I was writing about our day-to-day lives. It’s an example of text that I wrote for myself, not intended for publication, drafted but not finalized:
The main story in G2 is about Fiona Jones, Labour MP from 1997-2001 who died last week, from alcoholism essentially. Her last days were spent just drinking and sleeping. She has children of 14 and 17, and her husband [Chris] said that in the end they got used to their new life – her drinking and sleeping, and then dying. She had to fight a court case over electoral fraud in 1999. She lost the case but won on appeal. Without it she might have kept her seat in 2001, but the Tories won and she was out of politics. Here’s the final paragraph of the article, which I’ve saved in my usual folder [Back in 2007 I used to save the text of articles that interested me, in case they became unavailable online].
When Chris tried to get his wife to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings she refused because she feared being recognised. By the end, she was just drinking and sleeping, nursed by her husband and her two sons, now teenagers. “It sounds odd, but sadly we had got used to that kind of thing,” he says.
It’s that last quote (“we had got used that kind of thing”) and the image of a mother being nursed by her husband and sons, “just drinking and sleeping” until she died, that have stayed with me. They weren’t lodged in my mind back in 2007, but they are now. They represent one family’s version of normal life, for a few weeks or months at least.
At the end of August, on Bank Holiday Monday, I visited a cousin who had given up her job and put her life on hold to take care of her mother, bed-bound after many years with Parkinson’s Disease. The nights were bad. My cousin hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for months. We didn’t know whether her mother would make it to the end of September, or last another year. In the meantime my cousin’s version of normal life was round-the-clock care for her bed-bound mother. She felt that trying to move her to any kind of care home would shorten her life.
Last week, in this piece about Boxing Day, I mentioned that my brother had to return home to Spain earlier than planned. His father-in-law, who had spent most of the last 15 years in a wheelchair after a severe stroke, and had long ago lost the power of speech, had taken a turn for the worse. He had been in hospital since November. For over 15 years before that he had mostly been cared for at home. For my brother, his wife, her sisters and other members of her family, normal life since 2003 has involved caring for an elderly relative who could no longer look after himself.
We heard from my cousin a few days ago. Her mother died on Christmas Day. No news yet about when the funeral will be. My brother’s father-in-law died two days ago (Saturday 29 December). The funeral was yesterday. For many members of my family day-to-day life in 2019 will be very different from day-to-day life in 2018. Their version of normal has already changed dramatically.