My aunt died last week. She had been ill for a long time, although it seemed such a short time ago that she was well. She was only 54 and a very feisty person. Even the nurses realised this. One of them got upset because she wasn’t obeying some sort of hospital rules. But, ever the iconoclast, she said why did she need to obey rules if she was dying. When I had my leaving party for my last full-time job last year, she came along. And while everyone else was saying ‘don’t be bitter’, ‘move on’ or words to that effect [let’s put it this way, I didn’t leave willingly!], my aunt was the one who boomed “Sue the bastards”. Even if it wasn’t the best advice, given the way the world works,it was definitely the kind of thing I wanted to hear at the time. After months of stress, I couldn’t be in the building for more than five minutes without breaking down. I have vowed to never ever let myself get into this situation again. I will walk way, way before this next time. Part of the problem was that I was pregnant when things started going wrong and I’d heard too many bad stories about people trying to find work when pregnant. Also I had a “flexible” agreement with the company and I liked my job. I didn’t think it would be possible to get that kind of flexibility in a new job and I simply didn’t have much time to look between balancing a demanding job and having three young children. Now, though, I think there are more possibilities and many employers are realising how much working mothers have to offer.
My aunt had got out of the rat race a long time before – she had set herself up as a chiropodist, working from home. She was very clear on what was important in life. “Bastards” definitely weren’t important. Sitting by her bed at the hospice focused the mind. The last two weeks she was asleep, breathing loudly. We were just waiting for a change in the way the breath went in and out. There’s something oddly calming about listening to breathing, even in these conditions. It makes all the rushing around seem so ridiculous. Everything just boils down to breathing, in and out, in and out.
This week I have been cuddling up toddler daughter who has been refusing to go to bed at all, except with mummy. It seems such a small thing, to lie there for 15 minutes or so – okay, half an hour; the first 15 minutes are taken up with chatting – and listen to her drift off to the heavy breathing of sleep, but all the time I’m thinking of all the work I have to do and making lists in my head. It’s amazing the kind of planning you can do in contorted positions and odd places. We were driving along at the weekend and bonkers daughter announced excitedly that she was having a dream. I said how fantastic daydreams are as you can kind of control them and dream of nice things and she said she was dreaming of hairy spiders crawling all over her face and someone squashing them into her face with a rolling pin and then another person with gloves on peeling them off. Not really the kind of daydream I had in mind. Sadly, my daydreams at the moment amount to planning the holiday cover and when I’m going to ever get round to getting the phone system fixed.
In the middle of all this dreaming and not sleeping, I have been rebuilding my computer files after the whole thing collapsed and we had to wipe everything off it and start again. I am not a technical person. My partner is not a technical person. Hippy daughter is the closest thing we have to a technical person in our family and she is only good on mobile phone games. I didn’t even know my mobile had games on it. I have spent hours – nay, days – installing, uninstalling and reinstalling every programme under the sun. I have to admit that it has been noted that I have been not in the best of moods all week. I’m sure my aunt would have kicked the computer into touch and done something much more enjoyable instead.