I remember asking my English teacher at school what the word “juxtaposition” meant and she told me it was a way of using two different and contrasting ideas so that both would be highlighted by each other. They were strong ideas apart, but put them side by side and they served to make the other more memorable.
I haven’t thought about this in some years but this morning it occurred to me that the last two days of my life have been just that. They couldn’t be much more different to each other, both in their own ways very memorable but boy, did they serve to contrast and highlight each other.
On Thursday I went to Manchester to the NHS Health and Care Innovation Expo. The group that I’ve been working with this year “Making Families Count” were finalists in the Kate Granger award for Compassionate Care. Just to make sure you don’t fast forward through the next part of this blog to find out – no, we didn’t win. We were runners up to an excellent children’s cancer initiative in West Sussex, Harvey’s Gang.
It was my first time at anything like this and the closest I think I’ve ever been something on this scale was when my daughter and I went to the BBC Good Food Bakes. The whole building was laid out in such a similar fashion that I was almost expecting to hear Mary Berry’s dulcet tones resonating from a distant “stage area”, but instead I was baffled and buffeted by huge crowds and hundreds of stands promoting heart monitors, alternative therapies, patient events, lectures and seminars of all descriptions. It might have looked like Good Food Bakes, but it was very, very different.
The only thing I really wanted to see (apart from the awards ceremony of course) was the seminar on the future of care of people with learning disabilities, which I missed as for most of my time there I didn’t have to clue where I was, where I was going or what I was meant to be doing when I got there!
The photos make me look relaxed, confident, happy and smiling but that really wasn’t the way I felt (note to self, must wear flats next time). I was out of my depth and in a strange and foreign land. I clung onto the rest of my team and went where they went and did what they did. I had no choice but to be extremely “close” to them in the awards area, as the seating was do tightly packed together they seemed to have been expecting an audience of very thin people with no arms.
OK, so we didn’t win, but hundreds of people heard the story of “Making Families Count”, how we came to be and what we hope to do in the future and we had lots of great feedback, some of which will hopefully turn into funding so we can reach even more people across the NHS. Treating families with compassion, care and outstandingly good attention after a death in care isn’t a jolly subject and our photos were most definitely not as cute as the winners were, but as you can imagine, it’s a subject I’m pretty evangelical about. So we’ll get there, and in the meantime I’m very grateful and proud to have been finalists.
I got to spend the day as a real “grown up”. I talked and was listened to, people were interested in my ideas and I felt valued. I felt like someone worth listening to. I walked with my head high. I came away from the day exhausted but very positive.
The next day, Friday, was the day that we packed up my childhood home and moved my brother into his first ever independent flat. I have no doubt that many people of my age have the experience of having to pack up, clean and sell their childhood home – their parent’s home. I’m sure that many find it difficult. So what is it like to pack up and clean a childhood home full of traumatic memories, full of pain and anger and issues which now will forever remain unresolved?
Well, it’s not great.
It wasn’t supposed to be about me anyway. This was all about supporting my brother on this desperately difficult day for him. He had moved into that house as a child and now as a 60 year old man he was moving out and moving into his own home for the first time. His support team for the move was me, my MN and our lovely daughter, plus 4 of his friends from the church. We were all needed. It’s a big house with a LOT of rooms. I took on the role of tea/coffee maker and cleaner. The tea and coffee part was pretty easy; the cleaning part was not.
All the cleaning gave me probably a bit too much time to think. While chaos and constant movement raged around me, I grimly moved from room to room dealing with the dust of ages. After lunch my daughter joined me, doing battle with the ancient hoover. We could only guess at when some of the carpets were last hoovered as not all the house has been lived in for some years. Finally I broke down in tears, overcome by the strength of emotion that having to go into each corner of each room was creating.
I struggled to explain to my daughter why I was so upset. She thought it was because I was finally leaving the house forever, but it wasn’t that. I told her that I was overcome by the feelings of sadness and regret for all that had happened in that house. Regret that I couldn’t protect those I loved, not even protect myself. Regret for all the misery I had caused and all the frightful scenes that had played out there. I sobbed as I told her how my mother had arrived to live in that house so very happy, so delighted to have her dream house, so full of hopes and dreams for the wonderful life we were going to have there and how dreadfully sad I was for her thinking about the reality.
She heard me out and then gently started telling me stories of when she had lived there. All the happy children stories of her wonderful life in her grandparent’s house and particularly of the constant love and loveliness that was my mother, her beloved grandmother. She showed me places where she and Nico had shared fun, love, laughter and happy family times. For her, every room held a memory of her grandmother’s love, wisdom and support. Every room was that safe and loving childhood which had her grandmother, grandfather and loving uncle had helped to give her, standing strong with her against whatever the world might bring.
And I realised that there is more than one version of the truth. My unhappy childhood had faded away with each change of wallpaper and had been replaced by the very happy childhood that my own children shared there. Nico adored every moment he spent in that house and so did my daughter. I saw the house for the first time through her eyes and I realised then that the walls of that house held far, far more than just one story.
At the end of the day we met the new family who have bought the house. Dad, mum and their two little children; a boy and a girl. They were so thrilled and excited to have arrived in their dream home and I watched the little girl run into the beautiful garden which would be such a big part of her childhood now.
We closed the door behind us for the final time. I heard the page turn and the next chapter for this house had begun.