Monday 14 June 2021
In little more than a year, the year of the pandemic, Anand Menon lost his mother, father, brother and sister. Here, he speaks to James Harding about the burden of grief
To donate to the Marie Curie Hospice in Edinburgh, please visit Anand’s Just Giving page here.
James Harding: Sometime last year – it’s funny, isn’t it – in this lockdown blurring of time, you can’t remember exactly what happened when, but sometime last year I called Anand Menon to ask him to write for us at Tortoise. He’s a professor of politics and foreign affairs, and he runs the think tank UK in a Changing Europe.
I’d like to say he’s the most granular and rational thinker about Brexit in the country. And so I was trying to cajole him into writing about the culture of British politics since the EU referendum, about what place Britain might hold in the world now. He said he’d be happy to and so I was delighted and just as I was about to thank him and finish up the call, he said, I’ve been wondering whether I should write about one other thing.
I lost my whole family in the course of the last year.
Anand Menon: It took me about 10 months.
James: Did it?
Anand: To get it out of my chest.
Anand: Yeah, it really did. So even eight, nine months after, if I went for a run, I got a pain.
James: But you were early, weren’t you?
Anand: Yeah, so March.
James: And do you know how you got it?
Anand: Well, I’m pretty sure I got it in parliament.
James: Anand was laid low with Covid-19 in March, 2020 – but this isn’t a story about Covid.
It’s against the backdrop of Covid. This is a story about grief, about loss.
Anand: The train from Wakefield was 15 minutes outside Oxford. It had been an exhausting week. We had run a couple of large conferences. I’d given evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the EU committee. I was just starting interviews for a Radio 4 documentary comparing and contrasting the Dreyfus affair with Brexit. And I’d had to come up to my home town for what had been an enormously difficult and stressful day.
James: Anand is on the train home, having just been to a coroners inquest. He’s clutching a note. His mind full of anything but the coronavirus.
Anand: And yet I was wide awake, staring at a piece of paper in my hand. Suddenly, I started to shiver uncontrollably. It was 19th March 2020. My son Samuel picked me up and drove me the ten minutes home. I headed straight upstairs, dumped my stuff somewhere and went to bed, where I remained for two weeks: a Covid early adopter.
I was halfway into the most difficult year of my life.
James: Last week we published our regular book: the Tortoise Quarterly. This edition was called Homemade and in it, we carried a piece by Anand, about a year in his life. We put it up online. It was called ‘The missing note’. The response we got was just breathtaking. Wave after wave of moved readers. It was a powerful piece that revealed so much about Anand’s own courage in writing it.
And perhaps the response said as much about the state we’re in. About how much fear, frailty and loss we’re living with. And so I wanted to go and see him. In part, just to thank him for writing a catalogue of loss that frankly just doesn’t seem natural. And to hear his story, told by him.
Anand: So that’s my mum and dad.
James: Let’s see.
Anand: With his fag, bloody hell.
James: Smoking doctor. So, where is that? Do you know?
Anand: That would have been in, that’s here, isn’t it? That would have been in Stockton. Stockton-on-Tees. He’s still got his fag, look, it’s outrageous.
James: Did he smoke his whole life?
Anand: He stopped when he was about 50.
James: And your brother and sister were born in India.
Anand: My parents came here in ‘61 and left my brother and sister with family there, which is a very Indian thing. And the plan was to come over here for a year. And actually one of the curious things is my dad was applying in the meantime for sort of senior jobs in India and was getting confronted with this sort of inverse snobbery about, well, ‘if you’ve gone to England and we don’t want you in our hospitals, thank you very much’. It’s just a real sort of funny Indian thing going on.
So he got a job here, so we stayed. His big job, the job he had most of my life, was in Dewsbury General.
James: And that’s where you grew up?
Anand: So we lived in Wakefield, so just down the road.
James: Got it. There they are on the Great Wall of China. Here she is, what it looks like, a European train carriage reading Good Housekeeping.
Anand: I know.
James: Beautiful, isn’t she? Was she famously sort of beautiful, was that a thing that people said about her?
Anand: She was my mum, I don’t know.
James: So who’s this whole group?
Anand: So that’s my brother and sister, that’s my mum’s sister. Next sister down, that is her husband. I have no idea who those three are, I have to say, this is what I need my parents for – to point out Indian relatives.
James: Look at that, and there’s your father. That’s your father, is it? With the cine-camera.
James: And it’s amazing, isn’t it, that’s traveling. He’s obviously –
Anand: Can you name that bridge?
James: No, I can’t name it.
Anand: I’m rubbish at things like bridges.
James: I don’t know which one it is, but he’s obviously on a boat. The thing that’s extraordinary about him is also, full suit and tie.
Anand: Well, this was then. So this was in the sixties.
James: I’m James Harding. You’re listening to the Slow Newscast. This week, it’s a story of and about grief: the missing note.
Anand: My dad had been ill for a while. The last time I clearly remember him up and about and well was in India in December 2013, when our extended family gathered in Madras to celebrate both his 90th birthday and my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. Thereafter, he declined, first to a wheelchair, then to bed and ultimately unable to communicate except with his eyes.
My brother Gopi called us late one Saturday night in July, to say Dad’s condition had deteriorated. We drove home that night and travelled up to Scotland the next day. He was weak but still with us when we left.
When the end came, a couple of days later, it was due, if not overdue.
You never really get – well I never really got – to the point of wanting your dad to die. But there was, I confess, an element of relief when it happened. I’d said my goodbyes, though I wish we’d had a better conversation about things while he was still able to do it.
Looking after Dad had taken its toll on Mum who, although she had carers to help in the daytime, refused to have anyone stay overnight. She was also resistant to any notion that Dad should be put in a home. “He is at home,” she’d say. She had a way of making it clear when a conversation was over.
And, of course, my brother and sister-in-law, who lived nearby in Edinburgh, were called upon to take up a lot of the slack. And this, as Dad’s death approached, was an increasingly difficult time for them. Down in Oxford, I could do little more than feel guilty.
Funerals may be stressful to organise – though happily for me, Gopi and his wife, Val, did most of the work – but they do serve a really useful function. The ceremony at the crematorium was simple and short. Afterwards we reassembled, in glorious Edinburgh sunshine, at one of Dad’s favourite places, the Botanic Garden. There’s something about being together with family and friends, about sharing memories of a remarkable life, and, of course, about drinking decent red wine that acts as a balm for raw emotion. We talked, we cried, we laughed. It was a good send-off.
Dad would have loved it.
James: And so when your father died, your brother had already told you that he was suffering?
Anand: Yeah, this is where my denial kicks in. My brother was ill and we knew it was cancer. I don’t know whether he and his wife knew how serious it was. I knew he was being treated, so I knew it was serious, but it didn’t cross my mind that they wouldn’t be able to deal with it. That sort of became apparent during the sort of tail end of July and into August, I think.
James: And what was the course of the illness? What happened?
Anand: So he was diagnosed with stomach – I mean, he had stomach pains when he was down in Yorkshire, just on holiday with his wife, and then taken to A&E. They found something, went back up to Edinburgh, did the biopsies and all that sort of thing. They discovered what it was. Started chemo and stuff like that. And then it became clear that it wasn’t working, so there was quite a rapid deterioration in that August. I mean, a very rapid deterioration. I mean, to the point where that day before he died, where we were all sitting together, you know, he faded that day. He was weaker by the evening than he was in the morning. So it just picked up pace sort of relentlessly.
While Dad had been getting weaker, Gopi had been experiencing stomach pains. It was soon diagnosed as pancreatic cancer. I didn’t really understand the implications of this when he told me. Typically, Gopi, a doctor himself, gave no sense of the potential seriousness of what he was telling me. Were he here, he would doubtless insist he was perfectly clear, but I’m an expert at denial and at not hearing things I don’t want to hear. Perhaps we’d both had a point.
James: So you’d been with your brother on the day, as he’s deteriorated on that day. And then the following day, the following day he…
Anand: Well, the following day, Val rang us at about – the following day actually I woke up, but I was feeling so crap, I got up really early and went to the gym and she rang me and I was at the gym and said, you need to get round.
So I rang Nicola, my partner, and my mum, and I said, get ready, I’m coming straight back and then we’re going there. So I went back, picked them up, and went there. We missed him by 10 minutes. He just died.
James: Tell me about your sister.
Anand: So my sister was a year younger than my brother. She’d come over with him from India in ‘63.
She was very badly mentally ill from quite a young age. So she left – I mean she got to university, she was an incredibly – she was probably the brightest, in fact, she was the brightest of the three of us and she was absolutely superb at art. So she got a place at Portsmouth to do fine art, but she’d had a sort of big breakdown when she was there, so my parents brought her home and essentially from then on, she’d just been mentally ill. She’d been on disability allowance and she lived at home for ages. When my parents moved to Edinburgh, she didn’t want to go, so she moved into sheltered accommodation in Wakefield.
And then there was a sort of just a saga of this sort of cycle of being okay, gradually sort of declining again, being sectioned, coming out okay. And that sort of played and replayed itself. I mean, you know, hand on heart, my brother took the lead in dealing with it. I mean, partly I think because he was a medic and actually doctors are more willing to talk to doctors than other people, but, you know, I used to speak to her frequently on the phone. Whenever I came up north, I used to see her. She was a very kind, very loving person, but was just ill.
James: And how did you get a sense that there was something wrong on the day of your brother’s funeral?
Anand: Well, I had a sense that – I mean, in retrospect, I had a sense that week because she used to call me. We quite often had rows because I was sort of, I used to sort of get quite short-tempered with her. And that week she hadn’t called, and I called her a couple of times and she hadn’t rung back. And what, with everything else going on, because we were arranging my brother’s funeral and stuff, I hadn’t done what I should have.
In retrospect, what we should have done is, when we’ve gone up to the funeral, we should have gone up via Wakefield. Now, she’d said she didn’t want to come to the funeral. She’d come to my dad’s and she hates crowds. And I think she just didn’t wanna face it again. But we didn’t, anyway.
So we were in Edinburgh and so on the morning of my brother’s funeral, just as we were getting in the car, the social worker texted and said, ‘I haven’t heard from her – going to go around and see if she’s okay.’
And I sort of thought, hmm. I mean, there was that kind of, you know, sometimes you sort of think the worst, and you think don’t be so stupid, so that’s what I did. So I had my phone off, obviously during the ceremony and the crematorium. And then afterwards, I think just after I’d sort of given my eulogy for my brother at the hotel afterwards, I turned my phone on, there was a text saying she’s not answering.
So, then you’re thinking, god, what’s happened? And then I think we’d all gone back to my brother’s house and Val being Val had provided food and stuff for everyone. And I got a text saying the police had been around. Then I got a phone call from West Yorkshire Police saying, can we come and see you? I said, well, you’re welcome to, but I’m in Edinburgh. So they said, we’ll get back to you. So by that stage, I was quite certain, so I told Val and I told Nicola what was going on. And I mean, they hadn’t formally said it, but I mean, by that point, even I didn’t, Mr. Denial himself was pretty aware of what was going on. And so I do what I tend to do in periods of stress, we went to a bar. I started on the red wine.
And then we went back to the hotel, the police were there, they came to the room, they told us. And actually, even that was like a punch in the gut. I mean, that’s bizarre, isn’t it? Because I’ve just said that I sort of guessed.
But even so, being told was kind of – the whole thing was weird. I felt a bit sorry for the police officers, having to do that.
James: You’d had a funeral for your father in July. You’re going to go and see your brother, the day before he dies. He’s, as you say, he’s fading away. And then again, up in Edinburgh you have another funeral. And it’s the same group of people. That’s the thing that seems almost impossible to deal with, Anand. It’s the idea of that same group of people, going through the same ritual.
Anand: I mean, there is a sort of path dependence to this, in the sense that you go down the path of least resistance don’t you, when something like this happens. You don’t think, okay, let’s try another funeral directors’ and see if they’re any better. You just sort of, you’ve got the number on your phone and you just ring them.
So, you know, I swear that by the time we went in for my mum, the woman in the, I can’t remember what they call it in Edinburgh, but it’s a sort of coroner’s office, almost did a double-take when I went in, because they’ve seen you so often. But yeah, you did everything the same, I mean, it’s easier, isn’t it? We use the same celebrant, we use the same – we changed locations for the sort of memorial bit after, for all of them. We did them all in different places.
James: And you’d written a eulogy for your father.
James: And then you were asked to write for your brother.
Anand: Yeah. I mean, well, my brother did something as well for my dad. So it was kind of logical, my mum wasn’t going to stand up and do it. It was kind of logical for my brothers that I did it.
I’ve still got them, actually. It’s bizarre, I’ve got a little folder with all four of them, because my mum said to me with my dads, can you write it out because I won’t hear you, she was going a bit deaf. So I wrote it out. So I wrote all of them out. I wrote hers out. And again, it’s that path dependence, just because it was habit. I didn’t know who I was writing it for.
James: And this is going to seem callous, when your father died, he was 95 and he’d been sick for a long time. And so, as you say, you’re not prepared, you’re not relieved, of course , you’re not necessarily even expecting it, but it’s different. It’s obviously completely different to the idea of burying your brother or your sister. Is the grief different?
Anand: Yeah. Well, the mixture of emotions is different. There was more anger at my brothers, even more anger at my sisters because that was a really sort of tragic story.
And I felt very sorry for myself after my mums. I didn’t really feel sorry for myself after the other ones. When my mum died, I felt really sorry for myself. God, what next, sort of thing? And you know, I’m a social scientist so actually almost sort of subconsciously I started in my head kind of deploying the comparative method.
James: What does that mean?
Anand: Well, you know, in the sense that you have four case studies and that’s how my mind sort of works. It was like, what’s different about this, what’s different about that. You know, is it the person? Is it the context?
James: And what is the difference?
Anand: Well, the person and the context and the circumstances, I think. I mean, I was very close to all four of them.
I found there was guilt with my sister because there was that sense that I hadn’t done enough, I hadn’t spoken to her enough. Slight guilt with my dad because my brother and his wife dealt with all the day-to-day stuff because they were nearby and we were down in Oxford and, you feel guilty for not being there. And someone else having to do all that sort of stuff.
Circumstance of the death of my sister, I was just sort of angry at the world because of the way it happened. My brother, it was sort of, that was still a life stolen, wasn’t it? I mean, they were very engaged in their planning for his retirement and they had plans. He had loads of plans for his retirement. So they sort of just made all those plans for the rest of their life.
And I remember when my dad turned 50, I remember I was 10 thinking ‘christ he’s going to be dead soon’, but you know, when my brother turned 60, it was like, wow, there’s loads of exciting times ahead. So that was, you know, that had been snatched away.
With my mum, it was all about me to be honest. My mum was 92-93 when she died, so it wasn’t a life snatched away. My mum was ready to go. But then that was, I just felt sorry for myself. It was less about her, I think, than about me when she died,
Anand: Because they had all gone. I mean, she was the last one
James: Over the course of just one year, Anand had lost his family. We will hear more about his mother later, but to lose his brother and then his sister, so close together, to lose his family. It just seems unthinkable. And one thing that struck me reading Anand’s piece is whether there’s a difference or perhaps even a consistency to that grief.
James: If people come to you and say, I read what you’d written, I’m frightened, I’m frightened of what loss is going to do to me.
Anand: You know, I suppose what I’d say is, it’s hard. You might as well just confront the fact, it’s hard and it will haunt you and it won’t go away. But, what would you say to someone who’s facing that? It’s like, you know, just pump them for information about everything.
James: The people you love?
Anand: Yeah, just have those conversations. You know, the ones I used to roll my eyes at or leave the room for, with my mum. Just have them because they are the repositories of that information, and then it’s gone. And spend time with them. I mean, the one thing actually thinking back is, with the exception of my sister, I don’t have regrets about my relationships with the other three. Occasionally could have been nicer to my mother.
But we had close relationships and the way they died meant that we’d had the conversations. My dad and I were very close, we had those conversations anyway, or he had those conversations and I rolled my eyes. So that counts. It’s the same thing.
James: You hear all these things about magical thinking, about changing the way in which you see things. Has that happened to you?
Anand: I mean, it gives you a sense of perspective. A couple of people have said to me, you’ve changed, you’ve become gentler. I’m not sure anyone in the office next door would agree, but, I think actually in a way it has changed me and not in a systematic way because I think with people at home, I’ve got a bit brusker actually. I’ve been grumpy a lot more than I used to be, I think. Just a bit shorter, just a bit more cantankerous. But, I mean, that’s the privilege of having people that are close to you I suppose. But with other people I’ve become gentler or more willing to wonder what the backstory is if someone’s annoying me or more willing to just sort of let things go.
James: And do you have a way of thinking about death? I know you sometimes hear people who say, well, actually I’ve got a religion and this is the way I think about it and I was taught that, and I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but the beauty of it is, it gives me a way of thinking about it.
Anand: Absolutely not. I’ve got no way of thinking about death. I think about four deaths. So in that sense, I’m a historian, not a social scientist. I mean, each one is different. So I think about four people I don’t, actually I spend very little, I don’t think I spend any time thinking about death as death, as a thing.
I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in the afterlife, but they’re there. So make of that what you will. I mean, they’re not physically, not necessarily spiritually, but they’re in my head. And I suspect that they always will be in my head in that sort of way, but I find that tremendously comforting, actually, I don’t find that a bad thing at all. I just think they’re there.
James: And do you have a go-to memory, for example, when you think about your mum, is there a moment that you think about in particular?
Anand: Loads. It depends, if I’m doing something she wouldn’t approve of, then there’s plenty of memories of that. It depends. It’s very, very context specific.
I mean, one of the things is my office. I’ve got lots of photos of them all. And at one point I took a lot of them down just because it was just triggering to me. It was just, I can’t, I can’t look at the Tortoise piece, I can’t look at that photo very easily. So well that will happen in time, I suppose. But, I’ve got loads of memories.
James: As we heard earlier, Anand’s mum was the last to die. She died during Covid. He wrote about how this was the most difficult funeral for him. Perhaps it was the finality of all of them being gone. Perhaps it was the cumulative effects of the grief. And perhaps, and you can tell this looking at him, it was because he and his mother had been so extremely close, that they’d spoken to each other every day. Perhaps it was the fact that he had become an only child. Here’s Anand.
Anand: With my mum, it was interesting because I did say to myself, okay, look, you know the drill. They said, it’s a matter of days. And I just couldn’t do that next step, which was to start thinking as if she had died. And preparing myself. You know, maybe it’s just, I’m sort of uniquely crap, but it came as a shock when she died and they told us she was going to die and they told us she was going to die in a few days.
But when she died, it was a hammer blow. I spoke to my mum. I’d spoken to my mum every day since my dad had esophageal cancer and surgery in his eighties. I just got into the habit of calling her every day to see how she was and they were very, very short conversations. And actually, even when she sometimes says, I don’t even see what the point is if you don’t even say anything, if I didn’t ring, she’d be on the blower the next day saying, where were you?
I mean, obviously, she was down and she wasn’t eating properly when we went up to see her. And she wasn’t sort of fading, it wasn’t like we thought she was dying. She was just unhappy and not her normal self. And we started having a conversation with her about why don’t you think about doing something at Christmas time? We sort of said, why don’t you go to India? And she was like, you know, I’m too wheelchair bound. She wasn’t wheelchair bound, but actually as it was, we asked for a wheelchair and thank god because we changed planes and it was a long way between the two planes.
But we persuaded her in the end. And the three of us, me, Nicola and her got on a plane just before Christmas and took her to India. And it was like something out of Harry Potter. And it was like, she had sort of happy magic because within about 24 hours of arriving, she was eating like a horse. She was sort of chatting with all the family. She was taking Nicola out to all her favourite shops. And she was just unstoppable. Totally and utterly irrepressible. And it was absolutely brilliant. And we came back in early January and she stayed on until mid February and a cousin of mine brought her back and she was just transformed.
And then she had a fall, which would have been about March, April and damaged her back. Her mobility was getting a lot worse because of that. She was admitted into hospital just to sort out her back in about August, I think it was July or August. And then she had some tests because she’d had lymphoma and it turned out that had come back.
And so basically she was just weakening. Again, this was very, very sudden, and it was kind of like, I went, in a period of weeks, from when are we going to get her home to realising that she might not get home. I mean, that was in a couple of weeks. And then, happily at the end, because the hospital, they were great in the hospital, but it was a horrible environment and very, very impersonal, they found her a space at the Marie Curie in Edinburgh and they were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I mean, covid restrictions notwithstanding, they were just great. And she was comfortable and the nurses were lovely and the doctors were great and she died there. I mean, she spent a week, maybe a bit more in the Marie Curie.
Yeah, I mean, it was a peaceful death, I have to say.
James: What was it like, the process of then going back? One of things you write in the piece about, is still having to go back and go into your mum’s flat and go through all of her things. Have you done that now?
Anand: Did it two weeks ago and it was hideous going in there. It was horrible going in.
I mean, one of the sad things is now, I think I’ll grow out of this, Edinburgh makes me quite sad. Just because of what happened there. I mean, I don’t think that will last, but yeah, it was very sad going through her things. And actually for me, I mean, we’re going to go over, my sister-in-law is going to come down, we’re going to go through the photo albums and decide what to keep. Because I mean, we just haven’t got space for all the albums, so we’ll scan everything, I think. There were a couple of trinkets, things that had been around the house from when we were in our first house in Wakefield. And that was all I really wanted.
James: And you write at the end, I almost feel uncomfortable asking, but you write at the end that you can find your sister’s note.
Anand: Yeah, that’s still bugging me, but I’m pretty sure I got it home. I’ve got a photo of it, actually, because I took a photo of it. So I’ve got that, but I got home and I mean, essentially, as soon as I entered the door, I was shivering. I was thinking, what the hell is going on? And Nicola took my temperature and my temperature was like 101 or something ridiculous. So I just went to bed and essentially I didn’t sort of, not come round, I mean, I wasn’t out cold, but I have no recollection of anything for about a week. I was just asleep or lying in bed.
So I’d gone up, this was March 2020. I’d gone up to Wakefield for the inquest because I thought someone should be there. And that’s where I picked it up, they had the note and I picked it up, or they gave me it. So I had that note in my hand then, and I have no idea – I mean, I almost don’t want to do the sort of detailed search for it in case I don’t find it, because there’s a bit in my mind at the moment that thinks it’s there somewhere. And as long as you don’t look for it, it’ll always be there somewhere. But if you do look for it, you know, and my god how crap would that be, if I’d lost that? But I didn’t touch any of my stuff like my coat or my bag or anything for about two weeks. And then, I didn’t at the time, it took me ages to twig that I’d lost it.
So I’m the repository of the death certificates and all this. I’ve got folders of death certificates, of memorial programs, of all sorts of official bits of paper. And I suddenly thought, oh, hang on, where’s the note? And I kind of looked around and I couldn’t find it. And I sort of then sort of almost consciously stopped myself from looking too hard, so that I could hang onto the hope that it would turn up.
So that was quite sad.
James: Before coming to see Anand, I’d re-read his article, sitting alone back in the office. And again, as I did, when I first read it, I’d cried. In fact, I told Katie the producer that I was nervous coming to see him because I just thought that I would, well, I’d be trying to ask him questions and then end up crying.
But Anand, as you can hear, resolves to hold it together. I could see that resolve in his face. You could see the strain and the tremor on his lips. And when I saw him speaking in that way, I felt as though I didn’t want to let him down. And I had, as I was listening to him, this realisation that he had done something more exceptional than I’d appreciated when I read it on the page. That he’d done something that he wasn’t used to, that he’d done something that was painful and that allows us all to see each other more fully, that he had let us in.
Anand: God, I’m not sure I can do this. This is bizarre.
Things got a lot tougher after Mum died, which is not to say Nicola, the kids and my friends haven’t been great.
Last autumn I kept being engulfed by what I can only call waves of sadness. Stupid little things would trigger them: ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ coming on the radio (the sound of long car journeys from my childhood); my sodding phone chucking up a long-forgotten photo to help start my day. Or they’d just crash over me for no reason at all, knocking me sideways and reminding me of what I’d lost.
Have I been depressed? I don’t know. Sad? Profoundly so. Yet losing people makes you appreciate people. First and foremost, those around me, and Nicola in particular, who is caring beyond words, and patient to boot, willing to tolerate what I will now acknowledge to have been my moodiness, distance, impatience and the rest of it. But also to family members who have stepped in to try to fill the void. Friends who have got drunk with me, colleagues who have covered for me – and called me regularly to see how I’m doing. The team at work who have gone above and beyond to help me out. I probably haven’t acknowledged all this to them but I can’t bear to think how hideous this all would have been without them.
And I’ve changed. I’m more emotionally unbalanced, as I’ve said. I’ve found concentrating hard, and writing at points almost impossible (thanks here to my co-authors – they know who they are – who have carried me). I live in terror of something else happening, I expect my son to check in regularly when he’s driving anywhere and the eye rolls when I ask.
And, for God’s sake, I’ve become superstitious. I used to laugh at my uncle (the husband of Mum’s youngest sister) for lighting candles on the day of my aunt’s death. Now I do it. Birthdays, death days, you name it. I may have to start buying candles in bulk.
I speak to my uncle virtually every day. We’ve always been close, and he’s an impressive bloke with a fascinating story to tell. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the point. I talk to him partly because I need immediate family. But also because I need contact with that generation. You sometimes really don’t know what you’ve lost til it’s gone…
And I keep talking to Mum and Dad, and to Gopi and Shalini. Not out loud – not yet. But I catch myself doing it. As if they could somehow see me. But weird as it may sound, if I was anxious to make them proud when they were all alive, I’m even more determined to do so now.
I realise I’m far from “over it”. I’ve lost my immediate family, without the time to adjust or adapt. And of course lockdown has meant there are still practicalities to be dealt with. I’ve still got to empty Mum’s flat and put it on the market – God knows what as yet undiscovered stuff will come out to haunt me then.
And – something that has obsessed me of late – I can’t find my sister’s note. I was, as I said, clutching it on the train as I came back from her inquest and then succumbed to illness. I have searched far and wide but I can’t find it anywhere.
I hope they’ll all forgive me. Bloody hell. I almost said that out loud.
James: You’ve been listening to the Slow Newscast, “The missing note”. The producers were Katie Gunning and Matt Russell. Sound design was by Carla Patella.