As the observant among you may have noticed last week, for the first time since I became editor at the Bath Chronicle - and indeed since I started this blog - I did not have my regular weekly column in the paper uploaded here. Indeed the words “Sam Holliday is away” were printed at the bottom of where my column usually sits in the Chronicle. You may have felt that I was sunning myself in Barbados instead or, perhaps more likely in my case, that I was travelling around the UK following my beloved old punk heroes The Stranglers.
Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth – for this time last week I was actually arranging the funeral of my mother.
I’ve agonised about writing about this for a few days but as I think columnists should talk about their community but also about the shared experiences we all have within them, I decided I wanted to say something.
None of you reading this knew my mother. She lived 120 miles away for a start and was actually very quiet and somewhat shy so the chances are even if you lived a few doors away, you may not have known her.
But like most wonderful mothers the world over, she was a good, honest, decent, caring lady who was passionate about her family and proud of their achievements in that quiet, don’t-like-to-brag way that typified her generation.
Her passing came suddenly. Yes, she was in her mid-80s (she had me at the somewhat later age of 40) and she had been ill 12 months prior to her passing, but she had seemed to have been through the worst of it and was now happy living in a council sheltered home with one hand almost permanently on the telephone to keep in touch with the outside world. Her death, therefore, came out of the blue but was thankfully peaceful and quiet in a way that probably summed up her whole life.
The reality is none of us quite knows how to handle death, even though it is the one thing that unites the whole of humanity. In what I guess is a rather typical man’s way of dealing with things, I decided to act all busy last week by sorting out all the arrangements, writing letters, placing death notices, contacting old friends, etc, to keep the grieving process at bay.
I then, after just three days, came back here to the office because I thought that would help, although in reality I think I came back too soon. People have been very kind and supportive but nobody knows what to say to me, I don’t know what to say to them and there has been much evidence of tiptoeing around emotions in that classic English way.
Tomorrow, Friday, May 1, is the funeral, a big hurdle for any family member and, for some reason, I said that I would like to say something. Some of you will know that I do enjoy public speaking on occasions but I’m still not sure that this is one talk I will be able to do because just as none of us knows how to react to death, coping with funerals is another one of life’s great uncertainties.
Inevitably perhaps, I feel sad while even writing this but I don’t want it to be that way because my mom (I like to think) had a very good life and had, what we always call a very good innings, so I think celebration rather than mourning should be the order of the day.
But I know I will miss her – and I know I’ll regret the times I didn’t call or didn’t visit – and I’m confident that she’s in a happy place now and one day we’ll be able to discuss the football scores and why we both don’t like Bruce Forsyth once again at our leisure.
Rest in peace mom.