A moving and absorbing story of a man coming to terms with his grief. Pamela Hartshorne, author of Time’s Echo and House of Shadows
Malaren: A Swedish Affair
I was not in the habit of attending funerals – trust me, it’s not something you’d want to make into a hobby. I was in my early fifties, so in that respect I suppose we were betwixt and between (I say ‘we’ as if Susan were still here – sometimes I have trouble with the idea that she’s not). Our children were both in education and healthy: Jonathon on the point of graduating, Philippa preparing for her ‘A’s, and although we’d heard of people who’d died young (48 or 49 in one case, cancer of the liver or so we were told) these were things we mostly read about in our Sunday papers rather than anything that touched our immediate circle of friends.
Thankfully, both sets of parents were still intact, although mine were older and more fragile. They were also three-hundred miles away and had professed themselves happy to make the journey. Your father won’t drive but we can always get the train. In the end it was deemed too much for them. One death in the family was more than enough – I’d no intention of precipitating another. D’you think you’ll be able to manage? my mother had asked, fervently hoping that I’d tell her I could. I’d mumbled something to the effect that I’d cope, but I said it more to relieve them of the responsibility than out of any feeling of confidence. In the event, things proved far more difficult than I could ever have imagined.
Ironically, Susan’s parents were still very much alive – and in the case of Vivienne, my mother-in-law, almost unbearably hearty. So much so that she’d not even bothered to consult me as to whether I could manage but had automatically assumed that I could not and had accordingly ‘taken over’. She and Bernard had arrived almost immediately after Susan had fallen ill, although to begin with they’d had the grace to realise it wasn’t appropriate to intrude on a household already under pressure and had booked into a local hotel. Ever solicitous as to the health of their daughter, they’d come to the hospital each day armed with the prescribed amount of fruit and flowers and had been every bit as attentive as I was. When Susan had finally slipped away, rather than give up their hotel room and go home, they’d elected to turn up on my doorstep, announcing that they’d come to help me with ‘the arrangements’. Answering the door to their knock, I’d been confronted by the determined figure of Vivienne, towing not just her husband in her wake but also a wheeled suitcase. And at what was a particularly low moment, and lacking both the spirit and the energy to resist, I foolishly let them in.
Vivienne immediately made herself at home and set about ‘the arrangements’ as if it were a military operation, commandeering the spare bedroom as her headquarters and setting up base camp in the kitchen. Whatever I might have said to the contrary (which, I freely admit, was not much at the time) I was not to be allowed to ‘do’ anything; it was all to be left up to her. I don’t believe for one moment that she’d taken pity on me and wanted to be of help. Her motive, I’m sure, was that I wasn’t to be trusted to do the job properly and she’d prefer to do it herself. I’d always had the impression that she’d never thought me good enough for her daughter in life, never mind death, and there was even a lingering suspicion that I was somehow to blame for Susan’s illness. The suggestion that I hadn’t done enough, if ever voiced, was one I’d have fought to the last as I’d been as assiduous in Susan’s care as it was possible to be. I had nothing to reproach myself for. But, once she’d gone there didn’t seem any point in fighting it and I was happy to let things go. If Vivienne had something to prove, well fine, let her prove it. I did not. In fact, nothing seemed to matter any more.
A Swedish Affair
Alan Harrison is mourning the death of his wife. A trip to Sweden is in the offing – but will it help him get over it?
This is N.E. David’s third novel, check out the others on his Profile at Roundfire Books