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One-nil to nurture?

This is clearly a moment Dan found vital to how he grew up.  It's passages like this that make me want to give his Mum a call and ask more. 

Death was the first taboo subject that I learned about.  When Mum returned from her summer school, she was taken into the kitchen and given an update on what had happened.  When she and my father came back into the living room, they both looked grim-faced. 

            “We need to talk to you,” Mum said softly, so I knew that I wasn’t in trouble.

            And that was how I started to learn a little about life and death.  “Alex’s granddad has gone to heaven,” Mum explained.  Dad told me more recently that he had not approved of that part of the conversation, what with us not being a religious family.  I asked the usual types of questions as I tried to get to grips with the concept.  I needed assuring on several occasions that it was very much a one-way trip and that Alex’s grandfather would not be returning.

            “Does he not want to come back?” I persisted.

            “It’s not that he doesn’t want to come back,” Mum replied.

            “He can’t,” Dad added.  “It’s not something we have a choice on.”

            “Is Alex’s granddad with my granddad now?”

            I suppose they’d hoped that I wouldn’t get round to these questions, the concept of death being enough for any five year old in one sitting.  But that was the main thing that was on my mind – Alex’s grandfather might not be here any more, but mine had never been there as far I could tell.

            “Yes,” Mum told me.  “He’s in the same place as all of your grandparents.”

            “How many do I have?”

            “You had four.”

            “And they are all with Alex’s granddad?”

            “That’s right.”  I imagine Mum began to falter at this point. 

            “And where’s that?”

            I think even the non-religious parents must use heaven to try and soften the blow of mortality when trying to explain it a young child.  I don’t know what she said to me, but my first perception of death that it was a very nice thing to happen to you that left everyone else feeling miserable.  I imagined clouds and blue skies, and I think somewhere in this description was my first encounter with God and religion.  I remember not feeling sorry for Alex and his family any more.

            “So why do people get sad?” I persisted.

            “Because it means they don’t get to see that person ever again.”

            “Unless they die?”

            Dad stepped in at this point, presumably because he feared that I may try to kill myself if they glamorised death too heavily.

            “In a way, yes.  But only when it’s their time to go.”

            “So you can’t make yourself die?”

            “No, it’s not an option,” he said firmly, and for years I didn’t question it again. 

            They continued to explain to me how normal death was, and how lucky I was in a way not have been around when my grandparents died.  That didn’t make sense to me.

            “Why?” I asked, simply.  It’s only as we get older that we feel the need to complicate questions.

            “Well, it made us all very sad,” Mum took over from here.  

            “But shouldn’t you be happy for them?”

They changed the subject shortly afterwards, but it wasn’t something I was going to let lie for long.

Mum cancelled the last two days of her summer school to be with me whilst Robyn grieved, and I’m sure she must have regretted it.  I persistently asked her the same questions about death, and her vague answers didn’t satisfy my curiosity at all.  I must have been a nightmare.  I didn’t want to play games, or go out in the garden on my bike, and any suggestions of trips out were declined by me.

            My interest turned towards other members of my family.  I knew of my Uncle Alfred and Auntie Jennifer, but I had never thought to ask Mum before.  “Do you have any brothers and sisters?” I asked, moving the questioning away from death for a short while.




            “No, there’s just me,” she replied without a thought.

            “That must make you feel very lonely,” I said tactlessly.  Mum was clearly tiring of me.  “You could work for the police with your interrogation skills,” she said to me weakly at one point.  I didn’t know what she meant and assumed that she was missing the point again.

            On the second day after Alex’s grandfather died, I must have driven her to distraction.  Mum was quite well adjusted after everything that happened; she didn’t leap into therapy or try and take the past out on anyone else.  After nearly two days of almost relentless inquisition, she caved and popped the television on in an attempt to distract me.

            Because the television was something of a rarity in my life, it seemed enough of a treat for me to cease my questions and watch with mother, who was clearly happy to have subdued me at last.  We went through the initial run of children’s television programmes, which in themselves were enough to keep me happy.  At some point during an art and craft programme, Mum drifted off to sleep. 

            I think to me this was the equivalent of being left in a toy shop after dark.  At 5pm the television would normally have been switched off, as even the teen dramas and the kids’ news were deemed a little too worldly for me.  I guess it was right that my mother might not wish me to see family breakdowns, hostage situations and dramatic lives.  She also knew first hand how acting had made her feel on stage, so perhaps the drama just reminded her of the tough times.

            I sat as still as I could, hoping that I wouldn’t wake her up.  I didn’t dare change the channel lest it rouse Mum, so I just sat there consuming the programmes that came on.  First of all there was a teen drama based in a secondary school.  The kids all looked much older than me, and I remember that the main storyline had something to do with someone taking up smoking.  There was lots of shouting.  Then there was a short kids' news bulletin, where I got my first glimpse of war.  I suppose that would have been the first Gulf War, but all I can remember were a couple of explosions and some people crying in the street.

            I could hardly contain my excitement when the Australian soap that Lauren had been telling us about came on.  Despite having never actually seen it before I felt a familiarity with the characters and their predicaments.  Suddenly I had the correct visualisations for the things that Lauren had been telling me about for at least six months, almost like being able to see after being blind for a while.  The episode ended with a brick crashing through a window and a close up of someone as they fell to the ground.  Then the credits rolled and I was still breathing in. 

            This was even more exciting than Alex’s granddad dying!

            The noise woke my mother up from her slumber, and it took her a moment or two to come round and realise what was going on.  “Daniel, you know I don’t want you watching things like this,” she said wearily.  “Why didn’t you wake me?”

            “You didn’t tell me to,” I answered simply.  Its lines like this that can slay a parent when they are irked with you.  Just be a bit cute.  It all seems so obvious now, but at the time there was nothing deliberate in my comment.  It was just the truth.  Again with no awareness of what the consequences would be, I started to tell Mum all about the things that had happened in the programme.  I used words she didn’t think I knew and explained concepts that she could never have expected me to know about.

            “Wow,” she said, and I was still a little surprised because I thought she would be annoyed with me for watching television without her permission. 

            So with all this extra time together, Mum saw an opportunity to try a little experiment on me.

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