Let’s start off with deaths, the most obvious and clearest loss:
My uncle N, my father’s brother who died stupidly as a teenager who my father never talked about. It took me a long time to realise that this son who my grandmother talk of was my uncle, would have been my uncle. I wonder how his life would have changed things.
My grandfathers – both died before I was old enough to know them, although my sisters did. I was jealous of them and thought it unfair. It still is.
B – the first person l knew who died, a friend of my grandmother in France. I found the equanimity of his family confusing. I did not attend his funeral.
Uncle F – my father wouldn’t let me attend his funeral, ostensibly because I would miss school, possibly because he didn’t want to travel with me to a funeral. I had spent some holidays with F and had good memories of him.
P&M My aunt ‘s poodles. When on holiday with them I would take them on walks and play with them. I keenly felt the refusal of my parents to consider a pet and these two were my make do. My sisters had a toy dog pyjama case named after them both.
T – As said at the time, we had lost touch and I was trying to find him. My sister heard he’d died and went to the funeral and told me after. I was so angry with her that anger overshadowed my feelings of loss. T was a friend from our first encounter aged fifteen until his death. I only have one other friend who knew me back then.
L- I remember the phone call well. My father made it and comforted me as I cried into the phone with the information that as she’d left four properties her children would get one each so that was all right. She’s been my second mother, taught me French, paid attention to me and taken me away on trips. At the end of every year she would invite all her students round and cook for 100-150 people without breaking into a sweat. She was amazing. She died of cancer, following her sisters in treating cancer homeopathically without conventional medicine and I didn’t know whether to admire her for following her beliefs or to feel angry at the stupidity.
My maternal grandmother: finally a funeral I could attend. The only one I’d been to before was a boyfriend’s mother’s partner who I’d never met so it was of no consequence. It was a good secular funeral and we commemorated her life rather than wept for her death. She went quickly after being diagnosed with cancer which was actually a relief to us all, her included. I still talk to her.
My paternal grandmother insisted on a Church funeral and I did wonder if she was laughing at finally getting her son into church. It was quite empty in comparison but it was what she wanted.
My aunt died of septicaemia after an operation for bowel cancer. My uncle had to decide to pull the plug on her which was not easy. She had never figured large in my life as my father didn’t get on with them and my mother had no independent relationship with them but I liked her as much as I’d been able. I was impressed by the number of people who came to the wake and talked about her so fondly.
And that reminds me of D, a local friend who died slowly of cancer who had a brilliant secular ceremony with all sorts of groups who had know her throughout her life standing up and talking about her. I sat there realising that I had barely scratched the surface of who she was but she was inspiring.
So there are the losses, some major, some minor, and I’ve left out the ones that didn’t impact me and the few celebrities who I did cry for. My mother and her mother were very matter of fact about death. My father didn’t really want to talk about it.
Moving on to moving homes…
Aged 1: we moved away and left my birth town. I wasn’t bothered at the time, but later I felt I’d lost that sense of belonging to my place of birth.
Aged 7: we moved abroad. I lost my sense of stability and routine, I lost my ability to communicate. I lost my friends. I lost a sense of having any ability to control my life. I lost quality time with my father and separately with my mother. The museum trips and theatre were severely curtailed for a long while.
Aged 14: we returned to England. We all lost. We had no home for the first six months. We borrowed friends’ flats until we rented our own. I lost a school I was beginning to settle into and friends I was getting close to and had to start again. I’d lost a city I’d grown to love. I’d lost a really good bedroom and garden. My parents forced me to get rid of half my books, a move they later acknowledged was a mistake, and the piano. I wasn’t very good at it but enjoyed it a lot.
In short, every time we moved, I lost out and felt caught up in a swirl of changes, none of which was my choice. Even as an adult, moving around the country never felt as if it was for me. Because, now that I think about it, it was always for my partner. Every move had more losses for me. Yes there were gains eventually, for some of them but it’s the losses that hurt deeply.
My last move was the luckiest of all. I remember when the borough housing department phoned me and said they’d got a house for me and it was the best one in the neighbourhood. A neighbourhood I didn’t know and now call home, for the first time ever. Thank you for social housing. It has saved my sanity.
There are of course other losses: boyfriends I abandoned, friends I lost or who lost me, people who could have been friends but never got there. Places and people I was happy to leave.
What are my feelings on all this, which is the question that matters here.
I do miss those no longer here, most especially my maternal grandmother and T. Sometimes that is tinged with anger when death seemed stupid. There is real regret at people I never got to know properly, who I feel I missed out on getting to know at all, or better. This is fairly straightforward compared to the whole range of emotions that I feel on moving. These are mostly reduced to loss, not just of things or places, but of feeling that I mattered in any of this, that I had any say in what happens in my life.