Autumn has arrived but we still have the summer blues. The crisp, clear blue of the cloudless, morning sky. The pale, fading blue of the last hardy geraniums. And the deep, dark, midnight blue that settled into our hearts this summer and that has stayed there ever since. This shade of blue is the chilling colour of concern.
Even our beloved summer destination couldn’t wash away this unwelcome hue. The sight of the coastline from above usually brings a great surge of joy – the turquoise sea and golden sand reminding us of an immense ice-cream. The tiny, coloured surfboards as the sugar sprinkles ; the bright, round parasols as the smarties on the cone; and the white waves dripping slowly like melted cream.
But this year the cream had turned sour, leaving a bitter taste to our holiday. The taste of worry laced with guilt. Should we really be here when my husband’s mum is lying in hospital, suffering from an illness that no-one can name?
She is still in hospital today, one nearer our home, so that we can see her every day. But the woman I visit now no longer resembles the beautiful, svelte, dynamic lady I have known for the last thirty years. This new mother-in-law seems much smaller and older. Her expression is at times vacant and her mouth drooping and sad. But when I look deep into her eyes I can see that she is still in there, as if this mysterious illness had emprisoned her and was hiding the key.
I have also discovered a new side to her son. I always knew he loved his mum. I just didn’t know how much. He is patient, kind, gentle and thoughtful. He is respectful and present, never shirking at telling her how much he cares. He spends hours on the phone every day to doctors, family and friends. I admire this loving son, this strong man who is her child. But no matter how much I try, I cannot begin to imagine how he feels. This is his mum, not mine. All I can see is how sad and helpless he seems. The almost inevitable role reversal of the generations has begun for him. Child becomes parent. Parent becomes child.
And although I am not in the direct line of fire, but standing just behind her sons, her husband and her sister, the arrows of sorrow are still flying past the shield they have created and are hitting me too, straight through the heart.