Books Magazine

Dark Days Back Home

By Isabel Costello @isabelcostello


I am touched to know that it only takes a week or so of unexplained online silence to get people wondering what’s up with me and I am very thankful to have so many supportive friends.  I’ve spent most of the past ten days in my home town of Salisbury in Wiltshire following the horrible crisis we all knew would happen sooner or later with my mom.  I’m very lucky to have a lovely brother and sister, and it’s been a great comfort to us all not having to do this on our own, albeit a challenge that two of us are no longer locals. (If anyone has tips on how to be in two places at once, please get in touch…)

In my case, I’ve been gone a long time.  Salisbury is a beautiful and pleasant place (we grew up in a village eight miles away) but I couldn’t wait to leave for a big city.  My recent stay was the longest since I left at the age of eighteen – unbelievably this week Salisbury Cathedral was free of scaffolding for the first time since the year after I went to college!  I often feel that I’m not the same person as the girl who grew up here.  Now I’m not so sure.

I wandered around the city alone in freezing temperatures, assailed by thoughts and memories, some of them funny, most of them frankly pretty bleak.  I saw boys from the grammar school in uniform and remembered when the one I liked finally noticed me and turned out to be the most repulsive kisser. I thought of long walks across the fields with our family dog Benny, who was constantly going missing and turning up thirty miles away.  It is obviously terrible to watch someone close to you suffer and be powerless to stop it – the situation reminded me of my many trips home in 1991, the year my dad was dying of cancer. His exit was savage and far too early, but all I had to do was be sad and I realize now what a luxury that was.

Now the three of us are in the strange position of being children again at the precise moment we need to be at our most adult, responsible not only for those we have brought into the world but for the person who did us that immeasurable favour.  With the challenges of parenthood, you can usually tell yourself things will improve; with this the only consolation will be to know that when presented with hard decisions, we made the one we all thought was right.  We’ve done all we can to make mom safe and comfortable.

Strangely, a character in the novel I’ve just finished writing says (in a completely different context), ‘Stop worrying about yesterdays and tomorrows (…) there is only now.’  I’m going to try harder to remember that.

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