My Dad was 40 when I was born. I was almost 40 when Bear was born. I sometimes wonder if I am seeing them both through a weird mirror. Is Bear anything like my Dad was at age five? Old photographs give the nod, but they are unreliable witnesses. Even if Grandma were alive to tell me, the passage of eighty years might distort her vision. Will Bear be anything like my Dad when he is 85? They have some personality traits in common. I probably have them too. This is where it gets complicated. I am the mirror, but I am also a link in the chain. This is my story too. But our stories are not the same. I don’t look at Bear and see myself at his age. We share some of the same passions: teddy bears, books, building things, but he is not me. He has his own thoughts, his own dreams and desires, his own fears, his own soul. His life will be a mixture of the things he chooses and the things he chooses to do about the things he can’t choose. (I’ve just got back from the Donald Rumsfeld school of plain English!)

Dad has incurable cancer. It was diagnosed four years ago. Three and a half of those four years were ‘healthy’. The last half has been a challenge. But in the scheme of things it’s not that bad. He isn’t in constant pain. We can still talk about stuff and have a bit of a laugh (as long as it’s timed correctly around medication and exertion!) So what does ‘dying’ mean and is he doing it? Scientists can explain ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ pretty well, but ‘living’ and ‘dying’ is the stuff of philosophers, poets and those on first name terms with Mortality.

Maybe it’s about now. Maybe ‘living’ is about being in the moment. Not just being there, but inhabiting that moment and making it our own. Forever. Once we’ve been in a moment, it’s too late for anyone to take us out of it. Once it’s passed us by, there’s no way of getting back into it.

So as long as his medication has kicked in and he isn’t between places, Dad chooses ‘living.’ Long may it continue.

Living for Today

This morning, I was privileged to be invited to visit Richard House Children’s Hospice in Newham. What an amazing place! What amazing people! Richard House provides care for children with life-limiting conditions and complex healthcare needs, as well as support for the whole family. The emphasis is on positive experiences and creating memories.

The purpose-built centre is light, bright and airy with beautiful gardens and outdoor planting and play areas. Apart from a few clues it looks like any other children’s playcentre, with children’s artwork on the walls, children’s sensory toys and a well-stocked playroom and sensory suite. There’s also a teenage den to give the older ones some separate space. The residential-care rooms look just like a bedroom at home (ok, a lot tidier than the bedrooms in my house but you get the idea!)

It feels wrong that parents have to experience the death of a child. It feels wrong that the innocence of siblings is shattered at such an early age in such a cruel manner. But death doesn’t discriminate against age, religion, ethnicity or gender. In the meantime, there is the best care a child can get and the precious memories that the people at Richard House work so hard to help them create. Guys, you’re incredible!