My dad died at the end of 2010. He had been pronounced ‘dying’ so many times. I lost counts of the times I drove the 180 mile journey, tears stinging my face. He came through each time. Well, nearly. Then I went up at Xmas 2010. He was ill, sleepy, out of it. The day I set off home, I went to feed him lunch. But he was unconscious. I smeared his puréed roast dinner against his lips but there was no response. I left, crying. He went into hospital. He still didn’t wake up. On Xmad eve, he was sent back to the nursing home, to die. I meant to go to his bedside, but C, my brother and my mother all told me to stay. He was pumped with morphine, but hung on. On Boxing Day morning I set off. As I came close to the nursing home, I called home, asking if I should meet them there. No, come home first, I was told. I arrived twenty minutes later, to be told he had died in the last hour.
Six weeks later, while still raw with grief, I received a call from J’s father, to tell me he had been offered a place at boarding school. I was horrified, but it was the right thing for him. We weren’t prepared for this, and his departure and subsequent crises were like a repeated wound which partly heals and is then ripped open again. But just as my father’s passing was a blessing in many ways, J’s blessing was filled with anxiety. We hovered for a long time between grief and joy, between knowing J was in the right place, but that the right place seemed a long way away.
Tomorrow J leaves for Cardiff. We have seen his room, in an anonymous student block. There is no Matron to bring him lunch. No housemaster with spaniel to offer wise counsel. A single ensuite room, with Internet access, a kitchen and fellow female students. He seems to have no idea when his student finances will arrive. I tell him the first Woodwind music dept meeting is on Monday and he seems surprised. Some time tomorrow, I will say goodbye and leave him to it. I will drive away in tears, picturing my son alone in his room. But he will be fine. Parenthood is a series of moments of letting our children go, of trusting their leap from a branch means they can fly. Of sitting back with a pounding heart hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.