My parents were 50 years married on September 27. My father is 92 and mentally very well; he is exactly the same man I have always known, he hasn’t grown old and vague, he hasn’t failed to keep up with things, he still reads two papers cover to cover every day. He is certainly physically more frail but he is, in his conversation, in his views, in his pretty encyclopaediac knowledge of everything from literature to engineering, entirely the same man I have always know. Sadly, the same is not true of my mother who has been ill for a number of years with Parkinson’s disease and related dementia. Although she has good days and bad days, it is getting steadily worse. A friend of mine says that it is like seeing someone get further and further away which I think is a pretty good description. So we didn’t really do anything to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I sent my father a card. It’s hard for all of us, for my father, of course, and for my brother and sister in Cork who between them visit my mother every day and, whisk her home at the weekend, if she shows any sign of being well which, increasingly, she does not.
My parents had a very happy marriage. I only saw my mother annoyed with my father twice, once when he trimmed her hair (with great reluctance on his part, rightly it turned out) and she had to go to the hairdresser and basically get it all chopped off to fix his work and once when she had finished packing for the family camping holiday in France and he wanted to get his wash bag from the bottom of the boot and she had to unpack loads of stuff. I don’t ever remember him being annoyed with her. My mother’s best friend from college, a lovely woman with whom I am still very friendly, said that my parents had the best marriage of anyone she ever knew. They were certainly very happy. Each of them thought the other was amazing. They were both right.
My mother was 31 when she got married and in 1967 that was very old and, I think, my grandparents had given up hope that their career woman daughter would ever marry anyone. My father was 42 and his family had definitely written off his chances (a guy I knew in college said that it was assumed in Cork that my father had abandoned his confirmed bachelorhood because my mother was heiress to a huge fortune; sadly, I can confirm, there was no fortune). My parents met in March, got engaged in June and were married in September. My father broke the news to my long-suffering grandmother as he was dropping her into the Imperial on the South Mall for her regular Saturday afternoon tea with my aunt Cecilia. As she stepped out of the car he said, “And by the way, I’m getting married.” He then took off on a four week sailing holiday leaving my grandmother who had never even met my mother to cope with this information as best she might.
I wish my mother were well and I miss her every single day but I know I am very lucky to have grown up in a family where my parents were so happy together so swings and roundabouts, I suppose.