I can sense some anniversaries in the quality of light and feel of the air at a particular time of year; I don’t need a calendar to anticipate the dates on which my children were born or my mother died, for example. Although I’ve been divorced for many years, I am also still aware of the approach of my wedding day. This is particularly the case if the weather happens to mimic conditions on the day I married, as it did today.
Driving Dylan back to his care home this afternoon, I couldn’t help but remember how 19 years ago the sky had been equally cloudless, just as blue. My ex-husband and I married in a meadow in Derbyshire; as well as family and friends, our witnesses that day were stones, trees and a river. Our daughter and Dylan (who had been diagnosed autistic just six months before) were in the meadow that day too.
So on the motorway today I was thinking about this and reflecting on how Dylan’s life might have turned out had the marriage lasted. Would he still have needed to go into residential care, I wondered? Perhaps not; maybe with two parents he would have got the support he needed at home? Then again, maybe not; he might have had to go into care earlier. Or perhaps Dylan would have needed the care he does now but not been able to access it? There is no telling what the situation would have been for Dylan, except that it would have been different. He would have benefitted from having another parent around, I acknowledged to the blue sky blue as I drove. But at the end of the day, I thought to myself, I can’t imagine Dylan in a better place than he is now; and it is the future that matters, I told myself.
The minute I had that thought, however, I questioned it; if that was the case, why was I driving myself so far backwards in time like this? And then I remembered how, when Dylan left school, he carried around a photograph of my mum and retrieved things from the past, such as old birthday cards. I knew that leaving school would be difficult for Dylan but I worried that the focus for his sadness seemed to be other things which had happened, in the past. When I mentioned this to a therapist, however, she had a different perspective. Joining up different types of loss, she said, was a resourceful thing to do. Making connections between things which had come to an end could help Dylan to understand and accept his feelings, she suggested. It was actually a good way of dealing with grief; if we made connections between different types of loss more often, she speculated, we might live more integrated lives.
If the therapist is right, going backwards in time could be a necessary part of going forwards. It hadn’t occurred to me, before today, that in order to open some doors to the future I might need to close some doors on the past. But perhaps that is a challenge for all parents when a child leaves home?