Music Webmaster: L.Mullenger@coventry.ac.uk
DEATH OF MY MOTHER AND FATHER
This is the saddest of my chapters, and yet why should death be so sad? If we believe, as Mrs. Green said, that "We are a long time dead", in other words that death is the end of everything for us then of course death is a terrible thing and there is no hope for us. But William Blake was singing songs on his death-bed. For him the dawn was coming when he died
I hope to be like that when I die. It must be like an awakening, to find the dawn in progress while the nights shades of the old life come to an end.
My poor Mother suffered from thyroid trouble, which I believe can be cured now. If she had been living today, she might have gone on into her eighties and nineties as I have done. But she came to an end at seventy. She was not happy from sixty-five onwards. She suffered perhaps from having too little to do. With a cook and parlour maid and our dear nanny she had only her piano and harp and painting to turn to. While she felt young and happy, these were a wonderful interest and I have many of her pictures that seem to assure her of immortality quite apart from her harp-playing that I remember with joy.
But the time was bound to come when she grew tired of these things. She began, to suffer from a kind of depressive mania. She had her seasons, her ups and downs. Perhaps this was most difficult at the height of her "ups", when she seemed like a child living in a fantastic world of her own which was bound to crash when the time came.
This was happening while I was at Oxford. I remember Emlyn Williams coming to see us when my Mother was in one of her hyper-happy moods. With his Welsh courtesy he tried to please her, and agreed for her to copy one of her paintings. I had to take it up to him at Christ Church. But of course it was not the kind of thing that could adorn an undergraduates rooms. I was not surprised to learn later that he had sent it home to his Mother.
Her season would soon change and she would become more and more depressed. She was at her best when her Spring or Autumn came and I think it was perhaps easier when she was thoroughly depressed than when she was in her gay summer.
This mania was bound to wreck her in the end. As my sister became more and more the bright young woman who despised all this folly and listened to my Fathers interesting stories seeming to take her place as his wife. There was bound to come a dreadful collapse when she was driven in on herself. I recall the moment when the photographs of her dearest relatives in her large family had to be curtained off, as they seemed to come to life and haunt her.
I am glad now that I had come back to live at home when my family was faced with this trauma.
One cold December night in 1929 (before Christmas) I was awakened from my slumber in the "bachelors room" (from which we had once been able to see the Crystal Palace in all its glory, until it was burnt down) and called down to my Mothers bedroom. It was a terrible shock to see her as she had just been wrestling with death, but as I later wrote in my poem "Death and Burial", when I compared it with the beautiful little girl that the Undertakers made of her, ready for burial:
That old battered corpse shipwrecked there
Gave me the better hope of conquered death."
After this tragedy and the burial arrangements that followed, my Father felt that we could all do with a change of air, so he took us away to the South of France for Christmas with his old school-friend, Dick Buckland.
When we came back refreshed by this experience, there was a noticeable change in the relationship especially of Father and Daughter. A new actor had appeared on the scene in the person of my friend Dick Brooks who liked taking Phyllis out to dinner, or the theatre, or dances. He brought her home conscientiously although he lived right at the other end of London, but would rarely appear at our home, so that he was bound sooner or later to rouse my Fathers suspicions, especially at a time when he was being deprived of female sympathy.
Short of setting a private detective on his tracks, my Father did everything he could to find out poor Dicks reputation among his colleagues and associates. My father thought he was a philanderer and had no honest pretensions, such as might lead to a respectable marriage. There is no doubt that my Father was jealous of Dick Brooks. But it did not make for a happy relationship with his daughter just at the moment when he needed her as a companion in his last years.
One night I happened to be caught on the landing when I overheard my Father receiving Phyllis at the front door after she had been spending a night out with Dick Brooks at the theatre. He had brought her home to the door and left her as he had a long way to get back. My Father was receiving her with a storm. I could tell that he had quite spoilt the whole enjoyment of the evening. He was arguing with her, and neither would agree for one moment with the other. He had reduced her to tears, and I could not bear to stay and hear any more.
They had been as thick as thieves together, and I had always been the one that was wrong - in both their eyes. Now for the first time they were divided.
It came to a spell in a nursing-home, followed by a return home with a resident nurse to superintend. The first Nurse was quickly followed by a second Nurse, leaving her with a description of the family, which was later shown to me. "And then theres a boy - a sexless creature " It was not very flattering. The second Nurse showed it to me presumably in the hopes of stirring me up, for she had fallen in love with me.
So I was this "sexless creature" - at any rate in one womans eyes, and the second Nurse did not mind upbraiding me with such a reputation. I could not feel any love for her, least of all after my Father died, when she seemed to be weeping for the loss of her patient but really perhaps because she would be seeing me no more.
It made me feel rather a brute and left with the suspicion that I might be homosexual, but I took comfort in the fact that I had always had a lot of women friends.
The terrible moment came when my Father died in my presence and in that of the little Nurse. Phyllis remained downstairs. It was too much for her. I remember his last words - tiny little words - as from a great distance I could never forget those words. "Where am I?"
There was no storm such as made my Mother like the wreck of a ship. The end came quite peacefully. "Where am I?" Then he took his last breath, a turbulent one. Then all was over.
I stood up and kissed him on the forehead. I thought I heard the little Nurse laugh. Perhaps it was rather pompous. But she didnt know all that had gone on between us.
She was left with us for a day or so, weeping apparently for the loss of her patient. But I knew that it was really because of my indifference to her. It all left me with the horrid feeling that I might be homosexual. I had always thought that the sons of fathers that did not love them were ripe for homosexuality.
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