Throughout our lives there will be moments when things are taking place for the last time, and if we recognise a ‘last time’ for what it is the pain can be excruciating. Someone going to see a sick relative in hospital may know they are going to say goodbye. A woman, suitcases in the hall, taxi outside the door, knows these are her last few minutes of being a wife in anything but name. But mostly it doesn’t happen that way, and that’s a mercy. Most of the time we manage not to see: we either screen out the knowledge by focussing on irrelevances, or manage to introduce an element of doubt. A miracle might happen. She might pull through. Maybe we’ll get together again, when we’re old and grey.
Everything passes, everything breaks, everything wearies.
Which sounds better in the French: tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse.
More convenient still, from the pain and anguish point of view, we don’t realise most last things were last things until long, long afterwards. It’s a bit like the menopause. One day it dawns on you that it must have happened, at some point. And hooray, no more flushes (British) flashes (American) or Personal Summers (Canadian). I do love Canadians; they’ve got a kindly version of everything. What a joy to discover that if in an equable, Canadian frame of mind one might substitute hasn’t got all his paddles in the water for the overused three bricks short of a load or the light’s on but no one’s at home.
Time passes, and little by little everything that we have spoken in falsehood becomes true. Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922)
But I digress. So, sad last things – slightly frivolous, less sad or neutral last things – last things to do with dementia and ageing – happy last things. (You can tell I made a sort of plan, for once. Have since diverted from it in several directions.)
Sad last things: the last time you see your homeland; the last time you kiss the love of your life; the last time you sleep with him/her; the last time you see your father or mother.
Slightly frivolous, less sad, or neutral last things: the last time you look down at the scales and read your ideal weight; the last time you believe in Father Christmas; the last time the tooth-fairy leaves a sixpence under your pillow (what is it with tooth-fairies – so fickle!); the last time you tell your troubles to your teddy bear and he makes you feel better.
Last dementia/ageing things: the last time you get into a car and drive somewhere without being scared witless; the last time you have a normal conversation with somebody, as opposed to believing you are having a normal conversation; the last time you read a book or watch a TV programme without falling asleep five minutes into it.
Happy last things: the last time you walk out the door of a job you hated; the last minute of a headache, when it finally starts to fade; the last time somebody will ever turn the television off or switch channels in the middle of a programme you were engrossed in; the last childbirth (remind me to tell you my sister’s story about the maternity ward and Spotted Dick pudding – though I suspect I already did that, somewhere).
Everything passes. Nobody gets anything for keeps. And that’s how we’ve got to live. Appreciate the moment, every loved one, here and now. Haruki Murakami, contemporary Japanese writer (b: 1949)
Everyone will have his or her own list of last times. But remember there are first times too, and that without the last times the first times would have no meaning.
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face: Roberta Flack