My son was born in the middle of this month. My husband too. And so there is much to celebrate. But it’s also the month in which three members of my close family have died. On 21 September, my then older sister, possessing only seventeen years of age, died in a car that my father was driving. My mother was also in that car. And my twin brother and older brother. But not me.
They all survived, but with varying degrees of harm: my father with a head injury that would end his career as an architect, irrevocably changing his personality and ability to function as an intelligent, inquisitive man; my mother with multiple physical injuries that still affect her quality of life now though thankfully she is fully independent; and my two brothers with only minor physical injuries, but emotional ones running deep….
A stroke, two weeks after a long haul flight, was the cause of the accident I later learnt, not my father’s misjudgement.
That was 28 years ago today. I was fourteen. Twenty eight years. Hard to believe.
And so began the start of a very different family life from my peers. I think this was the time that I subconsciously started to think that everyone else is normal, until maturity and the passing of years taught me that actually no one else was.
It was also in September that my elegant, funny, and full-of-contradictions maternal Granny died, this one a natural death and at a good age. My Bridge-playing, sherry drinking, run-for-the-bus Granny, who talked and laughed with everyone and anyone she met, from the cockney market stall holders to our parish priest (who she’d always be at pains to remind that she was a ‘heathen’!).
And it was in September that my father was buried, eight years ago, 5 years after falling over in a moving bus and breaking his hip, exactly 20 years after the car accident. He was buried above my sister. He was 79 years old. Those 20 years hadn’t been easy, for him or my mother, or for me and my brothers as we effectively lost a husband and a father at the time of the accident even though he remained alive. Indeed, he was more than merely alive in that he had full use of his physical faculties and that, despite what doctors predicted, his brain cells did regrow meaning he could lead a semblance of a normal life. This was one of many things that I saw as answers to prayer. Over the years the anger began to subside and he became softer and less exacting. And thanks to his free bus pass he regained a certain amount of independence and kept M&S desserts in business! And so when he died, his death was a peculiar one for us all, in that we mourned what he had lost 20 years before….
All this sadness comes at a time of un-paralled natural beauty, as summer gives way to winter in a stunning swan song. And, in more recent years, at a time of celebration as we throw birthday parties for my son and more muted versions for my husband whose birthday falls just before my son’s. I like to call it ‘cake week’!
I find I’m beguiled by this month. I adore the soft morning mist that starts off the day, later softly lifting like a veil, to reveal a glorious blue sky. I lap up the beauty of the turning of leaves even though I know what this act of nature heralds: winter, my least favourite season.
I used to find September such a difficult month. But as the years have passed, and birthdays have been added to its calendar, the piquancy of its pain has waned. And so, despite all this sadness and death, it’s inevitable and premature endings, I find I now love this month.
September is a month of new things: classes, uniform, projects, possibilities. Ok, it marks the end of care-free, list-free summer but it is tempered by nature’s stunning shut-down contrasted with the opening of new possibilities. It also gives our family a chance to stop and remember, with fondness, our lost loved ones.
It is a month where the celebration of new beginnings is interwoven with memories of death and summer’s end.
And isn’t this what it means to be be fully alive? To rejoice in new life or lives that are gone but have left their mark, and to mourn the passing of beauty, the death of life; to accept the passing of the seasons.