How do you write a book containing weepy, emotional passages movingly, without descending into the mawkish or too-easily lachrymose or banal? Some writers, like Jojo Moyes, do it brilliantly, pitching the tone just right.
I’ve no idea whether I do so with any skill. That’s for others to judge. Here’s a little extract, a diary entry, from my book Forebears.
21st August 2008
It’s over. Well it was over yesterday actually, but I couldn’t bring myself to write until today. Quite the worst day of my life. To think that two weeks ago he was absolutely fine. Well I say ‘fine’ but we both knew he wasn’t really. I really mean ‘comparatively fine.’ We knew that his heart had been getting steadily worse this last twelve months; that it was only a matter of time really. Poor boy; as if he hadn’t drawn a short enough straw already. But to be afflicted with congenital heart disease too; it was just too cruel.
The end came so quickly. Thirty-seven years on this earth finished just like that. It seems much longer than a fortnight ago that he seemed in real distress during the night and Andrew, who always kept a stethoscope at home to keep a check on him, sounded his chest and then hurried to the phone to dial 999. Then that last week in hospital as he rapidly slipped away from us. There was nothing really that could be done, although the ICU staff tried their best. And there was no donor heart available just when he so desperately needed one. Although that was always wishful thinking; not being considered a really ‘suitable’ (whatever that meant) case for transplant, he was never near the top of the list.
But at least his end was peaceful. Andrew made pretty damn sure he was as comfortable as he could possibly be, with sufficient pain relief. He made himself a bit of a nuisance I think during the final twelve hours, hovering and fussing and getting up the noses of the intensive care staff. But they could hardly tell a senior consultant, even in another speciality, to shove off. All I could do was sit and hold his hand and talk to him, and try and hold myself together. I think he was aware of me until near to the end, but it was difficult to really tell with all the technology connected to him. But once all the monitors had stopped blipping and the zigzags become flat-lines, then I could let my tears fall. It was such a release.
So my darling Petey’s funeral was yesterday. I was dreading it, and I’m sure Andrew was too. The arrival at the church, steeling oneself to stay in control and finding it filled with so many kind people paying their respects and showing their support; that in itself was nearly my undoing, even before we started. I wanted to run away from it all, find a place to hide like an injured animal and surrender to my grief. He must have been very popular; I’d no idea. Of course it was highly emotional – how could it not be? It was like running a sort of gauntlet, being escorted by the grave-faced undertaker up the aisle, Andrew, Betty, Jay and I, on the worst sort of public display, past all those sympathetic faces, to our seats at the front. Martin was already there, with Paul and Alice, and Andrew’s sister Mary.
Of course we knew the order of service – we’d met with the vicar to choose the hymns and readings and so on. But knowing what would be coming made it no easier. Particularly when we stood to sing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful.’ It seemed such an apposite thing for a celebration of Petey. I know I’m not religious, and would have preferred a Humanist ceremony really, but Andrew wanted the full church thing and I certainly would not have argued with him about the matter of course.
Jay’s contribution was even harder to take. He’d written a poem for his uncle; such sweet, beautiful words. He has such sensitivity for a seventeen-year-old. But he just couldn’t deliver it. After no more than four words the tears were streaming down his face and his voice had collapsed first to a croak and then a stricken silence. He tried to regain control, but it was too much. The vicar murmured to him to go and sit down and took the piece of paper from him. Betty, who was crying uncontrollably too, got up and led him back to us, and after we’d composed ourselves somewhat the vicar read it on his behalf.
Oh I’m sorry. I just can’t go on with this.