A year ago my parents came to visit us for what turned out to be the last time.
We knew my dad was ill of course. His symptoms had got worse since we had visited Sussex in the Summer. But he was still driving everywhere and got on with everything we did when my parents were here. Nobody knew how quickly his health would deteriorate or that barely six months later he would be living in a care home.
But my mother was still full of life and the excitement of finding new things to do, to experience, to photograph. We had a packed few days and she had so much zest for everything we saw. Nobody would have guessed then that her cancer would return so aggressively, that just ten months after arriving to visit us, full of life, she would be dead.
I will treasure those days for the rest of my life. My dad never got to meet Clare when he was healthy - even in the summer his health problems (and I suspect his upbringing too) meant he couldn't fully deal with his son becoming his daughter.
But my mother got to meet Clare when she was healthy. Last summer when Kit and I were in Sussex for a few weeks I was in the early days still, experimenting and finding my way and lacking in confidence. Everyone knew I was Clare, but it was very scary for me - as it turned out more scary than it needed to be. Even so, she could see the changes in me - the new light, the new joy, the release from so much of the past. And the difference in the less than two months between then and my parents' visit was quite astounding.
So the visit a year ago was the only time my mother got to experience not just her daughter, but her confident daughter. I treasure those days. And I know she treasured them too.
My mother wrote a lot about that visit. I'm not going to say much more - just link to her blog posts. There are short ones she wrote when here and then posts with lots of photos that she wrote after the visit. Sometimes it is good to look back.
To be honest I'm putting my mother's posts here for my own benefit so I can find them all easily in one place. If you want to take a look - and there are great photos of family and the local area - then do. Regular readers of my mother's blog will know that they did all sorts of things and the blog, before the sad endings, is filled with descriptions of lives well lived.
People who have only met me in the last eighteen months should be warned against scrolling back in the blog. I know many actively don't want to learn my old name. And there are some photos that are quite scary. There are some relatively decent photos of me - but not many. Yes, I know I'm biased in my opinions of pictures of me! But I can see the darkness, the sadness in my eyes, behind even the best of the smiles I gave when living as a man.
First the diary posts during the visit:
It's a good thing they didn't take Isaac given how things developed. And Isaac himself got ill and died during the summer when I was in Sussex.
And then the posts after the visit with lots of photos. The posts between these ones make for much sadder reading - many of them deal with stress and anxiety about my dad. Even on days out to places they loved such as Nymans Gardens or the Bluebell Railway there is still the anxiety in evidence.
Newcastle residents may enjoy the pictures in some of these, especially of our walk through Jesmond Dene, Armstrong Park, Heaton Park, and Jesmond Vale and then to the Biscuit Factory. That was a great day. To think that a year ago my parents were both up to doing so much. My dad needed encouragement but he could still do it all.
No photos of the fourth and final day. On that day we went to Tynemouth Market, satisfying the urge to buy things for my mother's antiques dealing. And then to North Shields for the market there and for lunch at one of the cheap pizza places on the fish quay - three courses for £3.95. Many photos taken of the boats and the river with interesting lighting effects thanks to the weather.
Such wonderful days. There will be more wonderful days. I feel joy that we had those days together. And still much sadness because we cannot have more days together. I'm still grieving for my mother and unfortunately am not able to help my dad at this time in all his problems which have been far worse than anyone could have expected.
But for today. Looking back to better times.