Before February 2015, Mark was just getting on with his life, he rang now and again, came to stay sometimes and I went to see him but that was it. I never wanted to be the sort of mother who needed to know what he or any of his brothers were up to moment by moment. I was happy to have confident sons who simply got on with their lives, had adventures, rang or visited now and again . I knew I was always welcome for the occasional visit to see any of them and having four sons, it never really meant that any got more attention than they wanted. I had my life, writing poetry, doing some counselling, running a small publishing venture and Chris and I were enjoying being a couple again after bringing up the boys. If anything all four have probably spent more time with Chris in their adult years as he likes to organise walks and football matches. My sons were, and are an important part of my life but not the only thing I had in it. In fact Mark used to joke sometimes that I was often difficult to reach on the phone.
But all that changed with the advent of secondary cancer for Mark. We became very close, closer than I ever thought I would be with a son. On bad days we’d often curl up on the sofa with a video and I attended almost every hospital appointment, often with other family members, sometimes just me and Mark. Between appointments there were games; Ticket to Ride or Camel Cup when there were lots of us, Bananagrams or Scrabble with just the two of us. Long hospital days in London came to mean visits to museums, the cinema, and once a lovely guided tour round Chelsea Physic garden with a keen volunteer. It got us out of the hospital environment between appointments and passed the time in a lovely way. Some nights when I could not sleep I would check my phone and find Mark was also not sleeping and wherever we were, we’d connect and play Word Feud. Even in those last days in The Royal Marsden, Word Feud continued until he could no longer see and the last game we played expired on January 9th, ten days before he died.
The last mortal remains of Mark William Sims were delivered to us from the undertaker in London, arriving in a green plastic screw top container as I knew they would . I was prepared with a shiny red steel urn and on the kitchen table poured the almost white ash from one container to another, at one point, letting it run through my fingers like slightly gritty sand. Is this all I have left now? I carried the shiny receptacle upstairs to Mark’s room, placed it carefully on his shelf amongst his souvenirs. Later we will follow his wishes and scatter the ashes at sea. Yet for now it’s right to have the red urn on his shelf in the room he slept in all through his teens, the room he always came home to whenever he stayed. We won’t make it a shrine for ever, but for now it feels right.
It is twenty five days now since our beautiful son died. Our lives have been filled with the love of family, friends, neighbours. I get a lot of joy from holding babies. We had a small intimate family gathering for Mark in London and we have looked at hundreds of photographs, watched videos, listened to his voice on radio recordings. We have marvelled at how incredible he was and feel comforted to a certain extent to know how much he was cherished. But it can never be enough. It is so hard to not speak with him most days, so hard to come to terms with never again seeing that gorgeous smile in the flesh.
This week we are preparing for Mark’s memorial event at Leicester University and looking forward to seeing many of you there. It starts at 2.30 in the Peter Williams lecture theatre but arrive a little earlier for a tea or coffee first.