The news this morning of Tessa Jowell’s death deeply moved me. Among the many tributes to her, I heard, again, the speech she made to The House of Lords regarding NHS cancer treatment. If you haven’t heard it, or read it, I urge you to. It is brilliant oration. In her closing remarks, she said,
‘In the end, what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close…’
Her words made me think about my great-aunt, Bette Kitson. Aunty Bette died of motor neurone disease. When she was in hospital, her health failing, my mum took me to see her. I remember visiting a frail – scrawny even – drawn woman. She was vastly different to the woman who I’d known growing up. She had a laugh like a sonic boom, she was jolly, and she was fun to be around. I adored her. I adored the combined ‘Parker’ craziness of my Gran and her two sisters. In hospital, my great-aunt said that she ‘had the body she’d always dreamed of.’ She wasn’t celebrating when she said that. She had hated her body all her life, and when she was dying, she hated it for betraying her, despite it yielding to the shape she had long dreamed of. I have carried her words around for the last twenty-five years, yet still feeling the same trap as her. It is a meaningless pursuit, a waste of time and energy. Does worrying about your body give life meaning? It’s not how a life should be measured. It’s not how people remember those that have died.
Tessa Jowell’s words filled the great expanse of space this morning as I walked on the beach at Gwithian Towans. Thinking about the fragility of life, of health, of well-being. I laughed at my dog bounding through the breaking waves. I engaged with the ‘glorious strangers club’ that many dog-owners belong to – talking to, and smiling at, people with their dogs. I strode out, remembering when I struggled to walk for more than a few minutes, gasping for breath.
From the mist of my memories, a clear feeling emerged. I felt grateful.
Tessa Jowell’s speech can be found here: