‘Loss teaches us about one of the most enduring kinds of love.’
I am blessed by a child who came to me late in life, and I love this daughter of mine, who is now ten years old, inordinately. I am perfectly sure that all parents love their children inordinately. But I don’t simply laugh and smile on my daughter’s birthday. I also cry. For there is another birthday that I commemorate by visiting a country graveyard in the South of England, the final resting place of my maternal grandparents, on which my first daughter’s ashes are scattered. She died just before she was born, a baby who had my hands and feet and her father’s nose. I placed her with my grandparents because I know they will look after her until we all meet again. It didn’t take me long, after I first began to create the character of Ellen Parr, to realize that while I was writing about an English village during the Second World War, at its heart, I was writing about loss. Ellen, unlike me, is childless, so she never experienced my pain. Her pain is different: the child she looks after and grows to love, Pamela, is taken away from her at a young age to live far away. I have not known the pain of this kind of parting and I hope I never will.
But what Ellen and I share – I know this – is the kind of awed longing, the pin-sharp memory for detail, the intense sense of preciousness and yearning, that goes with loving a child who has departed. The small things left behind – in my case it might be a pink baby blanket, in Ellen’s case a pencil stub found twenty years later, chewed by milk teeth – are freighted with an almost wondrous power. So is this book about loss? Yes. But loss is not a gap or hole, not a crude absence.
As Ellen and I discovered, a small girl may be gone, but she is never gone. She remains present in our memories and our love. Loss teaches us about one of the most enduring kinds of love – the love we have for the people we will not see again. And so we come to understand what endurance is. And so we value life. And so we grow.
We Must be Brave
Out 7th February 2019