When my uncle was killed in a road accident, it fell to my mother, his sister, to break the sad news to my grandmother.
Gran just blinked when she was told, and stared into space for several minutes. My mother prepared the universal panacea for grief, a strong cup of tea, but when it was placed beside my grandmother, she said she preferred coffee, and since she hardly ever saw her son, she didn’t feel she would be affected in any concrete way by his death.
By the time the coffee came, my grandmother had amended her statement, declaring that he’d always sent her a tenner at Christmas and birthdays, so she was going to miss that.
Several years later, within a few hours of my father’s death, my mother announced her intention of turning his bedroom into a study where she could conduct her correspondence and store her books. It would be nice, she said, to have the extra space.
I pondered both of these instances at the time, wondering whether there was a streak of self-centredness running through our family, or whether perhaps this was just one way of dealing with loss.
Whatever, it seemed callous, and I hoped that if it were a family trait, it might have skipped a generation in me.
It was disappointing therefore when some years later, faced with two sombre-looking policemen on the settee opposite, I heard my voice ring out.
“Good grief, he was only halfway through decorating the dining room.”