My Dad and stepmother have just been down to visit. My stepmum - let's call her Ann - has motor neurone disease (MND), diagnosed just last Autumn. Before she was diagnosed, if someone said 'motor neurone disease' to me I'd have said "Ah yes! Stephen Hawkin. Clever bloke, wheelchair, shame he can't move but at least he's got a brain the size of a planet. Must keep him busy."
But that's the most cruel part, in a way. You lose your bodily functions and yet you are horribly aware of them fading away, an almost perceptible daily loss of, in Ann's case, her ability to swallow, her ability to walk, climb stairs, and her speech. Right now, nine months after diagnosis, she is unable to talk at all, she finds it hard to swallow and has just had a 'PEG' operation so that she can feed direct to the gut, and can barely walk.
And it will get worse. And she knows it.
And the relationship between Ann and my Dad has changed from equal lovers to disabled person and carer.
And they both know that, come two years or so, Ann will die.
So a situation like this pulls you up short. You start to think that, yes, I've been through tough times but shit. Really. This is nothing to what they're going through.
Giles Brandreth is doing a talk on happiness at the moment, touring the UK, and my Dad was telling me about it. Giles thinks that a large part of being able to be happy is down to having family and friends, but also not to be too introspective. Don't analyse every single thing about yourself, how you think others perceive you, worry about pleasing people or pissing them off. Just be. See as many people as you can. Be good to people if you are able - and they will be good to you. Think of others - it will be repaid to you in spades.
And this is what my Dad and Ann are doing. Going out, making the most of what they have left. Playing bridge while they can. Keeping in touch.
They bring perspective to my life.