For a long time now, the very first saved message on my answerphone has been one from my Mum. I can't remember quite when she left it, probably a year or two ago, but I never quite got round to deleting it. It wasn't a long message either. I was out when she rang, so she left a message to say she'd noticed I was out when she rang, and she'd catch me later. A few seconds, that's all, but happy and chirpy and positive and forward-looking.
I decided to keep this message because I knew that one day my Mum wouldn't be around any more, and it would be nice to pick up the phone and press a button and hear her voice. A bit ghoulish perhaps, but she's not been in great health for some time now and I wanted something reassuring as a keepsake, just in case.
Then a couple of weeks ago, while I was fiddling with answerphone messages from letting agents and decorators and the like, I managed to press the wrong buttons and my Mum's message was lost. I'm not sure quite how I wiped it, it wasn't deliberate, but suddenly it was wholly and irreversibly gone. Dammit, I thought, I really didn't want to do that. But next time she rings, and I'm out, I'm sure she'll leave me a replacement.
Last night I got another phone call, the one every son dreads, to tell me that my Mum wouldn't be ringing again. While I'd been sat crosslegged on the carpet wrapping her Christmas presents, the expert ambulancefolk of Norfolk had been fighting a losing battle to keep her alive. The news wasn't entirely unexpected, and yet everything that happened was so shockingly abruptly sudden. I'm glad that her passing was quick, but I'm heartbroken it had to happen so soon.
I've already bought my Christmas train ticket up to Norfolk - arriving one day too late as it turns out - where this morning I'll be catapulted into a world of shock and grief and emptiness. I'm taking all her presents, even though she'll never open them, and I'm taking a lifetime of love and laughter and memories for good measure. But what I'd really like to do, right now, is to press the message button on my answerphone and to hear her speak those few comforting words once again. Needlessly deleted, but never forgotten.