My mum would have been 95 today and my stepfather 100 or more (I am not great with dates) and, in an ideal world, I’d have been celebrating with them in Portishead. However, it’s not an ideal world. My mum died 20 years ago, my stepfather a few years after she died. I like to remember them both in better, healthier times and not as they were when they were old and ailing.

I watched my mum suffer for the best part of two decades with smoking-related diseases, which caused her great pain. It was always great to see her pretty well every week but it was not great to see her health deteriorate until her life had very little by way of quality. Similarly, my stepfather lurched from Parkinson’s to dementia and long before the end, he became totally consumed and destroyed by them to the extent that this lovely man knew nothing about his life.

I have thought about how to phrase this properly but sod it: when each died, it was a blessing. Seeing your mother creased up in agony day in, day out was horrible. I was, of course, upset when the message came through that she had died suddenly of a massive heart attack but I cannot pretend I wasn’t relieved by the end of her suffering. I was actually with my stepfather when he died. As he drew his final, shallow breath, it was as if his dignity was restored. Everything dementia took away came back. He really looked at peace.

I understand when people say they never get over the loss of a loved one, specifically an older relative. That they think about them every single day. That they never get over it. I can’t say I feel that way. I miss them so much as they were before things started to go wrong. The deterioration of their lives was something I would not want to observe again.

As an atheist, I have never believed that I will survive my own death and then meet dead relatives in some kind of heaven. People are free to believe whatever they want to believe and if eternal life is what they expect to happen, I can only wish them well on their journey. Without faith, I can only believe in what I actually know to be true.

I am the product of where, what and who I came from, warts and all. My mum would have been 95 today, although there was never a chance of her getting anywhere near it. I’m grateful for everything she did, as I am for everything my stepfather did, too. I wish a healthy, happy and independent mum was still with me today, just in case you thought me heartless, but I wouldn’t want to wish the kind of life both she and my stepfather had towards the end because it was no kind of life at all.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, happy birthday mum and George. Good times never seemed so good.