But there is more. Take their grown-up children, whose lives I have heard a lot about over the years, but I haven’t seen them for ages. Sometimes, there is a vague memory that there was some problem in the past that I was told about. Was there a son with a messy marital problem – did they get divorced or sort it out? Or was it the daughter? I should know, but it has completely gone from my head.
Or was it a work problem? Did the daughter get fired or made redundant? Little details can be very important. It looks thoughtless to have forgotten. Perhaps I can get by with “How is that son of yours getting on?” and hope that covers all contingencies. With luck, I won’t have to reveal my forgetfulness.
But then comes the killer. We might be friends with an older couple who we don’t see often, and I can’t for the life of me remember whose parents are still alive. I can’t say “How’s your father doing?” if he died two years ago in difficult circumstances, which they told me all about. But I also don’t want to offer condolences if the man is in rude health.
Two people means four parents. Oh dear. And this does matter to people. It’s not like the names of grandchildren. This happens more often than I want to think. I’ve never found a good solution, aside from keeping the conversation going long enough and hoping it comes up naturally. Sometimes, a friend will say “After my father died….” And I breathe a big sigh of relief.
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