It's funny, isn't it? The smallest thing, the most off-topic thought, something completely from left-field, can just creep up and surprise you. And before you know it, you're struggling to cope.
I was reminded of this last night as I was up to my elbows in the kitchen sink. Apparently you don't get to choose the time or place.
Yesterday was, in the main, a perfectly normal day. I spent the morning with my mother, shepherding her between the various tile-selling establishments of South Birmingham. Ooh, get me and my life. Hemingway had his bullfights, I have earnest discussions with people called Gavin about underfloor heating.
My mother is having a new kitchen installed at the end of the month and is just about as excited about the prospect as is healthy for a 75-year-old woman with one knee. It is not considered good form for someone in her condition to jump on the number 11 bus with 14 square metres of anthracite flooring and 500 wall tiles, so I was on duty.
But as the morning progressed it became clear that I was not just there for my driving abilities. She was asking for my opinion on matters. I was being called upon to help her decide on things like colour schemes and finishes. I was the one doing the mental calculations and asking the technical questions to the fore-mentioned Gavin. (Q: How technical can tiling get? A: Surprisingly, quite a bit.)
Once we'd chosen the floor and wall tiles (entertainingly, from two separate places) there was the small matter of my loading them into the car, driving back to mom's and ferrying them in, pack by pack. This latter task was not helped by the fact that it was me doing it. I am obviously more suited to this than my mother, but to be honest it's a depressingly close call.
Favoured Son of the Day Status gained (none of us can compare with Brother No. 1 for the permanent title - let's face it he has produced a grandchild), I made my way home, concerned that that lugging a couple of dozen packs of tiles seemed to have lengthened my arms to apelike proportions. The rest of the day went pretty much as days do, until I was doing a little light washing up yesterday evening.
I was looking at the tiles on my own kitchen wall and I remembered something mom had said that morning. She'd looked a little bewildered as we walked past the ranks of tile displays, and had said: "I wish your dad was here."
Of course. Dad would have been in his element. In the old days, he'd probably have drawn plans. He'd have been excited about the whole endeavour. The calculations would have been second nature. He and mom would have worked together with the precision and certainty you get from decades.
As I looked at my own tiles I remembered dad putting them up for us eight years ago. Carefully cutting them to shape, spreading the adhesive and slotting them into place with a measured and confident ease. Then I remembered how mom had looked earlier that morning, a little lost and alone and indecisive.
And it hit me right in the guts, there and then.
It gets easier. But it never goes away completely.