This too shall pass

In a bid to save my lowest incisor from falling out, the periodontist recommended a third skin graft. A third, I say, and the worst one of all.

This time the good doctor needed to wrench out my lower lip and press hard against my jaw to hold the small flap of skin he’d taken from the roof of my mouth and attached at the gum line.

Not a pretty procedure.

Every time I tell people about it I see them wince.

Bodies are such fragile things and when it comes to our own we take comfort from giving all the grisly details to anyone willing to hear. That way we share some of the discomfort.

In every grimace and groan there is a sense of the unspoken: ‘You poor thing, how awful. I’m not sure I could have tolerated that.’

And now the only discomfort left is the gathering of stitches at my lower jaw, still holding the slip of skin in place, though hopefully no longer necessary, assuming the graft has taken.

It’s been ten days now and there are no signs to the contrary but these stitches, the non-dissolving type – presumably because they’re in my mouth and saliva might have eaten away too soon at the dissolving type – remind me of a fish caught on a hook, the same stinging sensation every time I move my mouth around to talk and to eat.

If I write long enough I will forget the insides of my mouth and move up to the insides of my mind.

I have a photograph on my desk of my siblings, all nine of us, posed together for the camera in 2009, the last time we ever came together as a complete group.


We meet in snatches, one or two sisters, brothers, a brother and sister here and there. A large family fractures simply because of its size, I wrote many years ago. Ours did. We could not sustain our mother’s wish that we be together in harmony forever more.

It may well be that we never come together as a group again. We are reaching the stage where one or another of us is likely to die soon, given we range in age from the mid fifties to the mid seventies.

For almost twenty years – no longer – my mother gave birth to babies. She started at twenty-three years of age and her last baby, conceived in her forty third year, was still born. I was ten. Her first daughter died too, as a five month old during the war. My mother had eleven children all up and nine of us survived.

I write about these numbers often. They are a testament to something. My mother’s greatest achievement, my father’s greatest burden, at least he argued that way.  All those children, he complained. ‘I should have taken the pill’.

There was no way known my mother would take the pill.  Good Catholic she was, contraception was out of the question. And so it was my parents had many children and my mother relished every new arrival, mourned the lost ones and my father’s resentment multiplied.

The rough end of the stitch cut close to the wound points out and scrapes against the inside of my mouth. Not painful but irritating. And I must wait another week before the doctor will remove them.

I can only imagine the relief now but it’s a comfort to think that soon enough it will come.



14 thoughts on “This too shall pass”

  1. I understand your pain and annoyance with stitches in your mouth, and I bet they can’t be removed quickly enough! I hope the graft takes—fingers crossed—and this is the last one you need.
    I love reading your childhood stories—your prose is lovely, which makes it easy, and the story itself is entertaining, and moving—real life trumps fiction for its uniqueness sometimes. In this day and age, with contraception-use widespread, even amongst Catholics, nine children is rare, and it’s hard to believe that once upon a time, it was quite common. I’m from a Catholic family, but am one of only three (I’m glad my parents had the good sense to go against the Church’s rules, and that my father underwent some delicate surgery).
    My mother was one of eight, and she told me about her mother’s anger each time she was pregnant—telling my grandfather at one stage that she was pregnant with another one of his bastards. She had twins at nearly forty, my uncles, who are only five years older than me, and miscarried in 1965, the year before I was born. Like your mother, my grandmother refused contraception on religious grounds.
    I can’t imagine life for these women—accepting pregnancy after pregnancy, child after child, giving up their youth and their bodies and their dreams to children. My grandmother was an intelligent and creative woman, but an abusive mother. However, once her children had left home and she’d left much of the stress of child-rearing behind, she became quite a pleasant lady.
    Thank goodness for contraception!

    1. I agree, Louise, the lives of women of our mothers and grandmother’s generation must have been pretty awful at times, and it was all they knew. I’ve been watching Downton Abbey for about the fourth time, and every time I watch it anew I’m appalled at the inequalities of gender and class. Unlike your mother’s mother, my mother loved having babies. She was not so good with the older children, especially adolescents but the was wonderful with babies, which was a great help, at least when we were babies. Thanks, Louise.

  2. I admit to shuddering at the description of your mouth surgery and again at your implied pain and discomfort. I really like how you wove in the photo of all of your siblings and the fractures and resentments and harmony inherent in such a large family.

    1. So much of my writing comes back to life in a crowded family, Elizabeth. It was such a feature of my childhood. And although my current family is so much smaller than my family of origin somehow when we get together it always seems a crowd. And the more people there are in any situation the more likely the conflict. As inevitable as ageing teeth and gums, I suppose.
      Thanks, Elizabeth.

  3. I haven’t been to a dentist in years. God know what they’d find wrong with my mouth. Probably want to replace my whole jaw.

    I have two sisters and a brother, and that seems like a lot, but I guess it’s relatively minute compared to your family. With my parents both gone, and me not married and childless, they’re all the family I got at the moment–along with my nephew and niece. I guess that right there makes me not want to pick too many fights with them.

    1. Anything to do with the teeth, gums and mouth is something most of would prefer to avoid, Kirk, but necessary I suppose. And as for the size of families, it’s all relative. My little family of six seems huge by today’s standard of three to four. Thanks.

  4. The squeamishness reminds me of trying to explain eye surgery procedures when friends ask about my eye ops. TMI. Friends blink and rub their eyes, can’t bear to hear another word.

    I hope your mouth heals soon.

  5. My wife takes a great deal of interest in procedures. She’ll go online and watch videos of what the doctors are going to do to her. Me, I don’t want to know. Wake me up when it’s over. Don’t even tell me what you’re going to do. My mother hated both doctors and dentists and she might even be alive today had she not been so insistent at the end that I not phone the doctor. As it happens I disobeyed her but left it too late; she either died as I got up to phone or as I was on the phone. It was a peaceful death either way.

    Just as I hate people talking about medical procedures these days I find myself getting annoyed when they drone on and on about families which is why I didn’t comment on this post last week because I found myself wanting to go off on one and this wasn’t the place for that. I haven’t seen either my brother or my sister since Mum died and I highly doubt I’ll ever see them again. Neither has an online presence so I can’t even see how they’re doing there. Part of my problem stems from the fact my parents virtually never saw members of their own families as adults—in my mother’s case ‘virtually’, in my dad’s case ‘never’—and so the notion of the extended family has always been a strange one. When my siblings got married and my first niece appeared I still found myself uncomfortable with these other people as members of my family. I didn’t want my stepkids to call me ‘Dad’ either; they weren’t mine. I was happy to look after them and give them pocket money but they had a dad and I’ve always hated the fact that my daughter calls the man her mother married after me ‘Dad’ and still does.

    1. I noticed your silence here, Jim, but you can’t always respond, nor should you. Nor should you feel compelled to feel ‘positive’ about families or procedures. I prefer the occasional cranky response. It keeps life interesting, otherwise we all become too sugar sweet. On the other hand, I also enjoy the business of trying to figure out why things are the way they are, whether for good or ill. Thanks then for putting aside your annoyance enough to respond. Better I should know than not.

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