This was Mum’s 87th Birthday in July last year. We had a tea party, balloons and cake and sparkling wine. This picture is Mum with her four precious grandsons, the light of her life. Their hands reaching out to her and hers holding on just say ‘Love”. Mum died peacefully two weeks later.
It is a grey old day today. Fog and mist all day and that autumnal dampness that gets under your skin. I took the dog for a walk wearing my winter coat, only its second outing this season. funny to think that this time last year the UK was in the middle of ‘The Big Freeze’ and we were slipping and sliding our way around whilst snow and hoar frosts made the landscape into Narnia under the Snow Queen.
As I get older I appreciate the seasons more. I don’t dread winter any more for its dark nights and mornings. I like the festivals that the seasons bring for the celebrations of light. I like putting on my winter coat and feeling ready for any weather. Watching the leaves dropping from the trees reminds me that December is almost here with family Christmas and celebrations. And then the year turns and we wait for the light to egin to return.
Today I was looking through photos from October when the Missus and I had an escape to Rhodes. Winter is a good time to get out those photos and finally do something with them. I have a project in mind with old family photos to make a scrapbbok for future generations. So many old photos. And then all the images stored on computer, ones I keep meaning to make into albums or frame and put on the walls. So many winter evenings and weekends that could occupy.
This afternoon I am cooking a shepherds pie for dinner with the family. Pottering in the kitchen and creating comfort food, looking forward to seeing everyone together at the table. looking at pohotos, reading my book, catching up on emails. I am very grateful.
I don’t think I have ever been this tired. I just want to sleep. I am having fantasies of just lying down where I am and drifting off. At work I imagine going into one of the therapy rooms, curling up on the sofa and dozing. My body feels like I am wading through a thick gloopy fog that weighs down on my limbs. I slept well last night. Or so I thought. I was in bed by 9.30pm and didnt wake up until I really had to get up this morning at 7.40am. All I wanted to do was get back under the covers and sleep.
I talked myself into showering, getting dressed and breakfasted and going to work. Even with make up on today people keep noticing Im tired. i think the yawning is giving it away. I went for a walk at lunchtime, some fresh air, a trip to the post office. Ate my lunch. Still I just want to sleep. All I can think of is getting home and going to bed.
I think it is grief. I didnt know it could make you so tired. Maybe it is the bodies way of protecting us. Sleep is such a healing thing. And losing someone you love is a shock, however it happens. I know at first it was shock that i felt. like a hit to the brain a flood of chemicals that numbed me out and carried me along on a tide where I was functioning somewhere in a sort of out of body way. Sometimes I have to get angry before i can cry. i think that is happening now. And yesterday I had another shock. A while ago I wrote a blog about exploitation and old age, with particular reference to a situation we had found ourselves in. Yesterday remnants of that situation resurfaced. I had to speak to the lawyer. It will be resolved but it was a shock. People can be truly wicked. I havent experienced that quite so directly before, but now I know it. When i got home I got angry and then I cried. It feels so abusive, so intrusive to have to deal with this now. So the tiredness makes sense i suppose. In the middle of grieving it is hard to know what you are dealing with. Emotions are raw and energy is low.
I hope other people learn from this. If ypou have aging relatives or people you love who are vulnerable, take care. Sometimes that ‘friend’ who has suddenly appeared and seems to be spending a lot of time being helpful is actually ‘grooming ‘ them for abuse and exploitation. They cause rifts between families, prey on the fears and worries of the old, scared or lonely and are psychopathic in their lack of emapthy and calculated self-seeking. I have had nothing but love and support and tenderness from almost everyone and neither did mum. But one bad apple can create a lot of poison if you let it.
I dreamt of Mum last night. It wasn’t a good dream. I was at her funeral but it all went horribly wrong. The undertakers were casual and silly, there were mourners there who had come to say bad things, I got left behind when everyone went to the burial. People were giving out flowers and children were singing but it was all muddled up.
So I didn’t sleep that well and today I am tired. First day back at work today, although I only have to go in for the afternoon thankfully. Perhaps it will do me good to get back into a more normal routine. I have spent a lot of this last week since the funeral just sleeping, reading with occasional walks. I reckon that my body just said rest and recuperate so that’s what I’ve done. I know that grief makes you tired. I think the whole family has felt the same. As its holiday season for students no=one has been up early round here, but I think I have been the most adolescent in my sleeping-in! My healthy eating plan has also fallen by the wayside I have to say. Old habits etc, That’s another reason to be grateful for the containment and order of a return to ordinary life. Having routines helps.
I have found it hard to write about her this week. She is in my thoughts all the time. I don’t think I’m in denial but its hard to believe she has gone. I think if I go to visit Rowan Court there she will be sitting in her chair asleep, glasses round her neck, blue crocs on her feet, and it will be as usual a nice surprise that I’ve turned up again. But last week we cleared out her room, so I know she doesn’t live there anymore.
Her real funeral, not my nightmare one was beautiful. We said goodbye in all the ways we wanted to with hymns and readings and poems. I wrote the words I wanted to be said and the Missus read them out. The boys each wrote their own words to remember their nana. Son 1 read his own words and son 3’s. Son 2 wrote and read a wonderful poem, it blew us all away. I will share it another day. Son 4 wrote of how they would all do Nana proud and the missus read those too. She was laid to rest in a beautiful wicker coffin. Green leaves were wound round the sides and the top was decorated with flowers in blues and pinks and white. The strong blue of cornflowers, not pastels for Mum. Old friends and family joined us of course and we cried and laughed and enjoyed the memories and the company. We had a photo of her from a holiday a few years ago at CenterParcs. She looks so happy in the sunshine. We put it up over the fireplace at the hotel whilst we had tea and now it is on top of the radiator in our kitchen by the table until we decide where to put it up properly. I can see her now smiling at me as I write.
What is dying?
A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon, and someone says, “she is gone”.
Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all; she is just as large as when I saw her…
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone says “she is gone”, there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout, “there she comes!”…
and that is dying.
Is there something about churches that makes me want to look up? The decoration of each tiny part reflecting the worship of hundreds of hands and hearts. A special sort of stillness, the sense of decades of prayerful meditation. I like the simple in everyday spirituality. The branches of a tree reaching into a winter’s sky , the touch of a hand, the beauty of the earth. Sometimes the words of the Psalm, “Mine eyes look up to the hills, from whence cometh my help” resonate. I don’t know that I fully understand their meaning but sometimes words convey a hidden depth that comforts without it being necessary to take them apart.
Today I am looking up and seeing grey skies, but inside it is warm with the scent of homemade rhubarb crumble baking in the oven. The sound of music coming from upstairs. Papers on the kitchen table I have sorted for tomorrow. A mug of tea. Blessings in the ordinary.
Mum adored Joyce Grenfell and this was her favourite. When I was a young Mum with four boys she used to say I sounded just like her. This reminds me of her sense of fun, her being a teacher and of being a Nana.
This poem also by Grenfell says it well for both of us:
If I should die before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must
Parting is hell.
But life goes on.
So sing as well. Joyce Grenfell
I am writing an eulogy. Summing up a life. Remembering moments. Telling stories. Collecting memories. Anyone who has ever written one will know how hard it is. My mind keeps going completely blank. I tell myself that I have been writing about Mum for months, sharing every day gems and the joys and sorrows. And still it is hard to do. I keep starting again. The boys are writing their own words to join with mine. Everyone has been thinking about it today and you can feel it in the house.
I have looked up other words from more famous or clever people. I talked to my sister from my other mum and she told me how she had written a letter to her Dad. I understand that no-one wants a CV, especially one that is dry as dust. It could be like one of those awful courses you go on with work where everyone is supposed to introduce themselves with their name and place of work. It becomes a competition to see who can be the most experienced/cleverest/highest earner. Then again no-one wants to hear of sainthood. The best eulogies seem to combine affection, humour and somehow capture the essence of the person who is gone.
I have been searching for a quote, a few pithy words, a poem, a line. And yet in the end it will be what it has always been – an act of love, speaking words that come from our hearts, raising a smile. In the meantime these few words have made me smile or seem to catch a glimpse of what I want to say.
Death is simply a shedding of the physical body like the butterfly shedding its cocoon. It is a transition to a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh, and to be able to grow.
“Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.” ~ Eskimo Legend
“The highest result of education is tolerance.” Helen Keller
“The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”
Oh and then there are the reindeer ears. This story must be told. At Christmas time on our regular trip to the garden centre Mum found these ears. They play music too. She insisted on wearing them all the way round the shop. One or two people looked askance. Most smiled with us. “They can use me for advertising” she said. We brought the ears home this week. They still make me grin.
I think everyone knows who should do.
The funeral is arranged.
Cards and messages and flowers, hugs and kind words surround us.
Tomorrow is A level results day. Son 3 is waiting . It will be a happy day I am sure. We are proud of him. This will be the first family moment that Nana is not here for. But she knew already he will do well, whatever happens.
I catch myself thinking to tell her things or noticing little moments of loss. My colleagues gave me a beautiful orchid today.Mum always managed to keep them growing beautifully. She gave me several. I killed all of them. Maybe she’ll help me keep this one!
Sunday, Sunday a day for taking it slow.I met with the funeral director this morning. Such a lovely man. Its been a family firm since 1832 and we used them for my Dad 5 years ago. He remembered all the details and it was so easy to arrange for Mum because she wanted just the same. We will have a service in the church. The one we saw every week as we took her out and where the bells were ringing the night she died. You can see the steeple from the front door. She will have a beautiful wicker basket with flowers woven round the handles. Afterwards she will be buried next to my Dad in a Woodland cemetery.
This afternoon we went to visit dad and to let him know it wont be long until she is there beside him. His tree has grown strong and tall, an oak. And the wildflower seeds we scattered have taken root and spread. The number of trees has grown over the last few years so there is now a little thicket of them set amongst the rolling countryside. It is on a small rise so you can look down onto farmland and watch the cows in the field next door. It is a peaceful place with birdsong. The dog likes to walk there and sniff about. It is nice to know where she will be.
After we went to visit the pub we will go to after the service. It sits on the canal with narrowboats pulled up alnogside and baskets of flowers spilling over. The Trent and Mersey canal was opened in 1777 and The Star Inn was open at least a century before that. We walked up the canal towpath to the bridge admiring the boats and sat at a table under a big red umbrella to have a drink and watch the world go by. We admired the dog in a life jacket on top of a boat running up and down the roof. The Missus has her heart set on a narrowboat whereas I have yearnings for a motor home. Watching the boats today and the peaceful pace, I might be persuaded, but don’t tell her. Sunday was a day for Mum. We would take her out for lunch and often for a drive. Today it felt like she was with us. We talked about her all afternoon. I havent cried yet. It still doesn’t really seem real. I expect I will. Tonight we are all going out for an Indian meal. me and the Missus, all the boys and girlfriends. It is the first time we have all been together at once since Friday. It will be good to all be together and be family. I think I am going to take a picture of Mum with me and we can have her on the table and drink a toast to her.