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.
The Cochiti Pueblo are located in north central New Mexico near the city of Albuquerque. One of the more famous Cochiti artists is Helen Cordero. She was born in 1915 in New Mexico. In the late 1950s, she and her cousin, an accomplished potter, began making pottery as an alternative to leather and beadwork. Cordero was never satisfied with her bowls and pitchers, but then her cousin suggested that she try figures instead. In Cordero’s words, it was “like a flower blooming.” Countless tiny birds and animals and eventually, people came to life. Helen Cordero, of Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, created her first storyteller figure when she was 49 years old. She modeled it after her grandfather who told stories about their Native American culture. One of the traditional figurine forms was a seated female figure holding a child, known as the Singing Mother. When Cordero tried her hand at this form, she “kept seeing my grandfather [Santiago Quintana]. That one, he was a really good storyteller, and there was always lots of us grandchildren around him.” When she shaped the first portrait of her paternal grandfather, she used the traditional design but made the figure male and placed more than a realistic number of children on him. She called him Storyteller. Between five and thirty figures cling to her sculptures. Following the tradition begun by Helen Cordero, many other artists in Cochiti Pueblo began to create storyteller figures and developed their own styles. Seferina Ortiz created drummers and animals. Other artists created cowboy or acrobatic figures. The Cochiti Pueblo Indians did not record their stories as we do but passed them orally to their children and grandchildren. Many of the storyteller figures are created with their mouth open and eyes closed as the Native Americans will sing or chant their stories aloud. Native Americans tell stories about creation, how certain plants and animals came to be and stories of legends, history, ceremonies or rituals. Many stories and dances or rituals are ways to honor the earth and nature’s way. Other stories tell about family, love, friendship, hunting, and so on. Some songs are performed to aid the deceased in his journey to the next world. There are reputed to be over 500 songs just for this purpose. Helen Cordero was the first Native American to create storytellers and has sold many of her sculptures. Helen Cordero’s storytellers have been exhibited in museums in Canada and the United States and have won many awards including the Governor’s award in 1982.
This is a wonderful site that teaches you how to make one for yourself New Mexico Storyteller sculptures
Some years ago whilst in Albuquerque I bought three small storytellers. I gave one to Mum and Dad and it was always on their fireplace. Now I have the three on my desk at work. They remind me every day of how important stories are. The life story we create, the ones we tell our children, grandchildren and friends. The way in which we experience the world is made up of the stories we believe about ourselves and other people.
today I was looking at my little storytellers all over again. I had been talking to someone about Mum and her death. I realised it was like giving birth. The story we tell needs telling, sometimes over and over until somehow we make sense of it and understand it. We tell the story in our families and in our heads. If we are lucky we have people who will share the story with us or just let us tell it how we see it without trying to alter it or make it better or make it theirs. When I read again about the storytellers I heard about the songs that are sung to help the dead person go on their journey and I thought of how I sang to her “The Skye Boat Song” when I sat with her when she had gone. And the songs we sing whether hymns or not that mean something. These rituals are so important.
I look at the storytellers I have and see how they are all the grandparents, the people who pass on the traditions. Is that me now?
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.
It has been a quiet time. Needing to sleep. Wanting to cry. Laughing at memories and finding ourselves about to say, we could do this or that with Mum. I haven’t felt like writing much. Or talking. It’s been good having family and friends who are undemanding. We have eaten easy comfort food this week. Scrambled egg on toast, pasta bake, sausages with roast veg and sweet potatoes.
This afternoon we went for a walk with a good friend. Easy and relaxed. Understanding about yawning. We walked round the lake then had tea and cake in the cafe and watched the water, shoppy in the wind. And the sun went in and out. After the skies were blue again so we walked along the canal. it goes through the centre of our ribbon of towns. Industrial heritage of pottery industry melts into hedgerows of sloes and the old/new industry of canal narrowboats for holidays or a life of slow meandering. It was good to be outside, to see the world from a different place. We saw the ice cream van at the end and thought of her, of course.
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!
You don’t realise until you lose someone just how much those words of kindness, messages, cards and the flowers , ease the process. They make you smile.
Everyone except the Registrar has been lovely today. Registering her death was a bureaucratic job made soulless by indifference. I he’d a personality transplant and decided to give her some feedback end a suggestion that a few personal words of condolences might ease the process. That and not keeping the bereaved waiting for twenty minutes with no apology. I briefly moved from denial to anger outside afterwards. Stages of grief clearly influenced by external idiocy.
But that aside I kept going till 5.30 pm then fell fast asleep until 8.40. It was also pm but it took me a while to work that out!
Tomorrow we meet with the lovely vicar, Ann. She saw Mum in the week before she died. Mum asked ‘Where is Stephen?’, my Dad who died in 2006. Ann said, ‘He’ is waiting for you’. And mum was happy. I don’t know. Im glad it brought her comfort. I know her spirit left on a new journey. Wherever they are now it is a place of peace.
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