The Japanese have a word for it.

You haven’t heard from me for a while. That’s because I’ve started to become more outward looking: I’m making friends locally and I’m looking forward to things opening up after Covid – although I for one will still be taking precautions when I venture forth. I’m also feeling less trapped by the house that belonged to my parents and not so overwhelmed by objects they used and loved.

Recently, I heard mention on the radio of the Japanese belief that inanimate objects absorb energy from the people who handle them. There’s a word to describe the aura that surrounds an object after it’s been repeatedly used or loved by someone. I wasn’t able to catch the actual word, but the concept exactly described what I’d been feeling: the things that belonged to my parents and my dearly beloved aunties were surrounded by a sort of force field which I couldn’t ignore.

I had wondered if I were being overly sentimental, overly attached to things, but now I think, no, I was just sensitive to the energies people I cared about had bestowed on these articles which had no actual value in themselves.

I’ve heard of belongings being thrown in a skip or into the rubbish after someone’s death, and that’s always seemed so sad to me, so lacking in respect for the person who’s died. It’s unlikely the dead will neither know nor care what happens to their possessions, but that’s how I feel. Perhaps the people who throw away these objects without seemingly a second thought, do it to save themselves from being overwhelmed by their sense of loss – or possibly their sense of guilt because they got rid of stuff used and loved by the dear departed one. Of course, sometimes people have no choice and have to clear things out quickly so, although I haven’t been happy about being in my parents’ old home during the time of Covid, I’ve had the luxury of time to sift through so many of their possessions. And with the passing of time, it’s become easier to let go of things. Perhaps the energy that I could feel surrounding the objects has dissipated.

Just before Xmas, my brother and my nephew finally came and finished emptying the loft. I’ve spent much of the winter sorting through this last pile of ‘stuff’. It’s a big pile. However, most of this stuff belonged to me. Shifting through it has been a very different experience to shifting through things that belonged to other people. I don’t need to feel guilty that I’m being disrespectful to a dear memory – and what I decide to keep (ticket stubs to Rolling Stones and Beatles concerts from the 1960s! My first attempt at a novel!), and what I throw away (angst-ridden adolescent poetry!) really is up to me.

When I think about how our lives are so full of meaning to ourselves yet when we die, as we’ll all do at some point, how little it will mean to most other people, I always feel a sort of melancholy. The individuals in my family weren’t celebrities; they weren’t famous, but that makes their memory so poignant and makes me want to acknowledge them. They bravely continued to live their anonymous everyday lives, struggling on when things went wrong, enjoying things when they could, not, on the whole, causing any harm.

Honouring the dead is what makes us human, isn’t it? Archeologically speaking, our ancestors are considered to be human when they give their dead a ritualised burial, leaving grave goods for use in another life, or perhaps to help them to be reborn. We can’t know what they actually believed, but we do know that they did not merely cast their dead aside. When we don’t know where our loved ones are buried, when they can’t be laid to rest in peace, still remains a dreadful idea for us. Contempt for the dead is considered a mark of a monster.

So, after these two years, I’m at last getting close to the feeling the Roman poet Catullus expressed when he wrote a poem at his brother’s graveside. He’d travelled a long way to perform the funeral rites, and at the end he says Ave Atque Vale – Hail and Farewell. I think I’m slowly approaching a time when I can honour the dead and know their memory will always be with me, but their possessions don’t have to be.

I gain a new perspective

In the last few weeks, quite a lot has happened. For better or worse, we’ve started to lessen Covid restrictions. Brother has been to stay twice and we’ve cleared out a lot of things from the house. With the opening up, I was able to have some guys from the charity shop come and take away a few pieces of furniture. Of course, clearing away one load of stuff only uncovers another pile that was packed away behind the first tranche, and which I now need to sort out. But even though the place is still pretty untidy and chaotic, it does feel better. I feel like I’ve finally got some space – which is great! I feel lighter and less like I’m suffocating under the weight of stuff that didn’t even belong to me. Now I can start sorting through the stuff that does belong to me and which has been stashed away in the garage for the last seven years! But at least I’ve made a start.

Also thanks to the relaxation of restrictions, about a month ago, I was able to spend 10 days in London staying in the house of friends who themselves were able to go off for a break. It was wonderful. I saw many friends and members of my family. I touched a part of my life that’s been closed off and that I’d really missed. But it was a very intense visit. Each day I saw a different set of people, and we talked about how things have been during this weird time of Covid. Some people have coped better than others; some had an easier ride than others, but lockdown has taken its toll on everyone…including me. But I’m beginning to adjust my perspective on how things have been.

I’ve been reading a book called Mysteries of the Dark Moon by Demeter George. In it she discusses is how certain things can develop in ways which correspond to the three phases of the moon: that’s to say, a phase of growth (new moon); a phase of fulfilment (full moon) and then a phase of withdrawal (dark moon).

When I read: ‘The dark phase of the cyclical process is where healing and renewal occur.’ (p 25) it immediately struck a chord with me. As I’ve said before, since mum died, I’ve felt, metaphorically speaking, as if I were walking through a dark, barren abyss. It was an obstacle I couldn’t cross except by descending into it. In fact, it felt like I did literally fall into it when I broke my arm! Lately though, I’ve been feeling that this barren place isn’t quite so barren, or quite so dark. And I’ve been thinking I must be coming out the other side.

I really like the idea that a dark place is not necessarily a place of inertia but can also be a place of growth and transformation. Just like a seed buried deep in the earth, somehow grows into a beautiful plant; or a tiny embryo in the womb, somehow develops into the complexity of a human being, a time of ‘descent’, of sinking deep into ourselves, can be a time of renewal.

We can change old patterns of thought that have outlived their usefulness or have held us back. Letting go of them might be painful; it could well be an experience we’d prefer not to undergo. But if we do succeed in it, we may release energy which will change our ways of thinking and being and help us create something new.

Lockdown meant I’ve had to sit with my feelings. I didn’t do this intentionally. If I’d had the wonderful distractions of normal life, I would’ve been busy doing this and that, travelling, visiting: all the things I’ve always done and enjoyed. Basically, I’d have been ‘getting on with my life’ but that would’ve involved repeating the same inner patterns of behaviour that I’ve always had. This time of Covid, which for me has been a time of solitude and apparent standstill, may yet turn out to have been a time of incubation, leading to positive change.

At the beginning of the lockdown, my plans for the future were thrown into disarray. I decided the only way to cope would be to feel I’d achieved something meaningful during this enforced period of standstill. Apart from the boring yet heart-breaking clearing out of the house, I’ve been working on several projects. Now I’m thinking that there may have been some other unexpected benefits as well.

I don’t want to speak too soon. I still have to climb out of that metaphorical abyss. But when I do, I should, hopefully, be on the other side of it!

I miss my parents

I haven’t written a blog for a long time, and I think that’s a positive thing. I started it when I was isolated and struggling as my mother’s full-time carer. After mum’s death, I continued to write it as a way to understand my unexpectedly intense grief.

But things are changing. I’ve started doing things I wasn’t able to do before, not just physically because I was post-surgery or had broken my arm, but emotionally. And a few weeks ago I started the major task of emptying and cleaning the kitchen. This was mum’s domain and even though it’s several years since she actually cooked anything, it still felt like the things in it were part of her, just as dad’s tools in the garage are part of him.

One morning, though, I woke up and found I had the energy to begin clearing out the kitchen cupboards. I had to decide what I wanted to keep, at least in the short term, and what in all honesty I shall never use, which is quite a lot. I told myself: what came out can’t go back in unless you’re going to keep it. So, I’ve been ferrying stuff out to the back room, where it’s all piled up waiting to be packed up prior to being given away or taken away or whatever when the current Covid restrictions are lifted. At one point, I had so much piled up in the hall that I couldn’t get out of the front door, but even though the place was a mess, it was a mess because I was in the process of getting rid of stuff.

The kitchen is the last room in the house to be emptied of my parents’ possessions, though of course there are some things that I will be keeping. There’s still plenty to do, and I shall certainly need to have a further cull, but for now, everything that’s still here is here by my choice. There remains the furniture to sort out. But I can only go one step at a time. However, I’ve realised, it wasn’t just the weight of old baggage in the literal sense that was weighing me down. With all the lifting and moving, the stagnant air is shifting and so finally is my stagnant emotional state.

I said before, I’m beginning to see my parents as the individuals they were, without all the resentment and hurt, cross words and misunderstandings that built up between us. Things had improved the last few years, but the habits of behaviour were psychologically set. The script had been written, as they say. I see now, I could’ve enjoyed spending time with them but instead I was closed against them. I helped them because I thought that was dutiful. Because I couldn’t have lived with myself if I didn’t. But in my deep heart, I never really forgave them for how they behaved towards me when I was younger. You can unwind the metaphysical barbed wire and brambles that have protected you in the past but inevitably it will have left psychological scars.

It’s like taking off a sticking plaster and finding the wound has stopped bleeding, though it’s not yet fully healed. Or it’s healed to the extent it can be exposed to the air. What I’m coming to realise is that, in spite of everything, I did love them. And now they’re gone it’s too late to express it.

I don’t think I would ever have been able to tell them honestly how I felt but, I keep thinking, if I’d better understood who they were, then I’d have been more understanding of their behaviour. But all the time, I was nursing a seething ball of resentment and anger, caused by very real hurt that they caused me in the past and that I felt I had to defend myself against at all times.

Now I feel less defended. They were only the people they were, after all. They couldn’t be any other way. So now, when I feel I could be more emotionally open, it’s too late. I regret I was unable to reach this place while they were still alive. It’s sad and it’s also bitter sweet. Because paradoxically, if I hadn’t been stuck here in their old house during the Covid lockdown I would probably never have gone so deep into my feelings; would never have unpicked those old habits of thought. I’d never have been able to admit to myself that I did really love them, I would’ve liked to have made things all right between us and I do miss them.

I think about guilt and regret

I’ve been thinking about the difference between guilt and regret. I just read a book on grief in which the author, a psychotherapist, speaks of a client who’s just lost a beloved parent. The author says she and her client cried together for all the daughters who did their best – and it wasn’t good enough. To some extent, that’s inevitable. When people are very old, they’re going to die and you can’t change that. But it’s hard not to wonder whether you could have done better during the time before they died.

Last year I spent several months walking round a pile of shoe boxes full of old black and white photos that were piled up by the coffee table in the living room. They still are, as a matter of fact. Since New Year, I’ve begun to sort them out. I’ve got as far as sorting the snaps into mum’s family, dad’s family, our nuclear family and unknowns. Now, I’ve started to fix the photos in some old-style photo albums that probably belonged originally to my aunts. I’ve done Mum when she was young; Dad when he was young; Mum and Dad when they were newly courting or newly wed.

In certain cultures, people don’t like having their photo taken: they say it steals their soul, and on some level, I can see why they believe that because photographs do seem to still retain some substance of the person. That’s why it’s so hard to throw them away, even when I don’t know who the people are.

I look at photos of me as a little girl. It’s not me as I am now but in some sense, it is me. Clearly, I’m grown up, I no longer look like that, but internally there’s part of me that’s still that same little kid.

In their early photos, both my parents look so young and so hopeful. And presumably, inside, they never stopped being those people. I feel sad that I never knew those internal aspects of my parents. They must have been there but, for whatever reason, were covered up.

I look back to the time near the end of their lives when I spent more time with them than I had since childhood. I don’t think, practically, I could have done more than I did to help them, but perhaps I could have been more understanding, even kinder. I could’ve tried to meet and get to know those internal people. Thinking about it, I see there were clues. I saw flashes of mum as a young, adventurous girl; dad as a charmer, a bit of a lad.

Most people have to compromise, have to come to terms with the fact that life Isn’t going to turn out how they’d hoped it would. Perhaps they become bitter and battered, or feel to some extent short-changed by life. If I’d understood when I was growing up, that many of my parents’ actions stemmed from that original hope which had perhaps turned to disappointment or resentment, wouldn’t that have made a difference?  Mum said to me once: your father was very proud of you, you do know that don’t you? And I had to tell her, no I didn’t know. He never showed it. Had I known, that would have made a huge difference to me. His inability to express that pride, for whatever reason, is something lost that can never be replaced.

So, I think it’s not so much guilt that I feel but regret that things could’ve been different in the past but they weren’t. Because, in the end, they both made choices to behave as they did. I suppose that’s also true.

As far as the more recent past goes, being stuck here during Lockdown has given me an insight into much of Mum’s behaviour. I’ve understood more about the ploys she used to keep herself going. But I didn’t understand that they were ploys. I thought they were a denial of real life. Now I see that the way she spent the day looking forward to watching a TV programme that evening was her way of coping with a life that was becoming increasingly constricted and limited.

There’s other stuff, about which, in retrospect, I could’ve been more empathetic. It wouldn’t have made any difference in the long run but I would’ve better understood Mum’s behaviour and not got so irritated or perhaps been able to facilitate stuff. I feel bad thinking of how she must’ve felt having to move into the Care Home but I really couldn’t have carried on as her f/t carer. I wish things could’ve been different but, they weren’t. However, I don’t need to feel guilty about that. I can only regret that it was the case. It’s a sorrowful feeling, yes. But it’s a feeling from which you can move on. You can only do what you can do, after all.

And finally, XinNian KuaiLe to everyone. Hope the Chinese Year of the Ox will be an auspicious year for us all!

I think about 2020

At the beginning of last year, I had just fallen into the abyss. I was feeling my way through the darkness of unexpected grief, plus dealing with the physical pain and incapacity of having a badly broken upper arm. So, I was already in a sort of lockdown before the Covid nightmare arrived.

But I’ve been lucky this year compared to many. One thing I’ve been thankful for is that I didn’t have to worry about mum. Imagine if she’d been stuck in a Care Home with no visitors allowed. In many places the old people were forced to remain alone in their rooms, which would’ve driven mum crazy. Also visitors were banned; all people could do was wave at each other through a window. Mum would have understood the principle, but forgotten it again soon after and wondered why no one had come to see her.

So many people died without their loved ones being able to comfort them, to hold their hands or say goodbye. I know from my cousin’s experience, how heart rending that was for her – and for so many others. And how it added another layer of distress to what was already a shocking and unexpected death. There were limits on how many people could attend a funeral – as well as how many people could attend what should’ve been more joyful rites of passage such as weddings and major birthdays. Which is why it made so little sense to relax our vigilance for Xmas – the repercussions of which we in the UK are now having to face as yet another lock-down begins.

So many lives were touched by tragedy – which is why I can’t understand those people who deny the existence of the virus! Are they so lucky – or so cut-off – that they don’t know anyone who’s died? or know just how sick Covid can make you? and how badly it can affect some people’s health long after they’ve ‘recovered’?

2020 brought out the best and the worst in people. Some people have thought about others, have tried to build a sense of community. Neighbours offered to help me with shopping and deliveries; friends and family phoned and emailed. However, there were others who obviously didn’t give a toss about anyone else. And you can’t categorise who they are. I’ve seen old people refusing to wear masks on the bus, indulging in risky and selfish behaviour. And young people being thoughtful and considerate.

Like many, I really missed personal contact with friends and family. I recently had a Zoom call with a pal in Australia and realised he was the first person I’d spoken to in months who was outside my normal circle. I think of myself as an introverted book-worm but the truth is, I’ve always thrived on conversation and the exchange of ideas. I love telling funny stories, discussing politic, personal concerns – and books, of course! This year, I’ve had to rely on telephone calls, emails – and walks with the handful of like-minded people I know around here. But I do have the sea, only 15 minutes walk away and a great solace for the soul!

This is the longest I’ve stayed in one place for years. So, as well as missing my friends, I’ve missed travelling about. I’ve missed visits to museums and galleries, theatres, cinemas and restaurants. But, what I did instead? I cooked and gardened. I studied Italian, did a couple of MOOCs, watched some streamed theatre. And rediscovered the joys of creative writing. Not with the idea of publishing anything – but because it does transport me to another world.

Being a full-time carer didn’t leave me any time or energy to be creative. After that, I was recovering from the surgery and then dealing with mum’s death – not to mention breaking my arm at the end of 2019! All this took up all my mental and physical energy. Being isolated and locked-down has turned out to be a way for me to reconnect with my creative impulse – which I would say is a good thing.

So, although it hasn’t been easy, this year has given me a lot of space to recover, to mull over things. I’m very aware that not everyone has had that luxury. I don’t have to try to work from home while doing childcare. I have a garden. But being forced to stay in one place without my normal displacement activities has allowed a lot of stuff to come to the surface. In fact, I can see the barren abyss where I found myself at the beginning of 2020, is changing. Green shoots have started to appear from where they were buried under the ground.

My dad’s family, some people might call them Cockneys, always speak of ‘Old Year’s Night’ rather than ‘New Year’s Eve’. And that’s how I felt this year. I told my cousin I was going to sit up to midnight not to see 2021 IN, but to see 2020 OUT! Make sure it’s really gone. And when I thought: 2021 has got to be better than 2020, I knew I was echoing the thoughts of everyone else in the whole wide world! I’m looking forward to having the vaccine, to being able to see my dear friends and family, to be able to travel – or at least, to be able to make plans to travel – or just to sit in a café and have a cup of coffee!

Mind you, I haven’t even started to consider what’s going to happen with Bloody Brexit! But in the meantime, best wishes to everyone for good health and abundance in 2021!

Mum would have turned 100

Last Tuesday would have been mum’s 100th birthday. I won’t pretend that it didn’t make me feel a little sad. Then Facebook sent me one of their memory photos which happened to be mum with great-granddaughter five years ago. Such a sweet photo, in the end I decide to ‘share’ it. Then F/B started sending other ‘memories’ and there was mum, smiling, looking very pleased with herself on other birthdays. She was thrilled she was going to be on the Internet, and thrilled she got so many ‘likes’! She always was a performer and liked to think of herself as a bit of a star.

Saturday would’ve been dad’s 101st birthday. He died nearly 10 years ago: actually, it was the weekend of mum’s 90th birthday when he collapsed and got taken into hospital. After that, it was a rapid downhill ride. In a way, it was good things moved so fast because he was incredibly unhappy and hated what was happening to him. He was also a handful, and not easy to care for. As mum had mobility problems at that time, it was down to me to deal with everything. I was living in London then. I didn’t know this area. I had no contacts down here, didn’t even know how to get to the hospital. Plus, the situation was hard for me to deal with psychologically.

My parents had always been a very solid unit. They were always wrapped up in themselves: us kids came second. So, it was a bit of a shock when, having been treated for years as if I wasn’t really competent at much (mainly because my working-class parents never really grasped the sort of stuff their educated daughter was good at) I was suddenly expected to take control and ‘sort everything out’. Except what was going on with dad was, at that point, quite out of the range of my experience. Since then, I’ve learnt quite a lot about aging, about dementia, about accessing social care and all the other stuff one needs to know.

Anyway, that was then, this is now. And the situation being as it is, I am actually relieved that mum is not here to celebrate her centenary – because we couldn’t have celebrated it with her. We couldn’t have gone into the Care Home, we couldn’t have given her a hug or even just held her hand. I have no doubt that the Care Home staff would’ve done their best to give her a party – but she wouldn’t have understood why we weren’t there. Or she would have understood and then forgot. She always complained I never visited her, even when I visited her regularly.

I can hear her now: I’ve been Abandoned! Abandoned! (as I said, she always was a bit of a drama queen). And although, as far as I know, the Care Home has remained free of the virus, I would’ve been worrying about her – when I needed to worry about myself.

It’s funny. I can distinctly remember walking along the seafront less than two years ago, feeling very cast down. Not wanting to live here any longer but knowing I couldn’t leave while mum was still alive. I told myself, face it, she could live another couple of years, she could easily live to be a hundred so, I asked myself, what am I going to do to make myself feel I’m not completely wasting my life? I’d started looking at on-line academic courses that I could study, so I could feel I’d gained something. Then, mum surprised us all by dying quite suddenly and peacefully.

But of course, I’m still living here – and likely to be here for the foreseeable future! And I’m still looking for projects that will make me feel I’m not completely wasting my time. But who could have foreseen that this global pandemic was coming? Well, ok, apparently it had been predicted by those that know about these things but still, it’s hard to take in just how much day-to-day life has changed; it’s quite surreal really what we’re coming to accept as normal.

The news about the vaccine does seem genuinely hopeful. And if that’s so, life will soon enter a new and as yet unknown phase. I hope that, when it does, I shall be able to leave my parents behind. I said in my last post that I’ve been analysing my relationship with my mother in a way I might not have done, had I not been stuck here alone surrounded by the life of my parents. I hope that eventually, I’ll be able to differentiate between the positive and negative emotional baggage I inherited. And leave the negative stuff behind.

I have unfinished business.

I recently read a review of a book about a mother and daughter. The mother has dementia. In the review it says there’s no longer any chance for them to come to an understanding: the mother’s failed memory has erased their shared history. But the daughter is still living it; still having to process what went on between them. I thought this was a very insightful description of what happens when you lose a parent – or anyone else you’ve been closely linked to.

I did have some practice with this. Mum was very good at erasing uncomfortable memories when she was alive. I’d bring up issues that had affected me and she would deny they’d ever happened. Well, ok, I accept that, as far as she was concerned these events might have been minor incidents that she honestly didn’t remember – but the fact remains they were important for me so I recall them in great detail. Mum would never acknowledge the effect they’d had on me. This removed the possibility for us to discuss what had happened; or for me be able to ask for an explanation – let alone, heaven forbid, get an apology. So, even when she was still alive, I’d be left with the issues unresolved. And this is even more true, after death.

Even if travel were possible during this global crisis for the first time in my life, I’m not in the mood to go far. There’s too much risk of cancellations, quarantines, lockdowns etc etc. I can’t complain. I know many other people are in a worse situation. But the reality is that I’m living on my own in my parents’ house. So, inevitably, my mind goes back, begins to retrace steps. The events of childhood lay the foundation for our adult persona. And, at the moment, I feel like I spent a lot of my time and energy reacting against my mother.

I’m beginning to see how the dynamic that underpinned our relationship continues to be played out in my psyche. Except I’ve got no one to play it out against. I suppose, if I wasn’t so isolated, I’d have other things to occupy my mind – it could also mean I’d be following the same ‘scripts’ but be projecting them onto other people. Stuck here on my own, I’m like a wrestler who’s spent their whole life practising moves against an opponent and now, suddenly, find myself without an antagonist. I’m at a loose end. In a limbo. And that means, I’ve been forced to look into the mirror.

Now mum’s gone, there’s no one to play the role that triggers my life script (to use that bit of jargon once more). I’m like an astronaut floating off into space, cast off from the mother ship, the umbilical cord of the oxygen mask cut, finally. Now I’ve got no one left I can rail against, I’m starting to see things from a different perspective. Why I did or said so-and-so – or why I didn’t do or say it.

Whatever my mother’s motives, whatever her character faults, I have to live with the consequences of having reacted to them – or against them. The Jungians speak of massaging our wounds: that is, no matter how negative a learned pattern of behaviour might be, it induces in us a state of comfort, of familiarity and safety. That comfortable, emotional maternal wound, even if negative and dysfunctional was massaged when mum and me were having our familiar battle of wills. But now that wound is raw, dismembered.

They say people still feel pain in a limb that’s been amputated. In a way that describes grief, because the imprinted patterns of behaviour still exist but there’s no partner – or opponent – left. All that’s left is this ghost pain and the increasingly sneaky suspicion that it may have been the grounding for much of my past behaviour. Of course, I’m not sure of that yet. Things are still very inconclusive. But I really don’t want to settle back into former patterns of behaviour.

I want to try and repair the damage. To see what will emerge. This may not be pleasant. I shall have to acknowledge some home truths. But hopefully something positive will come out of it.

I consider the last 12 months

It’s the autumn equinox – at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Last year I was on my retreat at the Chalice Well in Glastonbury. I remember the time because they had dressed the well for Mabon, the old autumn festival, and it looked very lovely.

I spent those days thinking about mum; and wondering why, considering our spikey relationship, I felt so much grief. I came to the conclusion that the grief belonged to my inner child who had never felt loved enough, never felt good enough – and now never would. I realised I’d have to learn to parent myself; to encourage my own inner child myself. What I didn’t realise was what kind of year lay ahead – or how much more time I was about to spend on my own, with my own thoughts: on permanent retreat, as it were.

Within 3 months I had broken my arm, and that ushered in 3 difficult months. And then, as the initial pain and discomfort from my injury began to lessen, we went into lockdown for Covid. That was six months ago and since then, all of us have been affected to some degree or another. Now, although it’s hard to believe, the wheel of the year has turned and we are back to the equinox once again. And it’s anyone’s guess what lies ahead in the next 12 months.

On the plus side, I feel much stronger physically. My arm, while not perfect, is much improved – mainly because I’ve been doing all those boring exercises three times a day as I was told to do -and which I wouldn’t have done so diligently if it weren’t for the restrictions linked to Covid. I also feel stronger emotionally.

This time last year I saw that I’d need to cross the abyss of grief and mourning that lay between me and ‘the future’. Then I literally fell into that abyss! Symbolically, over the last few months I have been slowly walking towards the place I could see in the distance, where the stony barren landscape rose up towards the sunlight. I’m not there yet, but I feel like I’m much closer and will arrive there. In fact, while writing this, I’ve realised that, for some time now over the summer, I’ve begun to feel much more positive, much more hopeful.

I went to London recently. I saw some dear friends, had some decent conversations, visited a museum and an art gallery – and managed to visit my dentist which isn’t easy at this time of Covid! I felt energised, as if my life blood was flowing again. Now I’m back on the south coast, keeping my fingers crossed that I’ve managed to remain healthy during my trips on public transport – for the sake of the people I spent time with, as much as for myself.

12 months ago, I knew I wouldn’t be able to advance into the future until I had “crossed the abyss”. Now, ironically, I can’t make any plans anyway. It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen in the short term – and what constraints there will be on day-to-day life in the future. What the ‘new normal’ will look like when it arrives. Like everybody else, I have to make the best of things. And, as I remind myself, things could be a lot worse.

But, I’ve had plenty of time to think; to assess and analyse the past. I’ve been ‘reframing my own story’ as one of my friends described it. I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened in quite the same way had I been distracted by what we thought of as ‘normal life’.

Do I feel like I’ll emerge from the underworld having found a treasure? As far as that goes, only time will tell.  I’ve been too busy maintaining my mental balance as well as staying healthy to wonder. Paradoxically, although my life has become very isolated and closed in, the Covid restrictions do preoccupy me. Even simple things which would previously have been done without a second thought now take a great deal of planning. Plus, there is the ever-present stress: Have I got a cough? A temperature? Have I lost my sense of smell?

I think it was Carl Jung who said sometimes, day-to-day concerns keep our everyday minds occupied and allow our inner workings to gestate and develop in their own time. Having to deal with daily life stops us opening the oven too often and spoiling the cake, as it were.

For now, much as I would love to return to the Chalice Well this year, I have to count my blessings and cultivate my own garden. The garden which I have inherited from mum.


The Chalice Well last year dressed for the Equinox.

I am overwhelmed by stories.

I couldn’t work out why it’s taking me so long to sort through everything in this small house. Then I realised: I’m overwhelmed by stories. A few years ago, I went to visit the sister of one of my friends after their mother had died. The sister was still living in their family home and she said: everything here has its own story. I got the impression this was a positive thing for her, that it made her feel grounded, anchored in the house.

It’s true, that’s how I feel when I look at my own possessions. I remember when I bought that jug or read that book. Or how I discovered that treasure in a charity shop. I enjoy the fact these objects have a resonance – a sort of animism that gives them an added dimension. But, at the moment, my task is to clear out the things that belonged to my parents. And this is hard because I’m about to throw out things that I know meant a lot to them.

For instance: my mother was very proud that she went by herself to see the exhibition of the Chinese terracotta army which was held in London during the 1980s. I know she thought the warriors were marvellous. So, when I found a set of postcards from this exhibition, I knew they would’ve had special significance for mum. And so, although they aren’t particularly special postcards, I simply can’t throw them away.

For a time, mum studied Spanish. She actually gained an O level – for which she was justifiably proud. In the loft, my brother found all her grammar books and her old good quality Langenscheidt dictionary. When I thought I’d be going to Spain in March (before Covid 19 changed our lives) I used her books to revise my own Spanish. Now I can’t let them go!

And there are other books. Her school prizes, battered, not worth anything. I doubt if even a charity would take them. But her name is inscribed inside. There’s the Pitman’s Shorthand Dictionary from 1935. She earned her living as a shorthand-typist, so this must have been important to her – and she did keep it all her life, after all. Then there’s a miniature, leather-bound hymnal and prayer book. A woman who employed my grandmother as a cook, gave this to mum and told her that Queen Victoria had exactly the same tiny artifacts. Mum mentioned this often, and they were obviously some of her most prized possessions during her childhood. We thought they had been lost, but they had been up in the loft. I don’t care whether or not Queen Victoria had a similar set – but how can I throw out something that mum truly prized?

And then there’s all the kitchenware. I use the kitchen and will probably keep some of it, but I don’t need all of it. Mum was proud of her cooking: if I throw out her plates, her pots and pans it seems like I’d be throwing her out as well. And this is not to even begin to mention my dad’s tools. They really were his most prized possessions. They might even be worth some small amount of money. But the money I’d get wouldn’t really compensate for the sense of loss I’d feel if I sold them.

None of it is really worth anything; its only value is sentimental. So how can I keep it all? Where can I keep it? And yet – how can I throw it all away? Maybe my brother has the right approach: don’t think twice, just go through it all like a whirlwind, then take it to the tip or a charity shop.

For me, it’s not so simple. Because these stories aren’t bad things; they are good things. But on a practical level, I really can’t physically keep all of it. Unlike my friend’s sister, this house is not my home. I may have lived here for nearly 6 years but it is, and has always been, a way-station, where I find myself out of necessity and from where I plan to move on, when I can. So, I don’t want to be weighed down by ‘stuff’.  But my parents’ possessions don’t feel like they’re just ‘stuff’. Getting rid of it makes me feel like I’m having to bury my parents all over again.


I think about mother love

After my last post, I made several attempts to write about how I am finally moving on from mum’s death but, after a couple of paragraphs, I’d lose interest and abandon them. So, I came to the conclusion that I needed to think a bit more about what I’d written last time. That I had lost something I’d been looking for – at the very moment that I found it.

For years, I’d heard people speaking of how fond they were of their mothers and I didn’t know what they were talking about. But actually, I realised I’d been looking for that feeling all my life and secretly wondering how it would be to feel it.

As I’ve already said, I was surprised at how upset I was after mum died. Since then, I’ve come to think that part of me would always be the little girl who was never loved enough; who was never quite good enough – because she exhibited a mind of her own rather than being a clone of her mother! Now I can see that I was loved. But the sad truth is that I never felt loved. I never believed I was loved, perhaps I couldn’t allow myself to be loved. Because my mother couldn’t be trusted. You never really knew where you were with her. That’s to say, her love, which I now think was genuine, was not unconditional.

As an adult, it was something I’d learnt to live with. But, as a child, it must have been very confusing. If you didn’t conform to what was required, you’d be ‘out’. If you did conform, of course, you’d be ‘in’. But this meant I became very wary. Even when I was ‘in’, I was perpetually expecting a trick – a risk of being ‘out’.

What saved me was my mother’s sisters, my aunties, who did adore me unconditionally! And of course, I adored them all back. I remember a conversation I had with them. At the time, I was in my 30s so felt I could speak to them as an equal adult. I said, ‘mum is always so rude to me!’ They burst out laughing. ‘Don’t worry, she speaks to everyone like that!’ And now I remember one of my aunts speaking to my mother, telling her off. ‘You’re nice to little children. You should be nicer to adults!’

Recently, my government, in a bizarre turn of phrase said it would ‘put its arms around us’ to help with the post-Covid economy. They’ve also used that phrase viz a viz Care Homes – (and we know just how well their policies protected Care-Home residents.) Anyway, hearing this phrase produced a sudden, fierce reaction from me: ‘Don’t put your arms around me, you horrible, dishonest, lying government! I wouldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you – which is no distance at all.’ But I wonder whether my intense reaction to what is, after all, just another meaningless soundbite from a shambolic government, was triggered by some kind of emotional memory from my childhood: a resistance to accept protection from untrustworthy sources. Because I could never rely on my mother for emotional support. When she did try to be loving and affectionate, I would shy away like a startled wild creature. I didn’t feel protected, I felt trapped and suffocated and captured.

People who met my mother – school friends and such like – usually liked her. They all said how nice mum was and I would think, yeah, you don’t know her. So that has been one of the positive things to come out of the last few years. I did finally meet that funny, charming, witty side of her personality that she had shown to other people – but never really to us. Well, I suppose that’s how she appeared to dad, because they were very happily married for many years. The ardent love letters I found from the war years seem to confirm that, although I do remember once, I’d done something, I can’t remember what it was now, and dad said to me, in a pleading tone: don’t be like your mother! This small chink in the armour of their relationship was – and remains – very precious to me, because I was always a daddy’s girl at heart but never got much of a chance to indulge that until the last years of dad’s life.

The truth is mum was incredibly self-centred. She really wasn’t much of an empath. She did say occasionally that she appreciated me coming here to look after her, but I was always taken aback whenever she did say that, because I saw very few signs of it on a day to day level.

Yesterday was the anniversary of mum’s funeral. We did well, that day. Mum would have been pleased with it. I was pleased with it. Finding the words for the eulogy wasn’t easy although I did all right in the end (see the post). And I suppose I’ll emerge from my current muddled emotional state – in the end. One of mum’s catch phrases was ‘it’ll be all right on the night’. And I guess it will be. But first, I just have to get through this puzzling time.