I did not celebrate VE day

Last week was the 75th Anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe, although not of course in South-East Asia. France has always marked May 8th as a public holiday, but not the UK. This year, however, that changed. Much was made of the fact that we had overcome great odds to win the war and would, presumably, overcome similar odds to defeat Coronavirus.

Fighting a virus is not the equivalent of fighting enemy armed forces so I didn’t think you could compare the two things. Besides which, at that point, we had been in lock down for 7 weeks. The war went on for 6 years. I could see the government wanted to whip up a sense of national fervour, but it’s hard to feel triumphal when so many people are dying – and so many of them seem to have died unnecessarily. Since the lock down, I have lost two family members – one to Covid; one, probably, to old age – but he was in a Care Home and many thousands of people – of that very generation we were meant to be applauding – have died in Care Homes during the pandemic. There’s a strong likelihood that this was linked to a lack of appropriate protective equipment and protocols for care staff to follow. Some elderly people with Covid were even sent back from hospitals to their Care Homes.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, I felt relieved I didn’t have to worry about mum. Shortly before she died her Care Home had a bout of Norovirus – inadvertently brought in by a visitor or care worker. It was obvious to me, as they are places where lots of older, vulnerable people live, and where workers come in from the community, that these homes were going to be potential danger zones. And this is not to mention the people who are being cared for in their own home by carers who go from house to house on short visits. The ones who used to come in to visit mum always wore plastic aprons and gloves (although not masks). And when the pandemic started many carers and medical workers were unable to source any further protective equipment than that basic kit.

Add to this the fact that, when they could source this equipment, the Homes found that its cost had sky-rocketed. It seems that those who had some, wanted to profit by its scarcity. The crisis was exacerbated by the fact that most Care Homes and Care Agencies are privately run: some it’s true are owned by big companies, but many, like the one where mum lived, are just small family-run businesses with narrow profit margins.

Apparently, the government was surprised by the number of deaths in Care Homes. They claimed they hadn’t realised this would happen. Do they think we were all born yesterday? It was as clear as daylight it would happen. But, in spite of the tragic number of deaths of older people in our Care Homes, our government started applauding the ‘heroes’ who’d fought in WW2. But they had done nothing to make the heroes they claim to think so highly of, safe. Quite the opposite. What hypocrisy.

That afternoon, I went out for a walk and I noted, in spite of the ban on social gatherings, discreet street parties were taking place in many cul-de-sacs and side roads. Everyone socially distanced of course! And plenty of flags (I admit a bias here: Perhaps I’m being unfair but I’m suspicious of anyone who happens to have Union Jack bunting in the cupboard). Anyway, when I got home my neighbours were all out in the front, having an impromptu get-together. No bunting though, I was relieved to note. They called me over. But I said, thanks but no thanks. I’m not in the mood to party. Apart from recently losing 2 members of my family, this remembrance of the war was bringing back a lot of stuff to do with mum – and with dad – and I was feeling too sad to make small talk.

But I also knew, looking at all their happy faces, that my neighbours just wanted to have a pleasant afternoon and a chat. And because I was feeling so on edge, I also knew it wouldn’t take much for me to express my anger at how people have been treated in the Care Homes and the hypocrisy of the government to grandstand on the memory of the war while apparently culling people who lived through it.

I appreciate what that generation did for us. I was born not long after the war; I remember the bombsites and the shortages. I was brought up on my family’s memories of the blitz and rationing. Not so much the men, who didn’t tend to speak of what they’d been through, tho in retrospect I can see that most of the men must have been suffering from PTSD – and yet they were expected to just get on with everyday life.

That evening, I watched a TV programme of film clips taken on May 8th 1944. There were celebrations, sure, but it seemed to me the exuberance came as much from relief that such a long dreadful time was over as from fun and frolics. And I’m sure that, for many, their joy would have been bittersweet.

So, I did remember them. But I chose not insult their memory with a distasteful and hypocritical show of triumphalism.

20200522_11574920200522_114814War time glamour! Mum with 2 of my aunts.20200521_160152Mum with my grandmother. She’s wearing the jacket she wore on the first date with dad.

We begin to empty the loft

It’s tricky getting up in the loft. First you have to pull down a very heavy folding ladder using a long metal pole with a hooked end. A few years ago, I could release the ladder and just about let it down without it crashing on top of my head. But I’ve never had sufficient strength to push the ladder back until it folds up and clicks into place above the trapdoor in the ceiling. It can’t be left down permanently as it would block the way into the bathroom.

The ladder is very unstable; it rocks and buckles as you climb. Then at the top, you have to haul yourself over the edge and into the loft space. My father loved going up there – until he nearly fell off the ladder – after that he was forbidden to do so. That upset him as much as having his driving licence taken away! But he squirreled away all kinds of things up there. Over the last few years when we can’t find something we know must be in the house, we’ve said: dad must’ve put it in the loft.

Both Brother and I were particularly keen to find a box of old photos: black and white snaps of the sort taken by a Brownie box camera which we remember from our childhood. They were always in a particular box but no one had seen that box in years. We said: ‘Dad must’ve put it in the loft.’ Brother did go up and have a scout around, but without success and we’d begun to say, a little fearfully: ‘perhaps dad threw them all out.’

It will be impossible to put the house on the market before the loft is emptied. And for the last few years Brother has kept saying he’ll come and empty it. Even if the ladder were down, I couldn’t get up there anymore because of my bad shoulder etc. so this is one job my brother actually has to do but, as we know, he likes to take his time. He said he would come last year, but never did come. To be fair, the last thing I wanted at that point was any extra stuff to add to all the rest of the junk I already had in front of me to sort out. Anyway, I didn’t need to worry because although he said he would do it, he didn’t do it. And then, this year in early March, he made a start.

He worked very hard. It’s dangerous carrying stuff down that damn wonky ladder. He brought a lot down and took loads of it to the tip and to charity shops – but he also left quite a lot in piles on the floor to be sorted out – and to get in my way. He was, of course, intending to return a few weeks later – but then came The Lock Down. So here I am with all of it to step over – and to sort out.

However! The great thing is – he found the photos. In a different box, in a suitcase, in all kinds of receptacles. While he was here, we spent a couple of happy evenings going through them. Exclaiming over old favourites! Puzzling over who everyone was! But we didn’t really sort them out. Now Brother can’t come back and I am here, ‘living la vida lock down’ by myself, so I’ve made a start sifting through them all.

I’ve worked out who many of the people are: some are even quite closely related to me; some I didn’t initially recognise because they’re so young – but there are others I really don’t know. Some of the snaps belonged to my mother’s three sisters – my dearly beloved aunts – but I don’t know where they were taken or who they are posing with. Is one of them the Swiss boyfriend of my aunt who never married? I know of him because they were separated by the war and although they met afterwards things ‘just weren’t the same’. Then there’s all dad’s war photos. He’s posing with his fellow guardsmen. Is one of them his best friend whose tank was hit by a shell and dad had to stand by and watch helplessly while the crew were all burnt alive? I’ll never know.

There’s lots of mum with her girlfriends. Is one of them her good mate Primmy? Or the pal whose family were on the stage? Or the one whose brother was gay? It’s such a shame these photos were hidden away. Mum would probably have recognised most of the people but it’s too late to ask her now. I emailed a few of the photos to a relation in Canada because I thought some of them were of her – and indeed of her wedding day and I hoped she’d be able to identify some of the other people there. But she’s in her 80s and, although she sends emails and seems quite computer savvy, she didn’t seem to understand what I was asking. And there’s no one else to ask.

It’s sad to have to consign all these human lives and memories to the rubbish, but what can I do? It’s hard enough to decide what photos to keep of the people I do recognise. How many baby photos of myself do I need, after all? And yet, they’re all so sweet! In fact, I seem to be building, brick by brick, photo by photo, a picture of a happy childhood which – to be honest – I didn’t remember at all.

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It’s been a long time

It’s been along time since my last blog. Mainly because I’ve been unable to type. It’s a long story…

In the middle of December, I went on a short trip to Amsterdam. We had a great time but, on the last evening, I fell over and broke my arm very badly, right up close to my shoulder.

Thank goodness, I wasn’t alone. I was with friends. They got me to the hospital, sat with me till the small hours, got me back to the hotel. The next morning, they brought me coffee, helped me get packed and dressed, got me to the station and onto the train. The journey back to London wasn’t easy. Every now and then, I get a flashback and when the memory returns, I feel sick, because actually, it was pretty dreadful! Luckily, oh how luckily, I’d arranged to spend the night with friends in London. I got a cab to their house and the next day they helped me get on my train home.

Looking back, I don’t know how I got through the next few weeks. I was a one-armed bandit in acute pain. I could hardly do a thing. I survived Christmas: friends came and collected me off the train in London and took me to their place where I was made a fuss of – and very well fed (!) – for the holidays. Then there was New Year to get through. Brother came with his partner to help me over those days. After that, there were several weeks which were quite bad. I just had to focus on coping. In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how I did manage to cope! Especially when I get one of those flashbacks! But I did cope. And of course, I was beginning to heal.

I had a few glitches with the hospital but, eventually, I started physio and my recovery began to proceed slowly but steadily. They have told me it was a pretty bad injury and it will take several months – if not the rest of the year – before I finally recover and my recovery will be determined by how diligently I do my physio exercises. However, by early March, after about 12 weeks, the pain had eased and, although my range of movement was still limited, I began to feel better and could start to do more.

In fact, this week I was supposed to be with friends in Spain – but thank goodness we didn’t go! Instead, I am beginning another 12 weeks at home – this time because of the government’s attempt to halt the spread of coronavirus. But at least, I’m able to do a lot more than I could. In fact, the last few days, I’ve been able to type – which is great.

I fell over in the street, for no particular reason that I can see. It was just a silly accident. But it felt like I’d fallen into the underworld. I think I may have mentioned last year of how surprised I was at my reaction to mum’s death. The dreams I’d had of dashing off to new horizons as soon as I could, proved to be just that: dreams. A great abyss of grief and loss and confusion opened up between me and those golden horizons. And I knew then, that the only way to cross it would be to descend into it. However, I expected this descent would be a psychological metaphor.

The truth is, I felt that when I fell, I didn’t just hit the pavement. What I’d actually done is fallen into that abyss; that I’d landed at the bottom in a barren, lifeless, rock-strewn landscape just like the underworld might be. But, at the far end, there was daylight.

I know from my reading of fairy tales and ancient myths, that a hero or heroine may enter the underworld or a labyrinth – some dark place full of danger and mystery but, if they have the right attitude, they will return to the daylight world – this time bearing a gift or a prize that they have earned through their perseverance. Comforted by this, I have tried to find a way forward. I am trying to work out what lessons I must learn, what riddle it is I must answer, before I can re-emerge into the sunlight.

And now, this. Like everyone else, I was not prepared for the global crisis we now find ourselves having to deal with. I will admit, it’s a huge relief that I don’t have to worry about mum being in lock-down in her Care Home. I can concentrate on worrying about myself! And how I’m going to find enough food – and oh god, coffee – to last for the next 12 weeks! And if, during that time, I can find my treasure, solve my riddle or whatever – so much the better.

Since I wrote this I have had two and a half weeks without a landline or internet, courtesy of a balls-up by my provider. I could only communicate with the outside world by texts and a limited amount of minutes on my old mobile, which I needed to save in case of emergencies. This would have been annoying under normal circumstances – but these times are not normal! Anyway, fingers crossed this has been resolved for now.

Keep well, everyone! Stay safe and stay sane!

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My brother and I around 1970, looking pretty cool.

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Me and my dad on holiday circa 1950!

 

It would have been mum’s birthday.

If she’d still been alive, Mum would have been 99 last weekend and I couldn’t stop myself feeling sad. I told myself, if she had still been alive, I would’ve been even more sad, desperate even, wondering how much longer it would be before I’d be free to start living my own life once again. For the last few years, I couldn’t allow myself to feel frustrated and wish she would die because that would’ve been mean and unfair. I say to myself, at least the next phase of my life has now begun, even if, at the moment, it doesn’t quite feel like it. It feels like, when you’re near the end of a book – there aren’t that many pages to go, but you haven’t actually finished reading it yet; you haven’t quite got to the conclusion. That’s how my life seems at the moment.

I don’t post much on Facebook, but I did use to post a snap of mum on her birthday, holding a sign telling us she was still ‘98 not out’ (that of course was last year) and all weekend, Facebook kept showing me: ‘Your memories from last year!’ , ‘Your memories from 3 or 4 years ago’. Pictures of Mum smiling away. Thanks, Facebook, for reminding me that she won’t be celebrating her birthday this year. However, it’s also true that mum looks so happy in these snaps. Right up to the end, she loved performing, always perked up for the camera. When I showed her how many ‘likes’ her photos had got from my F/B friends, ‘Look mum you’re on the internet!’ she was always thrilled. And it’s true that, if it hadn’t been for me, her last few years wouldn’t have been so happy.

I’m sure Brother and his kids will have noticed the date. They always came to visit on her birthday. The first year she was in the Care Home, we did manage to get her back here for the day, but by last year that was no longer possible. The Grandchildren went into the Care Home in shifts together with their much-loved Babies, and in between we all had lunch together here. Brother and Grandchildren didn’t need to make the journey this year – nor will they have to come at Xmas.

I’ve noticed that, after someone has died, their friends or family always remember their birthday. People say they meet for lunch or go to the cemetery to lay flowers. This is the date we remember, not the anniversary of the death. I suppose that’s best. It’s a date we’ve always known, and it gives a sense of continuity. Yes, our loved ones have passed, but we still remember them, we still retain them in our thoughts, they are still part of our lives even though they are no longer with us physically. In fact, I had a very dear friend who died about 25 years ago and on his birthday, I always pause, just to give some thought to his memory and to the role he played in my life. It’s still his birthday – and it’s the same with mum. I say that she would’ve been 99 a few days ago – and next year, I shall no doubt say that she would’ve been 100 – had she lived that long.

On that note, I shall mention that Dad would’ve been 100 this week if he’d still been alive. But he isn’t. He’s been dead for nearly 9 years and, over time, the raw memory of his death has faded – and, in time, it will be the same for mum. But that date in November will always be Mum’s Birthday.

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I buy myself a magic carpet

I recently went down to the wonderful Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury for a ‘retreat’ – a few days of calm contemplation in the lovely surroundings. Once I’d arrived and ‘let go’, I realised how tired I was, not just physically but mentally too. I kept returning to the memory of how I had sat with mum just after she’d died. That had been a beautiful, peaceful moment but, since then, I have felt as if nothing was real; that everything was make-believe. I thought this might be because I hadn’t had a proper chance to mourn. Even that first pure experience of sitting with mum after she’d passed had been marred. I’d been conscious that I was in the Care Home and must let them get on with what they needed to do; I was aware that I needed to go straight from there to the funeral directors; that I needed to get food because my brother was coming etc etc – all of those thoughts overlaying the shock that mum had actually died! For years we’d thought she might die at any time but, she didn’t die. Now she had actually gone, I felt in a sort of suspended animation.

Over the next few days of my retreat, I slowly began to relax and unwind; to detox from the stress that had been blocking my emotion. I became able to experience my grief and then, to accept that it will be my companion for a while. I also began to understand that this is just another phase in my life. Because people kept asking ‘what are you going to do now?’ I’d inadvertently fallen into that mind-set – that mum’s death had been a cut-off point and I’d immediately know what I’d do next. But the truth is, I’ve been living here for 5 years. I never expected to be here this long, but it’s ceased to be a short-term occurrence, it’s become a phase of my life in which caring for mum was one aspect – perhaps the central aspect because I would never have come here otherwise – but I can’t just close the door and walk away as if the last few years haven’t happened.

I’m sure I will eventually ‘move on’ when the time is right, but before I can do that I need to sit with my feelings and emotions for a while. I arrived at the Chalice Well on the Equinox, after which – at least in the northern hemisphere – the days grow shorter and the nights longer until we reach the Winter Solstice. I think this is a good metaphor for what I need to do. I need to let myself drop into the darkness like a seed in the earth and – as the light returns, as spring comes again – see what shoots have appeared, see what I feel like doing then.

In the short-term though, here I am still living in my parents’ house, which is not a house I would have chosen, in an area I would never have chosen – and it’s not furnished or decorated in any way that I like. Sitting beside the Chalice Well, I thought: what I need is a lovely rug. I imagined a rug rolled out in front of the fireplace. Yes, that’s what I need! It would cheer up the living room no end; it would make me feel more like it’s my place. (I am rather partial to a nice rug). Later that day, I went into the town and there, outside a shop I’ve never been in before that sells furnishing and bric-a-brac, I saw a rolled-up rug. It was a bit expensive but there was another smaller one at a better price. I didn’t go in and ask about it but the next day I decided to return to the shop and have another look.

The rugs were still there but the smaller one was too small, it wasn’t right. The guy unrolled the larger one. It was lovely. In fact, it was the rug I had imagined. The owner said: it’s not that expensive. No, I agreed, it’s not that expensive for what it is. I told him I’d go away and have a think about it. I got about 50 yards down the road. I thought to myself: what’s your problem? This is synchronicity. You imagined a rug and here it is. You love this rug! It’s come to you from the cosmos! And even though it was a sum of money, at the end of the day, it was a sum I could afford. I went back. I bought the rug.

When I unrolled it at the retreat house (because I had to fold it up properly in order to carry it on the train) the other residents admired it. One of them said: this is your magic carpet! Yes! I loved this idea.

Now I have a beautiful hearth rug that completely lifts the room and stops it looking quite so dull and dingy. If I feel a bit miz, I just go and admire my rug – and cheer up immediately. Perhaps, when I emerge from the underworld, it will help me to fly off on the next stage of my life’s journey – whatever that may be!

 

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Above: Chalice Well dressed for Mabon – or the Autumn Equinox.

Below: My magic carpet! The colours are much more jewel like than in this photo!

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I resolve a tricky problem – with a little help from The Milkman.

For the last 5 years I have dreamed of sleeping in my own bed. It’s a nice bed, a small double with a good mattress and I bought it when I moved into the studio apartment I had in London. When I moved down here, there wasn’t room for it in the spare room where I had to sleep. That only had room for a single bed. So my bed had to be stored in the garage.

After my surgery last year, I couldn’t manage in a small bed, so I moved into what had been my parents’ bedroom and slept on my mum’s old bed. It wasn’t a bad bed in itself – the mattress was good quality but it had been badly stained. I covered it with layers of blankets and sheets before I put my own bedding on top of it. I dreamed of swapping the beds over but the logistics of how I’d ever be able to do that, defeated me.

First of all, I’d have to hire two men to carry mum’s double bed out of the house – and I’d have to co-ordinate that with the pick-up service from the council, who have to be booked in advance if you want them to collect large items. I’d also need time to clean where the bed had been, hoover and dust – before these men would be able to bring my bed in from the garage – which would mean they’d need to leave and return for a second time. I felt exhausted just thinking about how on earth I was going to manage the logistics.

I wrote last time about how I realised I had to make a start on clearing the house and how I did clear out mum’s wardrobe and also, the large storage drawers under her bed. After I’d packed everything up and piled it all in the garage ready for collection by the charity, in the same determined spirit I took all the stuff that had been stacked up on top of my bed base – just boxes and odd bags and things – so the bed could be moved easily if I ever did work out how to get it inside the house.

Two days later, The Milkman turned up. He also does gardening and grass cutting, and he reaches the back garden by bringing his lawn mower through the garage. I said: I’m sorry, I’ve been sorting out mum’s stuff. You’ll have to move all these bags. He knew mum well, so he was quite understanding. I put my hand on my bed base. I said: I don’t suppose you know a couple of guys who would help me swap my bed over. He said: I can do it. I can do it now, if you want. I laughed in disbelief: What by yourself? He said: I expect the double bed comes apart. Let’s have a look.

With that, he went into the house, took the bed apart and carried it outside. I said: I’d better ring the council to take it away. He said: I can take it in my truck. My eyes were round in wonder: Really???? Yes really, he said, but first I have to go and do another job for an hour. This was perfect. It gave me time to hoover and dust and move the furniture out of his way.

I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I cleaned up – under the bed had been pretty disgusting, as I’d suspected – then he came back and brought in the bed. I have to say, at one point it did seem as if The Milkman had underestimated the difficulties he would be faced with. As he was trying to manoeuvre the bed base through the doorway into the living room, it got jammed in the hallway. Then it got entangled on a low-hanging light fitting. I hate this light fitting but it’s wired in so I can’t remove it. Luckily, I am tall, so although I couldn’t help him by taking any weight, I was able to reach up and help extricate the bed base from the light. And then, somehow, miraculously it was done. Mum’s bed was gone and my bed was there instead. I left it to air for a couple of days, burned some cleansing essential oils and, at last, slept on my own bed again.

I said to The Milkman: you have no idea how horrible it’s been sleeping on my parents’ bed! And I do think it’s been unhealthy for me psychologically, but I just couldn’t work out how to organise the changeover. Since then, even on sleepless nights, I feel so relieved that I’ve finally resolved such a huge obstacle to my attempts at house clearance. Of course, I’m already thinking about the next task I’ll have to complete but, in the meantime, I’m giving myself a bit of breathing space.

And I have now finished emptying out all the things that belonged to my parents from drawers and cupboards and my mum’s desk. I’m not saying this stuff has all left the house! Much of it is in piles: stuff to be recycled; stuff to be shown to brother and/or grandchildren; stuff I may – or may not – wish to keep myself.  It’s a long sad task, emotionally taxing as well as physically demanding. I’m continually coming across items which take me down memory lane, or which contain an essence of mum or dad as human beings and bring me sorrow.

But, at least there’s no time pressure. And at the end of each stressful day, I am very happy to lie down on my own bed!

I can’t seem to focus on anything.

It’s been a strange time. I don’t feel particularly sad or grief stricken, but my brain doesn’t seem to be functioning normally. I’ve had several ideas for writing the blog and every one of them slid sideways, out of the frame. It’s like my brain is fogged and I can only think about what’s in front of my eyes. And even that seems to involve some issues.

In the middle of August, I went to stay with old friends who’ve moved to a city where I’ve never been and now live in a house where I’ve never stayed. So it was the best of both worlds: a dear pal I could share my thoughts and feelings with – and a new environment that had no links with the past. I returned here feeling refreshed but – there was a strange problem: I was developing a stye in my eye. I’ve never had one of those in my life! But I knew that the psychological ‘tag’ for such things is that there’s something you’re ‘not looking at’ or ‘not seeing’.

I wrote this thought down in my journal. Then I stopped writing, raised my eyes and looked around with conscious intent. I saw that I was surrounded by stuff. Stuff that I need to sort out. Stuff that belonged to my parents. Stuff that is overwhelming me. Yet it is also Stuff that must be dealt with before I can even think about moving on from here. So. There was my answer. I’ve been sitting here reading fantasy novels and thinking about holidays – holidays I know very well I shall never book. But, if I do want to move forward, then I have to clear away all the Stuff.

I bathed my eye in warm water – I even rubbed it with a warmed gold ring – and after a few days the swelling and soreness went away. But I also began to work. It was a long weekend and the cricket was on the radio. I began the task of emptying out my mother’s clothes from the wardrobe, and from the remaining drawers of her dressing table. (I had of course already begun this task over the last months, but only in a desultory fashion). Now I packed the clothes into bags and arranged for a Charity to pick them up.

The cricket was exciting; the neighbours were making some dreadful racket in the garden, grinding paving stones for a patio so, although the weather was fine, I forced myself to carry on and empty the storage drawers under the bed. In some ways, this was more upsetting than packing up the clothes, for here were freshly laundered sheets, carefully washed and ironed and put away – which mum must have done when she was still able to do that sort of thing and before she reverted to just using the same easy wash and wear bed linen that she was using when I arrived. I got a sense of a house-proud, happy woman. But I gritted my teeth. I stashed it all into bags. And piled all the bags up in the garage.

When the guy came to collect the bags, I almost cried out to him: no! It’s a mistake, don’t take them! But I resisted. And now, they are gone. There is a sequel to all of this which I’ll write about next. Suffice it to say that I’ve made a start. Chores like this are not easy psychologically but, as my brain isn’t functioning normally, it probably is quite a good idea to try and complete these practical tasks. Even though my emotionally hardwired brain tells me ‘don’t do it!’ my rational brain knows very well that there’s no point in delaying: especially as, until it’s done I will have no choice but to continue to live here in a place where I don’t feel at home and which I don’t actually like very much. No one else is going to help me do it. My brother won’t. He wouldn’t mind if I spent the next 10 years helplessly sitting here surrounded by chaos.

By the way, I did finally manage to collect mum’s ashes. I brought them home on the bus, mainly because the bus was there, stopped right outside the funeral directors – but also because it saved me having to talk to a cab driver. ‘What have you got there?’ ‘Oh, just my mother’s ashes!’ I apologised to her for not carrying her home along the sea front like I did with dad, but I did put her on the bus seat beside me so she could look out of the window (!?!). When I got back here, I said: well, you’re home, as you wished to be. And it’s not as upsetting to have them here as I feared it would be. So I no longer feel under pressure to find a suitable place to scatter them as soon as possible. I am happy to take time to find the right place.

Some photos I found:

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1953 Coronation Day Party. I’m the little girl at the side with her drink of juice!

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At Bracklesham Bay which isn’t that far along the coast from where I am now, but the charming farm and duck pond are long gone.

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I fail to collect Mum’s ashes.

My father died in hospital, with very little warning. At that time, I didn’t live in the area, so had no local knowledge or contacts – but I had to arrange everything as well as look after mum who was obviously very upset. I coped with it all, of course I did, but it meant that I couldn’t grieve properly myself. The only time I almost gave way was when I went into the Funeral Home to collect his ashes.

I wasn’t prepared for how much the ashes would weigh. It’s a sizable amount. Nor was I prepared for just how much I’d feel that dad’s personality was still attached to them. I stood there with the container in my arms and began to repeat in a monotone: I didn’t realise they’d be so heavy! I didn’t realise they’d be so heavy! I knew I was on the verge of losing control. A protective inner voice told me: get out of here now! So I fled into the street and started to walk. I knew I couldn’t get on the bus or even into a taxi. In the end I carried them all the way home. It ain’t heavy, it’s my dad, as the song sort of goes.

On the way home, along the sea front, I chatted to the ashes. I said, look, here’s the sea; look, there’s a dog enjoying himself on the beach. Things I knew dad would’ve enjoyed. I felt better when, later on, a friend told me that, after she’d collected her mother’s ashes, she’d taken them round her mother’s favourite shop.

It’s over a month since mum’s funeral. We’ve been looking for a suitable place to scatter or inter her ashes but haven’t yet settled on a suitable place. However, I didn’t think I could leave her ashes in the Funeral Home for much longer, so I made an appointment to collect them. The night before I felt terribly anxious. I spent the time psyching myself up; preparing myself for the fact that they’d weigh a lot and – because, at the moment, I can’t walk quite so well as I could 10 years ago – I would need to get a taxi home.

But what would I do with the ashes once they were here? I really didn’t know. Mum was happy to keep dad’s ashes with her until the day we scattered them in the sea – I like to think we gave him a back-to-front Viking funeral. But it always made me feel uncomfortable to have them close by.

With all this on my mind, I went into the Funeral Parlour. I was met by a very kindly employee, whom I’d never met before. Had I chosen a ‘scattering tube’? he asked. No, I hadn’t. He brought me a selection and I chose one. A sensitive and perceptive man, he said: you don’t have to take them if you’re not ready. I nearly burst into tears. But then very few people ever see through my competent façade. I’m not ready! I admitted. Will it be all right to wait another couple of weeks? He assured me it would be. I blurted out: collecting dad’s ashes nearly broke me. Now I’m terrified I won’t be able to cope when I collect mum’s.

I left the place not weighed down by the ashes but feeling light with relief. I know it’s only a temporary respite but, hopefully, I will feel stronger in my spirit in a week or two.

Later that evening I spoke to my cousin. Her mum is in a Nursing Home and they are planning to sell the house which is standing empty. She told me my Aunt still has the ashes of her own father; her own sister; my cousin’s father – and the cat. And Cousin has to decide what to do with all of them. So in the scale of things, my problem is relatively minor!

 

 

 

 

 

Mum would have been pleased with her funeral.

Nothing will be as bad as the day of the funeral. It’s a huge responsibility and you only get one shot at it. So many things could go wrong, which would be upsetting, not only for me, but also for the others who had come to mourn.

In the weeks between the mum’s death and the funeral, I was driven by nervous energy. I couldn’t stop cleaning. I couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes. But, once the day was over, the nervous energy disappeared and I collapsed. Brother and his partner stayed overnight. As soon as they left and I was on my own, I felt so tired I didn’t know what to do with myself, as they say. In the end I went to bed and read and slept and that lasted the whole weekend. And I still do feel very tired, although not as much as I did.

But. I do think mum would’ve been pleased with her funeral. She was so old that many of her friends and relatives have died, but even so there was a sizeable crowd at the service. I didn’t realise how many had come until I stood up to give my ‘eulogy’. I looked back down the chapel and saw that, although it wasn’t full – it holds about 100 people – it didn’t feel empty either. Not only family came, but friends of mine came down from London and people came from her Care Home. In the end, only a couple of people were unable to make it.

The flowers were all lovely and there was a good display. The celebrant was a pleasant chap – he didn’t have the same presence as the woman who presided over dad’s service and who has sadly left the district – but he was good hearted and had a gentle sense of humour. Mum loved poetry so we had to have a poem! My nephew read the one we had chosen; it wasn’t too mawkish or sentimental and we thought it summed mum up quite well. Nephew got a bit choked up but got through the reading ok.

I knew I’d be ok reading out the piece I’d written, because I always can do it if I have to. It made people laugh, as I’d intended, gentle laughter at mum’s idiosyncrasies. I’m going to add it onto the end of this post. It wasn’t easy to write as mum and I didn’t have the smoothest of relationships but I think in the end it struck the right note. Certainly, people mentioned that they’d enjoyed it.

Finally, we went back to a pub restaurant for The Wake. The place was recommended to me by a woman in the bank when I went to close mum’s accounts. A complete stranger, she mentioned she’d had her own father’s Wake there. It turned out to be a perfect recommendation. Just the right private space for us to gather together, talk and laugh, have a drink and something to eat. The evening before, while I was writing my speech, Brother had made a montage of old photos, which unfortunately we didn’t take a photo of, while his partner created an album of photos of mum and dad having fun at fancy dress parties or in their costumes for the shows and pantomimes they performed in. People seemed to enjoy looking at them all. Everyone said that, although it was sad occasion, it was also the celebration of a long life, well-lived. So yes. I think mum would have been pleased.

Here’s my little speech:

Mum made it to 98 and a half! It’s a shame she didn’t get her telegramme from the Queen. However, looking through her papers I found she had received a letter from Buckingham Palace only a few years ago. Before I read it out, I’ll just remind you that mum and dad’s wedding anniversary was 29th April – the same date that Will and Kate chose for their wedding… It is actually signed by a lady in waiting, not the Queen herself!…….

The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for your letter in which you say that you and your husband were married on the 29th April 1944. Her Majesty was very sorry to learn of the recent death of your husband and sends you her sincere sympathy at this sad time.

The Queen was particularly touched by your kind message of good wishes for the wedding of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton and much appreciated your thought for the young couple.

I hope that you will be comforted by many happy memories as you recall your own wedding day on 29th April, and I am to thank you again for your thoughtfulness in writing as you did.

It would have been Mum’s own idea to write this letter to the Queen. As they say in Australia, she wasn’t backwards in coming forwards. I’m not sure if she was hoping for an invite to the wedding but as many of us know, she did manage to get to the wedding of Harry and Meghan. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll tell you what happened….

Even though mum hadn’t been able to go anywhere by herself for years, she went out of the Care Home and there was a bus. The bus took her to the church. There were loads of people around but the security guards let her go in although, she assured me, she did sit right at the back!

I quizzed her about it several times, but she seemed so convinced of the truth of her story that in the end, I could only say ‘what a lovely memory for you’, and she agreed that it was.

But the memory she returned to again and again was the night she met dad and then their first date the following evening. Her life could be pretty much divided into before and after that. Not that they were an obvious couple. Dad was a practical sort of guy – a man of few words as he liked to say – whereas Mum was very verbal. She liked words; she was proud of her ability to spell very well; she enjoyed puns and liked playing scrabble and doing crosswords.

She was also proud of her skills as a shorthand typist. Once when we were watching an episode of Foyle’s Law on TV, the main characters were in one of the war ministries, and they passed a young woman walking along a corridor. Mum said proudly: that was me! I had security clearance. I could take individual dictation, not just stay in the typing pool. Like many women of her age, if she’d had the same chances that became normal for later generations, I’m sure she might have gone onto something more than typing, like teaching for example – or even some kind of performing, acting or singing. She always liked the fact that her mother’s family were ‘theatrical’. And she never liked Vera Lynn – said she was nothing special, and had just been lucky. The implication being that, if mum had had the same contacts, it might have been her who ended up as a big star. And who knows? After all, she managed to make it to Harry and Meghan’s wedding.

While we were growing up, money was tight, dad worked long hours and mum worked too, as a shorthand typist. They almost never went out. But as soon as the kids were off their hands, then they were out dancing nearly every night and once they retired down here, there was no stopping them. They got really involved with the community at the Laburnum Centre. They performed in shows – ‘for the old people’, they went to fancy dress nights and away on holiday abroad. They really had a lot of fun until the arthritis that affected her mobility and her hands too, took over.

When we were kids, we always did have a holiday, usually in a caravan or self-catering apartment, and always visiting different parts of England – except for one memorable year when we went to Scotland. Mum had Scottish blood and also Cornish ancestry. She was proud of them both and liked the fact that she came from each end of the British Isles. But she always felt disappointed that she knew very little about her family, especially her father’s family who don’t seem to have kept in touch. Her mother had anecdotes about her Cornish forebears and I did discover the farm where mum’s great-grandmother was born. Some friends of mine (who sadly can’t be here today) visited the farm. They cheekily drove straight down the entrance drive and spoke to the current farmer. Mum was thrilled when I told her.

The last few years, I spent quite a bit of time with mum. I got to hear quite a few anecdotes which she might not have shared with me when I was younger – it was like she began to chat to me more like she used to chat to her sisters. Sometimes I felt like saying: too much information! But I did get to see another side of her; I got to know the lively, adventurous young woman she must have been before she began the serious business of bringing up her family – or then the cheerful, smiling woman who had lots of fun down here with dad. And that has been a real gift for me.

I also know that although she did miss dad, her final years weren’t unhappy. She was lucky with lots of care and support from friends and carers who became friends. As she reached such a venerable age, she finally couldn’t manage to stay at home alone and then, when I couldn’t manage to look after her, even with help, we were very lucky to find a home from home in Arun Lodge, where I know she charmed everyone with her continual jokes and comical phrases and puns.

I hope she’s still smiling and happy, I’m sure she’s dancing with dad once again.

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Mum passes through the veil

Mum died a few days ago. Her death was peaceful, she was not on her own. And she was able to stay in the Care Home where she felt safe and comfortable, where they knew her and cared about her, until the very end. I arrived a couple of hours after she’d actually passed and they had dressed her and given her a flower and her favourite soft toy. She looked at peace. In fact, she looked like she was asleep. I kept staring at her thinking that if I called her, she might indeed wake up. But of course, she wasn’t breathing. Her heart, which had been fluttering fast, was still.

The fact that she has actually died is hard to take in. We expected her to die several times in the past and she bounced back. But this time it’s actually happened.

We had been warned that her life could be over in a matter of days – or possibly weeks. It was clear that she had reached the end of her days, that it really was just a question of time. But given her past track record of surprizing us all when she seemed to be on her death-bed, I did think she would live for another week or two. Brother sadly arrived a few hours too late. An old friend who was very close to Mum, had arranged to come two days later. It didn’t occur to me that they would miss saying goodbye to her. Indeed, when I left her, it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t see her again.

The last time I saw her, she was still conscious, still talking – although her mind was obviously wandering. Her last words to me were: Where are you going? Shopping, I told her, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Well, I was back tomorrow but it was not as I’d expected. But I do know that she was tired; she was worn out. It was her time. She officially died of Old Age – not many people manage that!

And now, there’s so much to do! That’s good because otherwise I might lie on the couch like a slug. Even though it was expected and she was very old, it’s still a shock on a deep emotional level. To have your mother die is archetypal in ways I haven’t yet thought through. I have to wait for the process to be completed. And although this is going to make a difference to my life, at the moment I can’t really think about that. I’m focused on giving her a good send-off. I want the funeral to be as good as possible because you don’t get a second chance at it. Brother has been back here and has been a great help. It’s a pity he wasn’t more help when she was still alive. He is very upset – as I knew he would be – and keen for the funeral to go well. I’ve been taken aback by just how involved he wants to be in the planning – and of course, I have appreciated being able to share the burden of decision-making with him.

During the last few years, to stop myself falling into despair over the limitations of my life down here, I had to keep a tight control of my emotions. I had to mentally prepare for the possibility that she might live to be 100. (In the end she missed that milestone by 18 months which, on some level, I do think is a shame.) But at the moment I can’t really unravel my thoughts. All I want to do is clean. Luckily there’s quite a bit of cleaning to do!

Mum was always convinced Dad would find her when she passed across. Perhaps he came to her and called her and she went with him happily. I also hope that she’s left behind the arthritis that crippled her and made her house-bound and unable to do much – and also blighted my Dad’s life as it brought to an end their socialising, their dancing and fancy-dress parties and holidays which they enjoyed so much. Everyone has their own beliefs but I believe mum has passed peacefully through the veil between the worlds, that’s she’s found my Dad and that they are dancing together once again.

RIP MUM 1920-2019

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