We sell Mum and Dad’s house.

My parent’s house finally went on the market and sold the first day for a good price. Of course, there are many legal things to arrange and the sale may still fall through, but so far, so good.

I’ve been waiting for this for years, but in the end it happened so fast I was in shock. My brother hadn’t been in touch for ages, I’d had to phone him to get him to come and scatter mum’s ashes. Then, overnight, he changed from a lazy dormouse to being jet-propelled. I’d got used to waiting; I’d developed a coping mechanism which involved shutting out all expectations of change. First of all, when I was here with mum, wanting to leave here involved wishing she would die, which obviously I couldn’t allow myself to do. Then I was stuck here during the Covid lockdowns, when one just had to be philosophical. Plus, I had to wait for my brother to come and help me sort things out and, as I say, he took his time.

So, when he phoned and said he’d made some appointments with a few estate agents, I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t prepared though, for him to ring up the next Sunday and say, now we’ve decided on the agent, I’ve arranged for them to come and take photos this Friday! When I protested that I simply couldn’t get the place cleaned, tidied and decluttered by then, he replied that he and his partner were coming back in three days to help. It was great to have their help in cleaning and tidying the place. But the truth is, I could’ve done with this help before. However, it is as it is.

Anyway, the marketing photos got taken and the forms were signed. I needed a few days to do some housework – which I don’t tend to do unless I have to – after which I was going away for a week to Somerset, leaving the place empty for viewings. I left here at 10 am on the Saturday morning. On Monday morning, the agent rang and said they’d had an offer, for the sum that we wanted. That weekend, I’d actually been visiting my brother to see his new home. And that Monday, he was giving me a lift over to my second stop, which was Glastonbury. We accepted the offer, which was the price we wanted, and essentially sold the house standing in a car park!

Initially I was completely flustered. Luckily, I’d arranged to spend a few days in the wonderful Chalice Well Gardens. Some American friends were in town at the same time, and I was there to meet up with them. That of course was a lot of fun. But it was also a chance for me to spend time in the gardens and sit by the Well which, as so many times in the past, helped to clear my mind and regain my equilibrium.

I realised that, when there was no possibility of change, I’d mentally buried my hopes for freedom under a frozen lake. Suddenly, the ice was breaking and things were rising up out of the water. Like monsters! Terrifying! Then after a while I thought, well, it’s what I want isn’t it? I should be feeling excited and hopeful, not terrified and anxious.

I am still concerned about how long I’ll have to pack the place up. That was really the main cause of my initial panic because, although I do plan to leave here, I didn’t expect to be under any time pressure. Or put another way, I need to quickly firm up my own plans, when I’m still adjusting to the new reality.

I am quite sad, now this phase of my life is almost over. I want to leave, but I don’t want to rush away. Although this wasn’t our family home or the home where we grew up, it will be the last link with my parents. Once the place had been decluttered for the photos and looked like it used to look when my parents lived here and were still fit and healthy, my brother got quite sentimental. He remembered his kids playing in the garden with dad, or sitting chatting with mum in the sun lounge.

I was in Australia then, and have very few memories like that. My memories are mostly of when I came back when they were failing, with all mum’s disability aids everywhere – and the hard years of being a full-time carer, followed by my surgery – caused by mum falling on me – then of being alone here, and being very lonely, of mum’s death and the covid lockdowns. But when we sell up, it will be my last link to mum and dad.

At my age, I feel like I shouldn’t feel so bereft at losing that link. But as I sat by the Chalice Well, I came back to the same old refrain. I never felt loved by them, I never felt they were proud of me. Once again, I thought I need to love myself, I need to be proud of myself. It’s no good to keep harking back to a time which is long gone. Actually I now think that they did love me and they were proud of me, but for some reason, I never got the message.

Beautiful Chalice Well gardens in their summer finery
The magical Chalice Well

We scatter mum’s ashes.

We’ve completed the final ritual. It took nearly three years because by the time we’d decided what to do, the pandemic had already arrived. But when the lockdowns came, we still hadn’t decided what to do. Mum had always expressed an interest in having a green burial or internment, so we looked on the internet and found a few sites that weren’t far from where my brother and his children live. There was one in particular that was close to Glastonbury, a place I often visit – and that mum liked. My brother went to view them but felt they were all a bit bleak and lonesome. He ‘didn’t want to leave mum there’.

I remembered she’d mentioned a local bluebell wood that she and my father had discovered not long after they moved here. I asked around and discovered there are two bluebell woods in this area, both well-known. But bluebells flower in the late spring which, for the last two years, has been a time of lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Springtime 2021, at a time when single households were allowed to mingle, a friend took me to visit one of these woodland areas. The bluebells were out and they were lovely; a literal sea of blue running through the undergrowth and lit by sunlight filtering through the tree canopy above. There was the sound of birdsong and, from the surrounding fields, the gentle bleating of sheep with their new lambs. Brother and I decided it would be a good place to take mum.

This winter has been so mild that all the spring flowers are advanced. Ones that usually open in late spring are blossoming at the same time as ones that flower in early spring. I walked through a small local wood and, sure enough, the bluebells were beginning to open much earlier than usual. I hadn’t actually heard from Brother for some time, so I rang him and asked him to come as soon as he could.

Ashes are strange things; they are ash yet they do still seem to be ensouled in some way. When we got ready to leave the house, I had the strangest feeling that mum really didn’t want to leave home. So, having explained that she couldn’t stay there any longer as we wouldn’t be staying there much longer ourselves, I walked the ashes round the house so she could say goodbye. Then we set off. The weather was dry, so the woods weren’t as muddy as they sometimes are. But because of the bluebells, they were busy with other people viewing the flowers.

Brother wanted to go to the main part. I wanted to go to the less busy part. I’d camouflaged the box that held the ashes in a large shopping bag, but I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to do the scattering without anyone noticing. In the end, Brother was right as the main area wasn’t as crowded as I’d feared and later on, we did find a lovely area that was quite private. But by that time, we’d scattered her in the other part. The place we chose was less secluded and private, as it was near a bridle path, but that meant there was more going on, more people, dogs and horses going by – which I thought mum would like.

However, finding a nice place was the easy part. The scattering wasn’t as simple as we’d expected. In fact, it descended into farce which, I believe, isn’t that unusual. First of all, I hadn’t realised how well sealed the canister was. In the end brother managed to get the lid off by using brute force, releasing puffs of ash, which was a bit alarming. At first, we were respectful. I shook some out, brother shook some out. But a big lump stayed put, seemingly stuck in the container. We slapped it, banged it on the ground, against a tree trunk, cried out in frustration and then finally, whoosh! A huge lump of my mother’s ashes splodged out, but at least it splodged out over the bluebells.

I thought: Oh mum, a difficult woman to the end! But I do feel we’ve reached some sort of closure. This actually happened three weeks ago, after which I went to Paris for two weeks. Which was wonderful, and has helped me prepare mentally for the next huge step: selling the house.

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 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.