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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