I think perhaps our view of death changes as we become more intimately acquainted with it. We are so flawed ... each and every one of us. To ask a human to reflect fully the nature of The Divine is surely to ask the impossible. That does not in itself change the nature of The Divine ... should such an entity exist.
I remember what faith felt like. I remember believing with (what I believed was) all of my heart. I was quite happy in my naivety as only teenagers can be. Faith seemed to me to be a simple choice. I chose to believe and in so doing I took a leap of faith. Thus I started the process of building a construct in my mind hinged upon certain inviolable truths.
The problem was twofold. The truths were not inviolable, and the builder wasn't either. The construct was too flimsy. It could not and did not withstand the batterings of Real Life. As the construct destructed a ground zero was created where once there had been the semblance of faith.
I am flawed. The people around me are flawed. Should I believe what they say? Should they believe me? The way we compensate for this "flawed-ness" is beyond me. There are too many things one can choose to believe in ... a menu of faiths too long and too complex exists to confuse and confound ... and yet there exists this yearning to believe.
I was watching a movie recently. The teacher in this movie was holding a cup of tea. He poured the tea onto the table and some of it dripped onto the floor. It was still tea. It had not changed it's nature by escaping the confines of the cup. He used this as an analogy for the life force that exists within us. It does not change when we die, it merely escapes the confines of our body.
Analogies always break down eventually under the pressure of ever closer scrutiny. Their purpose is not to withstand such scrutiny but to open our minds to new ways of thinking.
Some days I feel almost as if mum is watching over me. I imagine that I can hear her voice in my mind and I think I know what she is going to say before I hear the words. Very much as I did when she was alive. It still seems inconceivable to me that all of her is just gone. That there isn't something left over in some form beyond our collective memories of her.
I wish that what I used to believe could be made more believable so that I could once again take shelter in faith. Real life batters the heart that's for sure.
The reproduction isn't great but then this photo is over 70 years old! This is my mother as a young girl. I like this picture. It's the one we used for the final page on her funeral order of service. Can you see that stubborn chin and mouth configuration? Maybe it's just that I see what I see.
It's just over 8 weeks since I held my mothers hand and looked into her eyes as she died. Dying is not how they depict it in the movies. Maybe it is though and Mum just decided to die differently from all those others ... it wouldn't surprise me that!
What has surprised me is how I am feeling about things. I still cry first thing in the morning, last thing at night and at odd times during the day. I still feel wobbly and unsure of myself on an emotional level just generally. In other words I feel like I am not coping as well as I should be.
I don't know how to make it better ... maybe because I can't make it better. Grieving is hard that's for sure.
Yesterday we celebrated Oliver's 10th birthday. This is his Big Sister Kate with the rather magnificent pavlova she made for the occasion. Oliver has good taste when it comes to cake / pudding / whatever you want to call it. As long as you can put candles on it, it's all good. My Little Sister Kath is her mum and is standing beside Kate ... Kath is also Oliver and William's mum and the best sister in the whole wide world. The pavlova was totally scrumptious. Macerated strawberries inside which you can't see but created a cloud inside of pink loveliness.
Despite the sadness there is also joy and life carrying on. John was with us for the day which I'm very happy about. He doesn't like pavlova ... can you imagine that? At least he loves us! We love him too. William is being especially nice to his Grandad. Small children understand more about grief than we sometimes give them credit for. Amazing how a hand hold can be more comforting than any words could hope to convey.
Oh and one other photo just because this one makes me smile. Kaths three children all together. William (eyes closed aged 7), Oliver aged 10, Kate aged perfect.
Yesterday I was looking through the TV listings when I saw that the French Open tennis tournament was about to start. I very nearly picked up the phone to ring Mum. It's not like I used to ring Mum every day or anything but there were certain things that would always trigger one or other of us to call.
Top flight tennis was one of those things ... or a good movie coming to the local arts cinema, an interesting play opening at the theatre, the latest Welsh National Opera tour dates, advice on interpreting unusual recipes, some technical issue which Mum would always ask me to deal with (me being an engineer n'all), invitations to meet for lunch / coffee / a visit, invitations to call in on my way home from work for no better reason than we hadn't seen one another for a few days ... actually now I come to think of it there were quite a few things that would trigger a phone call.
Grieving is strange. It's like repeatedly forgetting and then remembering over and over again. The pain in those moments feels new, intense and raw. But the pain and the intensity are not constant. Sometimes I wonder if this is normal. It's like a lot of the time I'm OK ... perhaps because there's still some part of my brain that harbours this illusion that Mum is still here ... that I'll hear from her any day now. Like she's away on holiday or something. And then something will happen, like yesterday when I so nearly picked up the phone ... and I'll remember all over again.
The way the tears come these days is different from how I expected. I mean I've cried a fair amount over the years, but these tears ... it's like when I cried as a child. It's frightening, intense, painful, overwhelming, out of control ... and it feels endless. Bottomless. Like there's no safety net beneath me any more when I never even realised that I thought of Mum in those terms at all. It's not like she ever actually acted like a safety net ... certainly not since I started work at 16 anyway. I thought I was an adult back then ... ha! How little I knew ... how little I still know for that matter. Funny ... it seems that on an emotional level I am to some degree still very much a child.
This grief doesn't feel simple though which again I didn't expect. It feels fraudulent in a way. I ask myself "am I crying for the loss of the mother I had, or the mother I wish I'd had?" I feel guilty that my grief is partly one and partly the other. I guess I assumed that grieving would be less complex than it is. Something more akin to simple but deep deep sadness.
Isn't she beautiful. This was taken on my wedding day in September 2008. I love Mum's smile. There was such strength in this woman, I can't even to begin to tell you.
Mum died yesterday morning in the hospice. I was there with her and she knew it. I held her hand as she passed and talked of my love for her, I talked also of the love her most beloved John had for her as well as all my siblings by name.
I told her what a brilliant mum she's been ... despite the complexities of our relationship I truly believe that Mum did what she thought was best most of the time. She fought through some very difficult battles in her life. Some of those battles have had a lasting impact on me and my siblings. Family relationships aren't always easy. I did and do love my mother nonetheless and I am glad I got the chance to say so.
I talked too of some of the things she'd taught me. Mum was always a woman of great certainty and confidence in her own understanding of right and wrong. She taught me the importance of self sufficiency and self reliance. Perhaps too well. Some years ago I started to lose some perspective on that front but I am finding my way back towards a better balance these days.
Even if I sometimes found her manner distant and somewhat lacking in warmth I've come to understand in these last years just how important it was for her to stay true to herself. I came to understand too that love does not necessarily use words of a sentimental nature. Although Mum never said to me that she loved me I knew that she did.
One of the reasons I love this picture is because on the morning of my wedding day Mum told me she was proud of me. I think that was the nearest she ever came to telling me of her love. In the last couple of years Mum even started resting a hand on my shoulder rather than simply brush kissing my cheek. I don't think she'd have been particularly comfortable about me talking to her of my love for her. I hope she didn't mind too much that I did when the time came. I needed her to know.
Then I spoke of the things I would tell my nieces and nephews about her to help them remember her. I mentioned her strength and Independence. How she taught me the importance of acting on principles and not merely talking about them. I said some other things too. The nurse told me she was taking her last breaths and left me with her after closing her eyes. I continued talking for some time ... you never quite know when someone is truly gone. I'm glad I was there and that I had the chance to say so many things.
And I will talk to my nephews and neices about her life. I will show them some of her paintings. She loved to paint, loved to read Proust and other great writers of fiction. She loved going to her book club despite being quite vitriolic about some of the choices of reading matter chosen by other members. She loved robust intellectual debate on an incredibly wide range of subjects ... only conceding rarely and not always with good grace. She knew so much about so many things and was a very cultured person.
She also loved cooking and listening to all sorts of classical music, especially opera ... a love we shared more and more over recent times. She played the piano at concert level as well as the oboe, and played an awesome baroque recorder. Completely fluent in french after spending a year or more in Paris as a late teenager she was often taken for a Parisian by the locals when she lived for a time in rural southern France during the 80's and early 90's. John told me that she used to help their neighbours with their tax forms because they couldn't always understand the words on the forms.
An expert seamstress, knitter and embroiderer, mum loved to do craft and art at home ... something of a necessity in our early years when money was tight. I remember wearing clothes she'd made for us all. She was politically aware and an activist in both the anti-nuclear movement as well as Amnesty International. She studied history as an adult and gained first her Bachelors and then her Masters degree when I was about 6 or 7 I can't quite remember exactly. I remember going to see her graduation ceremonies and the funny flat hat and gown she had to wear. Somewhere we have a photo of her wearing them and holding a scroll. She looks as proud as proud can be ... and quite right too. She was a teacher, (French, English, RE and Maths) a health-food store owner, a believer in thrift, good simple nutrition, clear thinking, robust rule making and plain speaking. She was an environmentalist and practised recycling long before it was widely popular. I remember as a child wondering why we saved so much stuff to re-use.
One thing Mum loved was her garden. She grew flowers, shrubs, vegetables, herbs and berries for as long as I can remember. Regardless of how small a garden she had she always managed to grow something and took great pleasure from doing so. She loved creating order and her garden reflected this. I remember how she found it hard to leave her garden to take even quite short holidays away from home during the summer months ... worrying that Kath or I might unwittingly do something wrong in taking care of everything in her absense. I don't think anything ever actually died under our care but that thought never quite left her. My sister over-waters whereas I tend to under-water so in fact mum had the perfect duo of caretakers in a way!
In the time I knew her Mum was a mother, sister, aunt, niece, grandmother, daughter, wife, cousin, and friend. Her influence ran broad and deep. I've never met anyone more certain of her own mind.
I love you Mum. I am proud to be your daughter. I will miss you more than words are capable of conveying. Love always, Jocelyn.
It seems my time is less and less my own these days. I know it won't be like this always though. I shudder at the thought because the time is coming when the reason I'll have more time is because Mum is no longer with us.
It's been a strange time ... a healing time too altough that seems utterly ludicrous given the ravages cancer is visiting upon my mothers body. Her mind remains very much her own though, a blessing of huge value to us all.
In the lead up to Easter Mum was taken into the hospice. Family members were informed and in response to the clarion call my brothers hot-footed it with their families to England from their far flung homes in Canada and the US.
It's odd to be spending time as a full family again. Whilst most of us are close to my eldest brother my middle brother has cut himself off entirely from me for the last 20 something years, been out of touch with Mum for at least 15 years and remained in only the barest of contact with my sister during the last 10 years or so. Thus the dynamics are strange and somewhat uncomfortable but that's to be expected. What's encouraging though is that we are able to engage with one another as adults ... no re-hashing those ancient pointless animosities nor wilfully opening old wounds ... just kindness and tolerance. We are all so very different from one another and yet finally that seems to no longer be such a cause of conflict. For all of our sakes I am glad.
I am spending long hours with Mum, sometimes with other family members but more often just the two of us. I time my visits for later on in the day ... a time when she would otherwise be alone waiting for someone to come with food, bath or meds before bed. It can be a lonely time for someone unable to move from bed to chair let alone make her way to the communal areas where company might be sought. We spend time chatting, but more and more we end up sitting quietly. We are healing our bond in words and in silence.
I love my mother. I wish this were easier for her. I hope the end comes in a peaceful way.
There are 365 days in a year. But every 4 years we add an extra day to make the adjustment required to bring earth seasonal time into line with astronomical time …which is based on the earths revolutions around the sun.
We call it leap year because whilst normally we can track the day a certain date will fall on simply by adding a day onto the day that date fell on the year before, in a leap year dates after February 29th fall two days ahead, thus “leaping” a day.
Anyway you look at it there are a lot of days in half a century, and I have now lived that many days. Today I am 50.
Ageing is strange and wonderful. I have grey hair, I have wrinkles, saggy baggy wobbly bits and bobs … all that good stuff. My wrinkles are where they should be and there they will stay … more likely they will deepen and that’s OK with me. My laughter lines are becoming deeper and hopefully will in time overtake the frown lines that furrow my forehead.
I laugh more these days. I have reason to. I always did have reason to but I forgot and then forgetting became something I did a lot. Now I try to remember instead and laughter comes from a good place as a result.
Mum and John came over for lunch on Sunday. It’s the first time mum has left the house in weeks. She managed to walk from the car to the house and stayed awake for nearly 3 hours which is a long time these days. We mostly chatted about knitting. Under her expert tutelage my jumper is coming along albeit slowly. I knit at what might be described as at a deliberate pace at best.
John’s brother died a couple of weeks ago and a week before that one of mums best friends died. It has become something of a regular thing now that one or other hears of a friend or a friend of a friend who has died. John is the last of his generation within his family, so is mum.
Time is strange isn’t it? This time last year my sister and I were busily planning an all day outing for Mothers Day when the news fell that the cancer was back. It’s like being sucker punched hearing news like this. There’s nothing to say that’s right because there are no words powerful enough to stop the feeling that nothing will be the same thereafter. So Mum started chemo and we were all dreadfully worried and scared for her. A year later she is frail and there is no denying the marked deterioration in her physical state. Mentally though she remains remarkably alert insofar as her perpetual fatigue allows.
Mum and I talk much more about the past now that the future feels so uncertain and to some degree an irrelevance. I enjoy hearing about her life. It feels odd and somewhat remiss of me that I am only now getting to know her in such a different way. She is an amazing woman and I don’t know how I didn’t fully realise this before. I guess I was so busy thinking of her as my mother that I forgot to look at the rest of who she is. I dread her becoming so frail that she is no longer herself. I hope that she will pass peacefully when the time comes.
In the meantime there is cake to eat and daffodils to enjoy … stories to tell and photos to look at … music to listen to and cross-words to puzzle over. And there are chats by the fire. Laughter is yet another way of saying “I love being here with you”. Sometimes we just feel right don’t we?
You wouldn't think that something as innocuous as secrets could make you sick ... or keep you sick. It seems totally counter-intuitive somehow as oftentimes we tell ourselves that secrets harm no-one and particularly those told in a bid to keep loved ones from being hurt or harmed.
So secrets told in a bid to protect from hurt or harm are if not OK then at least somewhat justifable, but what about others? What about those told for reasons to do with deeper darker motives? We are none of us perfect are we?
Maybe it's the magnitude that makes the difference ... or the motivation. T'is a tricky subject matter.
Does the keeping of secrets make one less well? What about collusion in the keeping of secrets ... that done by the avoidance of asking questions ... or the careful scripting of conversations to skirt around "difficult topics". Vagueness ... I have become adept at vagueness.
Today I listened to someone talk about their secrets and how those secrets had kept them trapped in a cycle of lies and deception. It made me think about how my own secrets weigh me down at times. And then I started wondering which came first ... the lies or the secrets ... for most assuredly those two go hand in hand ... cemented as they are in fear.
My heart is heavy with the witnessing of my mothers slow lingering deterioration. I think perhaps I am rumminating on the negatives as a result. So many secrets and lies from those early years have come back to the surface ... with my mothers' passing will they too pass I wonder?
And then mum and I were chatting the other day and it became clear to me that some of the things I thought were secrets were not in fact secrets at all ... that somehow I had missed the moment of revelation or misunderstood altogether .... which of course is how it is because I have always misunderstood pretty much everything from a very early age. I am quite angry about that.
I wish I knew what one is supposed to do with feelings of anger. I wish I knew a safe way to deal with it without causing hurt to anyone, including myself.
When Kath cries something deep inside me moves. She is my little sister even though we are the age we are now. It's a hard wired fact that it is my job to look after her. The years have not eroded that wiring despite rationality. On an emotional level I am her older sister and it's my job to make it OK.
Sadly it is not OK. Mum's scan this week shows bad bad news. Her abdominal area is filling with fluid. This is part of the "end game" when it comes to liver cancer. Her bone density is falling so we have to be extra careful about preventing knocks and falls. The chemo has been stopped now as it is no longer doing anything of value.
Thing is all this is happening and somehow or other I keep finding myself shut off emotionally from the enormity of it. But coming home to my sister in tears acts as a catalyst ... an unblocking of the damn within and suddenly all I can do is FEEL and blimey I wish it weren't so. And yet ... I am glad too because to be present is all about thoughts and feelings in the NOW.
Today is another day and one of the things I am thankful for is that I didn't cry or wail when Mum and I discussed her will yesterday. Still to have the discussions about her funeral and no doubt that too will be hard going but these things I learnt from Renee ... this process belongs to the person going through it ... my job is to show up and be there ... to show love and understanding but also to be ... well just me I guess. Dropping the pretence that all is well is actually quite a relief in some ways.