The Past Tense

One of the things that I find hard to remember, even almost 8 weeks after Mum died, is to use the past tense: I wanted to write that she has a safe in her house, but then I changed it to had and then I got myself in a pickle. When I call people like her credit card company yesterday, they asked my  relationship towards Mum and I explain that I am her daughter, then I correct it to I was her daughter and then I get upset as I will always be her daughter, whether she is alive or not. Perhaps I am overthinking my use of language, but it is something odd that I still struggle with. Maybe it is because I am trying to override 52 years worth of language when referring to Mum and that is difficult to do. I can recall when I was first married, after being together for 13 years, I found it awkward and intuitive to call him my husband, as this was not a word I had ever used.

Mum has a safe in her house but we did not know the combination ; we have been trying to open iton each visit to the house, having three attempts before it locked us out. We were not sure what might be in there but the solicitor advised us to employ a locksmith to get access to the contents, whatever they might be. So after my meeting nearby yesterday, I went back to Mum’s house where I met the locksmith. He tried to pick the lock and then finally, he drilled it out. He called me upstairs to open the safe and we found lots of documents hidden away in there : Mum’s missing passport, every PIN number she had been sent by the bank, her senior railcard, a wax seal and  a silver £5 coin. So that was a relief that it was not empty and the mystery was solved.

I then began to look in a few drawers that I had never looked in before and I became lost in old photographs and a lovely poem that my sister had written to our parents thanking them for the childcare support that they provided for my young niece. I spent ages engrossed, sitting on the landing floor, reading Mum’s progress book, and reviewing gorgeous black and white photographs of her  growing up. Then I found some pictures of me and my sister, where, apparently, we look like our children. This trip down memory lane gave me a real sense of family and of time moving on. I saw in photographs, that our grandparents and parents had now gone, that my sister and I were now head of our family and that our offspring were the future. Mum had done all that she could to prepare us for this time by clever financial planning, by leaving her paperwork in order and by de-cluttering her house as much as she could, so now it is over to us to do the right things as she would have done.

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Time Passes

Eight weeks ago, was a week that changed my life forever : on Tuesday 21st of May, Ruby had her puppies, so it was their 8 week old birthday yesterday. During that time, they have grown into three healthy, loving and naughty puppies and they delight me every time that I come home to them. All three follow me around at lunch time as though I am there mother; we have got into a routine of a walk around our field before I eat my lunch and they are simply delightful company, as they wag their tails so enthusiastically and they tumble over the long grass and each other. They are now old enough to have their first inoculations and so they are booked in for their first visit to the vet on Thursday this week, to begin the process that enables them to be mature and protected enough to leave their mother, their siblings and the only home that they have known. It will be hard to split them up but I am relieved that they are going to nieces, so I will get to see them grow up and develop into  independent family pets.

Later that same week, on Friday 24th May, Mum died in hospital and our family suffered a huge loss. Even two months later, with her funeral behind us, we are still in disbelief over what has happened. Today I am heading back to her house to meet the surveyor who will value her property, which  feels like another landmark event. This was our family home for the past 41 years and so there are so many memories tied up there. When our Dad died, our Mum still wanted to live in that house and so sole ownership simply passed to her, but this feels more final to us, as it marks the end of that family home and our family life. We will have, in the future, big decisions to make over the future of this home but this will be the first step, the first of many more decisions to be made. I cannot think much further ahead than today on the house yet, so I am still taking each day as it comes, as it still feels like really early days to me, but I am aware that we cannot preserve it like a museum forever either.

What an emotional, life-changing week that was eight weeks ago. As if I need reminding, the puppies growing up reminds me that life goes on. Although it feels like it should, the world does not stop just because our dear Mum has died. Gradually a new pattern of life begins, one where I do not email my Mum most days , one where I call my sister, rather than my Mother, when I need to share some news, and one where our family home now stands empty.

School Holidays

There are just four days left of the school year and I am not sure how that flew by so fast- one minute Joshua was starting the new Autumn term last September and now, here we are, it has gone. In previous years I have panicked about childcare in the school holidays, as I will have a fortnight off with Joshua during his 6/7 week holiday, but I am relaxed about this summer. I will have my Friday’s off and I will use the services of Yorkshire Grandma as well as  our new respite service if we need weekday cover, as they have told me that is available should I need it, so I am lucky in that regard. I think I am not as anxious about it this year also, because I am more focused on the end of school permanently, rather than the end of school for 6 weeks. This will be the last summer holiday that Joshua has when he will be going back in September, so rather than being worried about the holidays, I am grateful for the new term I think.

I also know how fast the school holidays fly by and Joshua is so sleepy at this end of term, that I can see he is ready for some lazy days and lies-in too. We will start the holidays with a weekend away at our holiday cottage, as we have not been able to go for months, so that will be special. Joshua will be back at respite for the second weekend of his holidays, as I am going away with my husband, sister and niece to scatter Mum’s ashes in a special place from her childhood, and we are looking forward to that very much. Then we go on our family holiday for a fortnight, from the third weekend , which will be very special. When we get back it will be halfway through August and we will go back to our holiday cottage for the bank holiday weekend and after that, it will be back to school. So with long weekends, due to my Fridays off, we will not feel too deprived of time off together.

It is difficult making my 20 days leave stretch to cover the school holidays, but my day off every week and any accumulated lieu time helps a lot. I know there are several parents who are concerned how they are going to survive the long summer with their children at home with them everyday. I do not have that worry as I find the time flies by, they are back at school before we know it. But if you have a child with behaviour difficulties, or one who requires routine so asks for school everyday of the holidays, then that must be very challenging.

As I did last year, I am inviting a few Mums and their children for lunch in the garden on the first Friday of the holidays. Hopefully, like last year, it will be a carefree play-date, when the Mums can chat – in between chasing after their offspring – and the children can be themselves, where nobody will judge them, all around a buffet in the garden. We had a good time last year, so I have invited more families this time, and we will just have to hope that we are blessed with decent weather again so that we can be outside. Last year we were too ambitious and followed lunch up with a group outing to a farm, which was too much for some of the young people, so I have learnt from that, this year the invitation is only for lunch and to chill in our garden, that is probably enough. Hopefully that will be one day in the school holidays when those parents do not have to worry about how they are going to entertain their children and I will enjoy hosting this energetic party.

Mumeries

My weekend of Mum-Memories was made complete by staying overnight at her house, so that I could go to her church on Sunday morning.I was up early as usual, playing with the puppies in her beautiful garden and enjoying the peace of the morning and picking the broad beans that were growing. Then I headed to church, where I received the warmest of welcomes. It was an informal service so rather than being set out in traditional pew style,  the chairs were arranged around tables of 6 people and they call it ‘Cafe Church’. The steward asked me if I knew anyone to sit with when I arrived and when I looked into church, I recognised someone from the Croquet at almost every table, which was lovely. One lady waved at me and beckoned me over, so I sat at her table.

I had just got settled when an elderly lady from the croquet, came across to give me a gift to thank me for inviting her to the Croquet event : she now lives in a flat and has really missed her large garden and it clearly gave her a lot of pleasure to spend an afternoon, with friends, in Mum’s garden. So that was a very moving start to the proceedings.

The service began and as it was the 150 year anniversary of Action for Children, there was a childhood theme to the service and we gave our collection to this charity. A young family presented what they do to the congregation, including a song with actions that Mum would have loved. We had 15 minutes on our tables to discuss our childhoods and how they compare with the lives that today’s young people live. A lady spoke about what the church had raised for Action for Children, and she had been involved with the charity since she was 16 years old, which  was at least 50 years.

Not everyone is keen on this more modern, informal style of church service, but from my perspective it was much more interactive than a traditional style and I was able to chat to the five other people on our table, rather than simply listening to one minister’s sermon, so I enjoyed it very much. The time passed quickly and at the end I was invited to stay for a church meeting and my lunch, but I excused myself as we wanted to head back home as we had to collect Joshua from respite and my husband wanted to be home in time to watch the Wimbledon final. I had many hugs from Mum’s friends and certainly felt that I would go again when I next have a weekend in Mum’s town. It was certainly a perfect weekend to feel close to her and to be reminded how many friends she had who love and miss her still.

Croquet Away

Croquet Day at Mum’s house was a huge success : it was well attended, the sun shone, the afternoon tea spread was bountiful and everyone said that they had a good time, so it could not have gone better from my perspective. We were delayed getting across so there was not as much time as I expected to get organised beforehand, but many hands made light work. My husband set out chairs, my sister and I laid the buffet table and Mum’s friend from church organised the croquet hoops! The ladies all arrived promptly and the game began, while we mingled. The garden looked fabulous in the sunshine and many guests wandered around, perhaps remembering Mum  , but possibly just enjoying the garden that my parents created.

We talked a lot about how much Mum would have enjoyed the afternoon and at half time, the 20 or so ladies came indoors for sandwiches, scones, cake and a cup of tea, before heading out again.Ruby’s three puppies were a big hit as they had traveled with us, for the first time,  in a dog cage, which we had lifted out of the car into the garden in the shade, so they were a key attraction for the dog lovers in the group.

My sister and I managed not to cry until the ladies at the end very kindly presented us with a bouquet of flowers each and told us how much the event had meant to them all. That was most unexpected and very kind. Around 4 pm, everyone packed up their chairs and gathered their cake tins and sandwich plates, and all too soon everyone had gone.

My sister and I then had some paperwork to attend to and then we made a half-hearted attempt to take some of Mum’s things home: my sister took a picnic rug, which I had only just discovered that morning she did not have, and a baking tray and I have a potato masher and some biscuit cutters, so that was hardly the kitchen cleared! It will be a big and emotional job, when we finally tackle it , but it still feels too soon to me to even look at personal, sentimental items like clothing and Christmas decorations. We avoid having to go into her bedroom still. I am hoping that I might feel more ready by the Autumn, but for now, if we see bits and pieces that we might like, we check if the other sister is happy for it to leave Mum’s house. We do not want to leave the house raided, but it still, for now, needs to feel lived in , as Mum left it and how she liked it. It does not make me feel sad being in Mum’s home,and the home where I lived from being 11 years old, but I am sure it would do, if it felt empty and soulless, but for now, her presence is still everywhere that you look, and that is very comforting.

Unbelievably today is exactly one month since Mum’s funeral : in many ways it feels much much longer ago than that, as we have faced so many emotions, and achieved so much, since that day and in the 7 weeks since she died. Today is going to be another landmark day for us : for the last two years, Mum opened up her garden to 20 or so church friends to play croquet on her lawn. She was always anxious about it, would the weather hold up and then of course there was the year that badgers dug up her lawn and would it recover in time for Croquet Day! Several people at Mum’s funeral mentioned that they would now have to find another venue for what had become an annual event in the church diary.

So my sister and I discussed this soon after the funeral and we invited the ladies to hold it at Mum’s house again this year, in her memory. They accepted and it is planned for today. So Joshua is tucked up at respite out of harm’s way and I am baking a cake right now, then later this morning we are heading across the country to Mum’s house. We are having nothing to do with the croquet part, but we have offered to make cups of tea and provide some home baking to accompany what they supply.

I know in my heart that Mum would have approved of our invitation and that she would love to think that her friends were enjoying her lawn once again. But it promises to be an emotional day, when Mum’s absence will be most keenly felt. I am hopeful that being with her friends, sharing memories, will be a tonic, rather than bringing more self-inflicted unbearable pain, but it is bound to be an emotional day, whatever those emotions will be. For most of those friends, it will be the first time that they have been in Mum’s house without her being there, so that will not be easy for them – at least we have crossed that hurdle several times already.

Grief is such a surprising emotion as it is is possible to function with everyday life, but I have found there is a constant sadness, state of loss, that I carry around with me – an unease that something is not right in my life. One of the highlights of today will be to be reunited with my sister as she has been on holiday this last week and we did not see each other the week before either, so this has been by far the longest time apart since Mum died. I struggled last week and I am certain that it was, in part, because my sister was further away than usual, I knew that I could not jump in my car and see her in 90 minutes if I needed to. So we have some hugs to exchange, as well as cups of tea to generate and some moral support to offer and receive.

Let Croquet Day commence, bring it on!

Penultimate Prom part II

Joshua had already sent his 3 piece suit into school , ready for last night’s prom, but he was asked to send in toiletries, slippers, a towel and PJs yesterday as everyone in 6th form would be having a shower and hair-wash prior to the prom and a hairdresser would be coming in to coiff the students. I sent a note with his bag, that I would advise against changing him into his Pyjamas as that is  a clear signal to go to bed for him and I was already concerned about his likely reluctance to stay awake.

The sixth formers stayed on at school after home time to enjoy fun and games in the beautifully decorated hall, which had a ‘The Greatest Showman’ theme. It was held in school, rather than a hotel this year, but they still made it special and more than a school disco with the circus theme. Parents were invited after 5 pm to join the party. As I had gone to the wake of our next door neighbour of our holiday cottage, I was never going to be there until after 6 pm. Both my husband and I arrived at the same time at 6.30, to find Joshua stripped of his boots, jacket and waistcoat as he was too hot, cooling off in the foyer. He had had some small seizures and a sleep, and his ex-teacher was there with him , poised with his emergency medication, should he have needed it. He was pleased to see us both, but he clearly thought that we had come to take him home as he was reluctant to walk back to the noisy, hot hall with us, as he protested by throwing himself to the floor.

But we insisted and waited for him to get up and encouraged him to the dance floor and to the games and his peers and the 6th form staff who were all dressed up beautifully. Hairdressers had been in to style the students and the girls in particular, looked amazing with curls and flowers in their hair. He danced with me for a while, then we sought a cooler area so we went outside where there was a breeze and we encouraged him to have a drink. Joshua made a few bids for freedom but he also had some magical moments with staff and fellow pupils too: He spent time sitting watching the others on the dance floor, waving and he danced himself too;  music  and his favourite faces kept him going, when clearly he just wanted to sleep really. At just before 8 pm, he made his final bid for freedom, shuffling down the corridor on his bottom and so I gave in, it was the end really, so  we took him home, recognising that he really is not a party animal, not on a school night anyway! He went to bed as soon as he got home.

This is his second prom now, both on the hottest nights of the year it seems, so we have learned that while they may look smart, waistcoats are just too warm to wear on a hot night. We have some funny photographs from the photo booth, where he mainly looks bewildered , clearly thinking that the world has gone mad. He certainly enjoyed some of the party and it will be good practice for next July, when he will be one of the leavers , who’s special night it really is! These events do not happen by accident or luck, but staff put in a lot of hard work to make them  a success and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, so I would like to thank all of those involved in giving the students the Prom that they deserve and the opportunity to behave like mainstream teenagers. Thank you.