Plus ca Change

Now is the time, after Mum’s funeral last week, that the harsh reality begins to sink in, that we will not see her again. As we return to work, it seems odd that life continues as normal for everyone else, while our  world has shifted on its axis. I have been feeling rather numb, so I have been operating on auto-pilot, which is probably the mind’s way of coping with the shock and loss. My mind has also been playing tricks on me: as we live over two hours away from Mum’s home, it has been fooling me into believing that everything is normal and that she is still at the end of a phone, whenever I have anything that I want to report or discuss. I know that it is still early days in our grief journey, but I keep getting caught out by the waves of real sorrow that overtake me.

Today my sister and I are heading back to Mum’s house and we will collect her ashes from the funeral director, so today is another big step in letting her go. Once again, I know how fortunate I am that I will have my big sister by my side. Although we were only together last Friday and we are speaking at least once a day at the moment, it still seems like forever since I saw her last and I am really looking forward to seeing her later. Only my sister truly understands my loss as Mum’s daughter and we do not have to pretend to be brave for each other.

Before I drive to Mum’s house, I am taking Joshua into school as I am meeting with his teacher this morning for 6th form Open Morning. It will be useful to have the opportunity to find out more about their plans for Joshua during his final year of school. I am adjusting to the reality that he will be leaving school this time next year, when he is 19, and I am sure, with the right support, we can find him the right place for the next phase of his life.  I am hoping that we can find somewhere that replaces the hole that school will leave in his life, so Monday to Friday 9-4 pm would be ideal. This is just one more change that we will have to face together and with the right groundwork, I am certain that we can adjust and start to look forwards, rather than backwards, which is always more comforting as it is familiar.

It does not matter that I am not very good at change, because change is thrust upon me, whether I like it or not. There is no point in me fighting it, as that only makes things more difficult, I need to simply embrace it, pick up the pieces and move on.

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Moving On Up Now

I saw on Facebook yesterday that several of Joshua’s peers had sat their last A level examination and so their high school career’s were over and university would be , all being well, beckoning them in the Autumn. I wish them well and hope that they get the A Level results that they need to progress. I am able to be pleased for them, while at the same time, being sad for Joshua, that he is not on the brink of the same exciting experience. Before Joshua was born, we would have expected our offspring to go to university, like his parents, to complete a degree and go on to develop a career. But those hopes were dashed when he was 4 days old, when we had to adjust our expectations, to focus on achieving more basic milestones such as walking and talking. I have had 18 years to adjust my expectations , so this realisation is not as painful as it might once have been.

I am very thankful that Joshua has the benefit of an additional year at school still. I am attending an Open morning at school tomorrow, and I already have a list of questions for his teacher about his year ahead. When he joined 6th form two years ago – where did that time fly to? – they were clear that 6th form was all about preparation to leave school and certainly  we seem to be on the home straits now. I am hoping that school staff will be able to guide us through our search for appropriate daycare. Having recently searched for , and found, respite locally, I am more confident than I was this time last year.  I am also more confident in Joshua’s ability to adapt and embrace a new provision. He has made me very proud over how well he has taken to his new respite provision, without so much as a backward glance. Surely staying somewhere overnight for the first time,  must be more daunting than going somewhere for 6 hours in the day, and he has taken his weekends away, totally in his stride.

I find that it is not helpful to spend too much time speculating over what might have been. It is much more useful to focus on where we are now and the road we are travelling on, rather than still dreaming of the detour we might have taken once and where we might have ended up. My Mum was pragmatic like that, she would not have entertained any fanciful daydreaming about what should or could  have happened, she would have kept me on the path where we are and would be cheering from the sidelines, every step of the way. So that is what we are going to do, play out the cards that we have been dealt and celebrate every success along the way.

The Impact of Joshua

For anyone to suggest that Joshua has ‘ruined my life’ , or has uttered the words ‘what a shame’ when they have seen him, has missed the point totally:

  • They cannot have seen the way that Joshua’s face lights up when he sees me. They must never have witnessed the endless bear hugs that I receive, when he squeezes me tight, while he gently pats my back or strokes my hair at the same time .  They have not witnessed the twinkle in Joshua’s eye as he pats his chest , then points at me, in his sign language for ” I love you!” These are all clearly Joshua’s expressions of unconditional love for his Mum and they are to be envied, rather than being pitied. How many other mothers of 18 years olds receive such blatant expressions of love from their 18 year old sons
  • My life is much richer for having Joshua in it and , although he is sometimes  challenging and demanding, I would always rather have him in it, rather than not. To suggest that Joshua has ruined my life, is to imply that I would be better off without him; but how insensitive and inaccurate would that be? How could anyone suggest such a crass thing to a fellow human being? When I think about the occasions that we might have lost him, during surgery for instance when he has had general anesthetic, while waiting for him to come around, agonising, I have never once thought that it would be better for everyone if he simply did not wake up. Instead I have paced around , counting the minutes until he is awake and there, smiling back at me. It is the same when Joshua is at respite, while I love and appreciate the brief break from my caring duties, I am always desperate to get him back as I miss him.
  • So what have I missed out on by having Joshua in my life?  We have not had the luxury of dining out  in fancy restaurants or had luxury holidays, where the likes of Joshua is not welcome. But I am not so shallow as to think that is something that matters at all. We have not been able to share the pride of our son passing his GSCEs or pass his driving test and Joshua will not be setting off to University this autumn, but that does not matter in the grand scale of things. We have celebrated much more significant life skills than those : Joshua has walked, against adversity, but his determination helped him to walk. I celebrate whenever Joshua uses a new word or phrase and his clear ” thanks yous” in cafes and shops, make me beam with pride at my rare, well-mannered son. I am sad that I will never be the mother of the groom and we will never be grandparents, but those two life stages are not actually guaranteed to any of us.

Joshua has not ruined my life,rather, he has enhanced it; I have experienced first hand what it is like to be a mother and that hands-on nature of parenthood will continue for the rest of his, or my, life, whichever ends first. Joshua going to special school has given me the opportunity to meet some kind, caring friends, who I would not have known even existed and that would be  a great loss to my life.  Being Joshua’s mother has given me the insight to be able to share my thoughts and experiences in this blog, which is a vehicle for expression that I really value in my life. But most of all, without Joshua, I would not have experienced generous, unconditional love that sustains me through difficult times and lifts my spirits. Anyone who suggests that he has ruined my life, must be blind.

Happy Father’s Day

It is odd but since our Mum died, both my sister and I have found ourselves reflecting much more on Dad , who died 5 years ago now. I , like Mum, have christian faith and so I know that my parents are re-united, pain-free, in heaven, so that makes death much more tolerable. My tears of grief are actually for myself and others, rather than for Mum, as we will miss her, but her soul, I am confident, is in heaven , where it will last forever.Her presence is all around us : my sister met a portion of rainbow over her house, when there was no rain, when she arrived home on Friday evening and nobody will convince me that was not Mum comforting her. Last night as it was almost going dark, my husband and I walked to see  a white birch tree that we had planted with Mum’s vouchers for Joshua’s 18th birthday, on her instructions ; the moon was full and silver and the sky was a beautiful pink, the whole scene was ethereal.

Our Mum and Dad were a great team, a wonderful partnership, as we were growing up. They complemented each other and I cannot recall any cross words , ever, in our household. My Dad would mutter if he was unhappy about something, but there were no raised voices, and I am much the same, as I detest shouting. They were a calm, honest, reliable presence throughout our lives and now I am happy to try to step into those big shoes that have been left empty.

Joshua’s Dad has really had taken on a lot of responsibility lately; as well as grieving himself, as he adored our Mum, he has been there in support of my sister and me , as well as taking on a greater childcare role than usual. So all of his husband, brother in law and father duties have increased, to allow me to fully focus on the loss of my Mum and I am really grateful for that. At Mum’s house on Thursday, he could even be found hoovering, which is a rare sight, and he went to the shops to buy the ingredients for and cooked my sister and I, fajitas on Thursday evening, when we thought that we did not really feel hungry. He has fallen into the background in a solid supporting role, just exactly as we needed. I don’t think that ‘Husbands Day’ or ‘Brother in law Day’ exist, so we will just make a fuss of him today, on Fathers’ Day instead.

Time to Grow Up

I thought that the day of the funeral would be the most emotional day of the week , but yesterday came close too. Maybe because we had been so busy and had been so brave on Thursday, emotions found their way out yesterday, when we least expected them:

After two hours sleep, I could not sleep anymore and I began pottering around Mum’s house; I wanted to bake , as that is my solace, but Mum’s eggs expired in April, so I was cursing Waitrose for not being open at 3 am for me to buy some fresh eggs. So I put a load of washing on and I read, and eventually I catnapped on the settee. I was delighted when my sister and Joshua joined me downstairs for breakfast around 8 and we discussed our plan for the day and more reflections on the funeral.

We invited Mum’s three sisters,and their partners, round for coffee at 10 and it was lovely to see them all again. We sat in Mum’s lounge reminiscing , while Joshua breezed in and out. I had discovered a singing dog that, when you squeezed his foot sang ” Singing in the Rain”, that Mum had bought for young Joshua and he had played it over and over again whenever he was at Granny’s house. When I produced it yesterday, initially he had thrown it across the kitchen dismissively, scattering the batteries across the floor. He seemed to be saying that he was an adult now and had no interest in such childish toys now, so it sat in the kitchen. While our Aunts were round and the crowd became too overwhelming for him,  he would disappear to the kitchen where the dog could be heard singing in the rain on repeat, being watched by a happy Joshua.

We had to leave the sisters behind as we had an appointment with Mum’s solicitor at 11, so we said our goodbyes and told them to make themselves at home there for as long as they wanted. We both shed some tears at the solicitors; for me the thoughtful provision that Granny had made for Joshua’s future ,in terms of a trust, was overwhelming.  But as we left, I felt reassured that Mum had left her affairs in such order that we could manage to do the necessary , with just a little advice and guidance. Mum had faith that we were adequate executors for her will, so once again, we will step up to the job in hand and do our best to ensure that her wishes are adhered to.

When we got back to Mum’s house, we were ” wrung out” and all sat in shock ,drinking endless cups of tea. It was with reluctance that we packed up our belongings and left her home clean and tidy, until we visit again, and we made some loose plans to return together again before too long. But for now, we all need a quiet weekend at home, doing normal weekend things, crying some more when required, and trying to adjust to the next phase of our lives, one where we are the grown ups!

Fond Farewell

We now have a very emotional day behind us and it could not have gone any smoother; the weeks of planning a funeral that Mum deserved, paid off. When I first saw the hearse containing Mum’s coffin parked on the road outside Mum’s house , it took my breath away, even though it was covered in stunning floral displays : white roses from my sister and I and a stunning more colourful rose arrangement from Mum’s three sisters. Seven of us squeezed into the limousine, with Joshua firmly wedged between my husband and I, as we drove through Mum’s home town in the grey drizzle.

We were greeted by family at the Crematorium, so received bountiful hugs and kind wishes, before following the coffin into the chapel and being seated on the front row. The minister said some committal prayers but the service was beautifully personalised with a Sisters’ tribute of anecdotes about Mum, bravely read by our Aunt, which made us laugh and cry at the same time. At the end of the short service ,we climbed back into limousine, while the undertakers gathered up the flowers and a closeup photograph of Mum, and transported us all back to Mum’s church.

We were shown to our reserved front row seats, Joshua, my husband and myself sitting together, opposite my sister with her family. We began with a rousing hymn, Great is the Faithfulness, and I was immediately delighted that we had a full church , boosted with strong Methodist singers. The organ was beautifully accompanied by a violin soloist who we had organised, and she was behind us and Joshua was mesmorised by her playing. The minister gave a factual account of Mum’s life and then she kindly read the  personal tributes from myself and my sister, followed by moving reflections from my husband – whose anecdotes were from the heart and spontaneous – and a close friend from Church. It was incredibly moving to hear how well loved Mum was and how missed she will be, from a wide range of people.

That was rather a lot of talking for Joshua to sit through and so he struggled to sit nicely, and as I was inevitably crying, I received some kicks and smacks, as well as hugs. But it was with some relief that we moved onto our next hymn, How Great Thou Art, and we allowed Joshua some freedom to wander. He cruised across the front of the church, seeking out people that he knew; he hugged my sister and flicked the hair of his Nanna and his cousins, but always came running back to me for a hug. I found him a welcome distraction. But my husband then had to man-handle him in his seat, while my sister ,then I, made bible readings, clinging together for moral support. A poignant sermon was followed by a final hymn, Praise my Soul, accompanied by more of Joshua’s wanderings and hugs.

The violinist played beautifully again as we left the church and we had organised a buffet in the church hall, so we did not have to even step outside the rain to receive some delicious food. The Sunday school rooms were transformed by the caterer with tables decorated with jam jars of flowers and linen table cloths, and an extensive buffet. As the mourners queued for food, I stayed in the quieter foyer with Joshua where guests joined us to share memories of Mum and my husband and my cousin brought us plates of food that they had retrieved for us by breaking into the queue. Joshua greedily enjoyed some chips and mini quiches, followed by chocolate brownies. It was only at around 3 pm that we left church, as we had invited family back to Mum’s house for more tea and cake. The idea had been to allow them time to reflect in her garden, but as it was so wet, most people stayed indoors. My sister and I walked back from the church to Mum’s house together, each clutching two jam jars of sweet williams , to get some fresh air and to reflect quietly on how the day had gone so far. It was lovely to have Mum’s house buzzing with Aunts, Uncles and cousins.

When everyone had left around 5.30, there was just Joshua, my husband and my sister remaining and we were all exhausted. We loaded the dishwasher then all had a much-needed nap. After the busy-ness of the day, I was left with a crushing emptiness when I woke from my sleep. The reality of our loss could only then seep in, once the hustle and bustle of her funeral had passed. We now need to find a new way of living, without her physical presence, but for now I am delighted to say that we organised a funeral that Mum would have loved, and that is good enough for me.

Today’s the Day

Our Mum died on 24 May and today is her funeral, the day that we have been working towards since then. In one way I want the day to be over, so that we can move on beyond it, as it has dominated our thoughts and deeds for so long. But in other ways, I am dreading it, as it bring’s Mum’s death into sharp focus and I am not sure how we face life after today, life without her in it. Either way, today has arrived and I know that we will be surrounded by love and support .

We collected Joshua from school at 3.15 and drove to Mum’s house in the rain, where my sister was waiting. Joshua stepped into the house, then broke my heart by searching for his Granny: he rushed into the lounge expecting to see her in her usual chair, peeped into the front room then ran into the kitchen, where she was bound to be making his tea. I hugged him tightly and told him again that Granny had gone, that he would not find her. Once again, I have been comforted by Mum’s house being just as she left it months ago, when she went into hospital, but it was my husband’s first time here too. He found her garden to be the saddest, emptiest  place, but Joshua accepted her absence and stopped searching for her.

We had a cup of tea together and my husband lit a fire to make it more cosy, but then we went out to a local hotel where much of Mum’s family – two of her three sisters and their family – were staying. We joined them for pre-dinner drinks in the hotel bar, so that we had seen them all before the funeral and I am glad that we did that : there were no tears, just lots of hugs and love. As they sat down to eat, we came away and went back to Mum’s house and within half an hour, Joshua was tucked up in bed and my Aunt and Uncle from Dad’s side of the family, came round for a drink and to kindly deliver homemade cake for this afternoon.

With all of our friends and family willing today to be a celebration of Mum’s life, I am certain that we will do her proud. We will say our goodbyes and will share fond memories of a very special lady who will be greatly missed. We keep being told how well we are doing, so lets hope we find the strength to get through this very emotional day.