Life and Love

We had a family birthday party for Mum yesterday in the same restaurant that she enjoyed on Mother’s Day in March. My husband had worried that it would be upsetting to return to the same place and he had suggested that it was better to leave the happy Mothers Day memory there, but I was adamant that this was the best place to celebrate Mum’s birthday, somewhere with memories of her there. There were 11 of us in the party all together, with two of Mum’s sisters and their partners, one of her nieces, both of her grandchildren and her daughters and son in laws, so it was quite a party.

We had driven over in the morning and we all arrived around the same time in the sunshine, so we had drinks in the restaurant’s garden while we hugged, toasted Mum and perused the menu. The food was all delicious and the chatter and laughter was constant, so it was a perfect birthday lunch. There were fewer tears than I had expected, I only wept when I was touched by the card and bottles of wine that Mum’s eldest sister had organised, as she was not with us. Somehow the time flew by , while the waiting staff had not rushed us at all, it was time to go when another family arrived for their evening meal and we were still sitting at our lunch table!  So we moved back outside for our hugs and farewells, then all headed off home.

We had decided against taking Joshua to ” Granny’s house” as he has not been since her funeral and then it was heartbreaking when he was looking for her in all of the downstairs rooms, assuming that he would find her in the next place he looked. How do we explain to him that she is not there any more, that he will not see her in this life again? We have not really come to terms with it yet, so how can we expect him to understand? But maybe I am just protecting myself, his track record of moving on is pretty good, he shows no real signs of missing his Grandpa and Grandad that he has lost in the last 5 years. As I have said before, Joshua is about the here and now and he appears to believe that out of sight is out of mind. While he would give Granny a huge bear hug if she turned up – she was always one of his favourite people – he does not appear to pine for her. Maybe Joshua could teach me about loss, perhaps he has the right idea : live and love for the moment.

9/11

I am expecting this to be an emotional week as Mum should have been 80 years old on Wednesday , so this will be the first big anniversary that we have had to face since she died over three months ago now. My sister and I booked the day off work some time ago, knowing that we could not concentrate on such a day and knowing that we needed to be together to mark Mum’s birthday. We had originally planned to meet up together for lunch and retail therapy half way between where we both live, but now we have changed the plan and we will be at Mum’s house together all day. We plan to make a start on sorting through some of her things but I insisted that we also have a celebration lunch out in her honour, and we are confident that Mum would approve of this plan – she would want us to get a move on on house clearing and she was never a fan of shopping!

Such an anniversary has got me thinking of past birthday celebrations, as we always make an effort to get together around birthdays in our family. Increasingly Mum did not want gifts that she had to find a home for, so last year, we three went to Harrogate for a weekend for her birthday treat and it was the best gift idea. We three spent some quality, fun time together and we laughed until our faces ached. On that trip for her 79th birthday, we were trying to persuade Mum to plan a bigger, brighter weekend for her 80 th celebration. She threatened to go abroad alone if we threw her a surprise birthday party. Yet now, here we are, without her – it does not feel real even now. I wonder how long it takes to properly sink in? I imagine that it is the brain’s way of protecting me from the pain of grief. Mum has appeared to me in two dreams now and again, I think my sub-conscious must be trying to adjust to the loss while I am sleeping.

The 11th of September for the last 18 years has always been a significant date in the news and for the families of the Twin Towers disaster, but in our family, it was always an important date and never more so, than now. As a child, Mum’s birthday was really exciting as it meant just over a fortnight until my own birthday – Mum’s birthday cards were never on display for long as they had to make way for my cards. This , our first year without her to celebrate with us, will be tough and emotional, but we will toast the very special lady that she was, together, and celebrate her life in style.

Day 8 of Holidays

One of the things that I particularly love about our holidays is the lack of a plan: we wake up, get up and after breakfast, we decide how we might like to spend the day once we have sussed out the weather. Yesterday was the only day of our fortnight that was pre-determined with a plan, as we had been invited to my Aunt and Uncle’s Golden Wedding party at their home. So it meant us getting dressed into our party clothes and being at their house for 1 pm. They had hoped to be in the garden but the storms were still hovering and as we arrived, the rain came down in a heavy downpour, so instead they had their 60 guests in their home. Luckily they have a large kitchen and several reception rooms so everyone was able to spread out and get comfortable.

Joshua has been to his Great Aunt and Uncle’s home before many times, so he greeted them both then he headed for the familiar settee in the lounge, where he planted himself for the duration of the party, initially next to strangers and then they kindly moved away to allow ,alternately, me or my husband to sit with Joshua. There was a beautiful buffet laid  out in the kitchen, to which I contributed my homemade cheese straws, and so we filled plates and brought them back to the settee to tempt Joshua with a range of tasty treats. He drank a lot of orange juice but only ate tortilla chips and grapes, then a chocolate brownie, made by my cousin, for pudding.

We did not know many of the people at the party, as many were their friends, and so I kept being asked how I knew the Golden Couple , so I explained that I was their niece that my Uncle was my late father’s only remaining sibling. Everyone was very friendly and I learnt more about their lives and friends, and as we toasted them and they both said a few words, it was possible to feel the love and emotion in the room and I was thrilled to be there to share in the celebration. I was one of the few guests who was present on the black and white wedding photographs that were on display, even though I was just two and a half years old.

It was only as I was leaving, when saying our goodbyes, that I got upset. As I hugged them, I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss, that Mum should have been there too. Apparently it was Mum who persuaded them to have a party, so all the more reason that she should have been there to enjoy it. There were lots of toddlers and young children playing in the garden when the sun tried to come out, and Mum adored small children , so she would have been out there playing skittles or pushing toy tractors around the lawn with them or she would have taken a turn sitting with Joshua on the settee.  I realise that these family events are going to be painful, as we are going to feel our loss more acutely and the pain, though it comes and goes in waves, is still very raw.

Time playing Tricks

Today is 2nd of June and I feel as though I missed May somehow, where did it go? Joshua’s half term school holiday has come and gone, yet I seem to have missed it. Mum has not been around for over a week now and yet it seems a lifetime ago that she died as the last ten days have been the worst of my life. Those 11 days with Joshua in special care, when we received his brain damage diagnosis, were tough days, but we had our new baby to see us through and I had my Mum by my side. The time we spent in hospital when Dad was dying were hard, but we had already lost him to dementia years earlier and once again, we had Mum by our sides.

She has been a constant in my life, through good and bad times : we always celebrated every family birthday together – I am so glad that she shared in Joshua’s 18th birthday celebrations in March – , she has stayed with us for the last few Christmases too and is always a perfect and helpful house -guest and we had a wonderful Mothers Day lunch out with my sister, mother in law, husband and Joshua and that was another happy day.

We have over a week to go before Mum’s funeral and over the past few days we have made huge progress to making her funeral into a celebration of her life well lived. My sister and I have organised things with the funeral director and we have sorted  out the venue for the refreshments after the church service. Yesterday I booked a violinist from a music group that Mum loved, to play as guests come into and leave the church and that will be really special. We began the process of choosing caterers but we have a very specific idea of what we are looking for, an event that Mum would enjoy and approve of so we need to get that choice right. My sister and I will meet the minister next week to discuss the service itself and we will start to pull the Order of Service together with some family photographs.

It has been helpful to have this focus on Mum’s funeral and to forget everything else that will need to be done eventually, but we are in no rush to deal with the house or Mum’s finances. I do worry that we will both fall off a cliff after the funeral, but I know on that day, we will be surrounded by love and support – as we have been since she died to be honest. I like to think that Mum’s spirit is still around supporting and comforting us, and giving us a gentle smack – like Joshua – when we begin to wallow too much in self pity. We can do this!

We are Underway

So, we survived our first busy day since Mum died and we achieved a great deal. We had three matters to attend to, to start the official ball rolling in acknowledging Mum’s death : to collect the medical certificate of death from the hospital, to register Mum’s death and to take the necessary paperwork to the Funeral Directors. They were all big , serious tasks and once again, we consider ourselves fortunate that we were able to do them together, as all of those venues would have felt more daunting alone.

We arrived at the hospital 30 minutes before the Bereavement Centre opened and we were both shocked by the physical reaction that we had to turning into the approach road to the hospital car park. At the same point precisely, our stomachs flipped and we felt sick : just knowing that we had arrived, only this time it was not to visit Mum on the ward. That nauseous feeling continued into the car park and when walking along the main corridor. We went into a cafe, one we had never used before, for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake to calm our nerves and to fill the time, and that did the trick. Collecting the paperwork was a fairly painless process in the end and the lady there helpfully advised us on the next stage of our journey to the Registrar.

As it was pouring with rain, we took a taxi to the Registry where we had been warned, without an appointment, we would be asked to simply wait our turn. So we settled down, in full view of reception, so that we would not be forgotten,  and we watched families come and go, some in pain to register a death and others delighting in registering the new life in their families. But it was only 20 minutes or so before we were called through and a very human, helpful registrar took our details and printed off the death certificates that we requested.

We were feeling as though we were on a roll then, so we walked 5 minutes, in the rain, to a branch of Mum’s bank to inform them.  There was a lot of information to take in at the bank and it took some time to untangle Mum’s varied accounts. We were reminded of Mum’s kindness as we saw a list of her standing orders and direct debits to cherished charities such as Wateraid, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Cerebra. We thanked the helpful lady but I felt rather woozy on leaving the bank, so we stopped for some lunch and a sit down, to recover ourselves as we had achieved all of that by lunchtime. Then we drove back to Mum’s hometown and confident in our resilience, we went straight to the funeral directors where some difficult decisions had to be made. The funeral date still has to be finalised, but we now know  that at least it will not be next week, so we have some time to pace ourselves.

On leaving there, I just wanted to go back to mum’s house, I did not want to see anyone else but I needed a cup of tea and a nap in Mum’s lounge. We needed time to assimilate all that we had been told and to congratulate each other on how brave and efficient we had been. We rested, took some phone calls, wandered in the garden and then did some chores :  I did some ironing and my sister hoovered up and did some dusting. We both knew, without saying it out loud, that Mum’s high standards had to be maintained, even in times of crisis.

We both drove back to our family homes last night, which felt very welcome but strange at the same time, after an intense 24 hours together. Joshua gave me three big bear hugs when I arrived home and dogs never fail to give me an enthusiastic welcome. It seemed that I had been away from home for ages, as I checked if the puppies had doubled in size, but then I reminded myself that it had only been 24 hours. It was reassuring in a way to find things at home, the same, when everything had shifted, irreversibly at Mum’s house. We are well on the journey now…..

We are Family

Yesterday was an important day in our grief journey and I made big strides, as it is the first time since Mum died that I thought that we will actually be okay without her. She has trained us well and we are stronger than we look , so we will survive and go on to make her proud of us.

Everyone and everyday will be different, but yesterday, I needed to keep busy, so cooking Sunday lunch for seven of us,  was just what I needed. I baked a cake in the early hours of the morning , then from breakfast onwards, I was busy clearing the dining room – which has not been used as anything other than a store room since Christmas! – and preparing a feast of roast chicken with all the trimmings. My sister and her family arrived around 12.30 and we shared tight, lingering hugs with each other, showing how much we cared, without words.

Joshua was delighted, if a little overwhelmed, when our guests peeped into his Den at him and he leapt off his settee, giving me a bear hug then sharing them around. we have a sociable shared kitchen/snug space and so I was able to join in with the chat while finishing off the cooking. We toasted Mum as we sat down to eat together and I felt her presence there, enjoying the family party and being pleased that we were carrying on without her. As we ate, we shared stories about previous family occasions and exchanged memories together, it was not a sad meal, it was all about sharing. While I sat talking to my sister, my husband cleared the table and began washing up, which is the helpful role that Mum and Dad always took, whenever they stayed and ate here – there was always a rule when growing up, that whoever cooked, did not have to wash up – , so I was happy to let him do that.

Then most of us retired to the snug – two of the party had a siesta in the lounge – where we shared more stories, played with Joshua and gently began to explore some ideas for Mum’s funeral – nothing specific, but just exploring what we each liked and disliked in funerals and more importantly, what Mum would have liked. We drank endless cups of tea and didn’t move very much, but it was just what I needed. Our guests did not leave until after 7pm, with more bear hugs and cheeky waves from Joshua. Joshua played his part in the day perfectly, he seemed to sense that something different was happening but he took it all in his stride and he offered his Aunt many bear hugs of comfort. Luckily she only cried briefly, so he did not need to smack her, although he did give her a warning glance when she started to weep at one point.

I did not want to let them go, I wanted to keep what immediate family I have , close to me. But when they did leave, I realised that we will survive this shock: we are made with Mum’s strong character, and we will pull through and come out the other side. It will take some adjusting and there will be some dark days ahead, but we will survive them and emerge even stronger.

There’s one more angel in heaven, One more star in the sky

Yesterday morning, at about this time of day, my Mother died in hospital, after a 6 week stay there and after a longer illness. I do not need to tell you again how loved she was and how much she will be missed, as I wrote what she means to me on Mothers Day. And so instead, let me write about the kind of Granny that she was to Joshua and my niece:

Joshua;s face would always light up whenever he saw his Granny, he would run towards her for a hug, just like he does for me. Granny and Grandpa came over on the day he was born and she stayed with us for weeks, coming to Special Care and then helping out at home when we finally got here, she put her life on hold to take care of her daughter and new grandson. She shared in every one of his successes as he grew, no matter how small : I remember the first – and almost last time – that he had a wee in the toilet, she sent him a congratulations card as she knew how hard we had been working at toilet training. Mum wanted to know about what he was up to and was always supportive and caring of the ups and downs in his life : she came down to London on the train to visit him in Great Ormond Street after his brain surgery , she came to Christmas concerts at school and enjoyed looking around his respite provision to meet the staff that I had talked about. Given that Granny lived over two hours away, so she could not just pop round everyday, but she was fully involved in Joshua’s life as we spoke regularly on the telephone and we emailed a lot.

She gave that same caring support to her other grandchild, my niece: before she went to school, Mum and Dad were her childcare and so she spent a lot of time at their house, playing in their garden and even going on holiday with them. As she did well and school and then university, Granny was so proud of everything that she achieved and would boast about her success. She followed her career path closely, always available to offer advice if it was needed, but reluctant to interfere, and even in hospital last week, she was delighted to hear about her granddaughter’s success in her new role, and about the positive feedback that she had received from her manager. Even when Granny was not well, such as on my niece’s graduation day, Granny put her first and shared in the proud celebration, even though she was in pain at the time, but there is no way that she would have missed that occasion.

Granny showed both of her grandchildren selfless love, pride and support for the different paths that they trod in life. She has left them that legacy and they were fortunate to have had her in their life, until both were adults. I am not yet sure how we will cope without her in our lives, that is still too raw and uncertain, but I can reflect backwards, rather than looking towards our uncertain future. She would want us to be strong and brave in her absence, as she was throughout her life, and so we will try our very best to follow her lead and not to let her down .