One more Angel in Heaven

It was a sad day at school yesterday as one of the pupils died suddenly over the half term holiday. I do not know the details but he was only a 12 year old boy and I can only imagine how devastated his family must be feeling right now. The Headteacher and staff will have had to try to explain to his class why he was missing and that he would not be returning and given the range of cognitive ability at school, it will have been a painful message to deliver and not easy to try to ensure that everyone understood. Knowing the school as I do, the children’s welfare comes first and they will do all that they can to comfort his peers and support his family. But it is always shocking when a child dies, someone who has not yet had long enough to grow and live his life to the full. Of course it reminds us also of the fragility of life and makes us want to hold our own children close and protect them as much as we can.

Joshua does not understand the concept of death, as he deals in the here and now and what is in front of him. Joshua adored his Granny who died over 5 months ago , but now that she is not in his life anymore, he has adjusted really well. I have no doubt that if she were to appear again – and I so wish that she could! – that he would greet her with a huge smile and one of his bear hugs; she will not be forgotten, but it is out of sight, out of mind for Joshua. I was away working yesterday and he will not see me again until after school tonight, but he had Yorkshire Grandma and his Dad to take care of him, so he will not have missed me at all. I am confident that he will not have given me a thought, until I turn up tonight when I will probably be treated to a hug and a kick as his greeting. I am pretty certain that Joshua does not have the capacity to speculate where his Granny  has gone or where I might have been yesterday, it is a simpler response to adapt and carry on regardless, so long as his basic needs are still being met. That outlook will be why he has settled in so well at respite, as he simply transfers his affections to the staff who are looking after him and does not pine for home or his family.

In the coming days, our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the young boy and I hope that they can find some peace, somehow.

A Day Well Spent

I think we overcame a huge hurdle yesterday, with Mum’s first birthday without her around, and it being a significant birthday too. It was not easy but we survived her 80th and I felt surrounded by love and support all day long. I felt empty when I woke up and unsettled with my grief. It was raining and that seemed the right weather to match my mood. I took the dogs a walk to shake off my gloom and i headed towards a park that we used to picnic and walk in, but I drove passed the entrance I was looking for as it was more overgrown than I remembered and so I parked in a rural car park , unloaded the dogs and started walking up a track that I had walked along many years ago. After a gentle climb of around 5 minutes, I stumbled across a small  homemade chapel where I was invited to sit a while and light a candle  and I did both. It was such a peaceful spot as I looked out over the misty hills and I felt so much better just being there. I did not know that this chapel was there and I felt that something had guided me there as it then changed the tone of my day as it made me feel better as I read this bible passage on the wall :

” You shall go out with joy and be led out with peace; the mountains and hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands”

I went on to walk through the hills with a smile on my face, albeit with tears in my eyes, and with gratitude for having known Mum, rather than focusing on our loss.

Soon after I got back to Mum’s house, my sister arrived and so we hugged ,cried and laughed together. We achieved a lot yesterday : we survived and celebrated her 😯 th birthday and we finally made a start on clearing her house. We want it still to look lived in and so we agreed to tackle the kitchen as what felt like the least emotional room. But while I waited for my sister, I opened the kitchen cupboards with her baking tins and bowls in and I shut them quickly as even they had memories. I tackled her food cupboards instead ,  rescuing what we could use or that a food bank would use, and throwing away a lot of opened packets and half-used bottles. It was rather satisfying to make some progress but it also showed us how much work there will be to do in the coming months. If getting upset by throwing away a half used jar of mincemeat – as her mince pies were unbeatable -then how much harder will it be to look through her wardrobes and photo albums for instance, but I am hoping that we get better at it and perhaps become more discerning.

We walked down Mum’s high street and we ate lunch in a cafe that she loved. In the afternoon, the sun came out and we sat in the garden and we invited one of Mum’s friends around to join us for a cup of tea as we knew she would be missing Mum too. All in all we think that it was a day that Mum would have approved of and that she probably had a hand in too. Happy Birthday Mum x

birthday chapel 1Birthday chapel 2

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.


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!

Something for the weekend

This coming weekend, my husband is going away with his sisters and his Mum ; he booked the accommodation back in February, so it is a long standing plan. I had told my Mum about their trip in the spring and we had agreed that we would do something while he was away, and so now we have got here, there was a hole in my plan. My husband said that there was room for Joshua and me in the cottage, but I turned him down as we do not wish to cramp their family style. So I have made new plans of my own:

I am back in school tomorrow again, so I get to drive Joshua into school. In the morning I am doing a Learning Walk with my Governor hat on and in the afternoon, it is my termly Mental Health session with parents at school. I have chosen the topic of Grief to cover as it is so close to my heart at present. My sister is coming over to join us again, which will be great,and then she is staying overnight, so we will get plenty of time to catch up. I have invited a friend and her son for tea on Saturday night, so Joshua and I will be hitting Tesco no doubt, to prepare some tasty treats. So we will not have time to get too sad , or lonely, I hope.

This has been my first week that has been really busy with both work and school , since Mum died and while I have relished the distraction, it has been tiring too, particularly as I am not sleeping well at night. Yesterday I had to drive over three hours to meet with my new client and after just three hours sleep the night before; I had to stop at services en route to be able to close my stinging, tired eyes. When I got to my hotel last night, rather than going out again to find an evening meal, I had a 2 hour nap on my bed. So I caught up on my missing sleep, whenever I could. Today I am attending a market research conference, so I am hoping that it is lively enough to keep me awake and learning, as sitting listening in a warm hotel room all day, may not be the best idea for me today.

This week is real proof for me that Life Goes On and so it is a challenging week in many ways. When I was interviewing at school on Monday, I was on the panel with the same staff who I interviewed with in May, the day before Mum died; they both gave me a sympathetic smile and asked me how I was doing, but nothing more was said on the matter. Yesterday I had a productive meeting with a new client that Mum had been interested in and supportive of ; having completed the day, I wanted to call Mum to tell her all about it. It is the first night that I have been away from home on business since Mum died, so that felt odd too. There will be plenty more of these firsts to come I know, and some may catch me unaware but others, like this coming weekend, I can plan to minimise their impact.


Living Adjustments

Thankfully my weekend starts today, as I am off work on Fridays; it has felt like a long week, even though I have only been at work for three days. Yesterday was definitely my easiest day in the office so far, as I was able to focus and be more productive. But every Friday is an anniversary of Mum’s death , she died 4 weeks ago today. It feels as though we have been without mum for much longer than a month, what a month that has been. So when people kindly tell me that it is ” still early days” they are not wrong and I possibly need to learn to be kinder to myself and to be more patient. Every Friday is an anniversary, but I am conscious that we will have to face her 80th birthday in September without her there to celebrate with us, the first Christmas when she does not come up to stay with us and of course, our first Mothers day without our beloved Mum. But it is not just those big dates when we will feel our loss more acutely, it is whenever we want to tell or ask her something, on a daily basis. My sister has filled my Saturday morning  phone call window, which really helps to get me through the weekends, so far, but we also speak and message, throughout the week too.

When Mum first went into hospital, I set up a Whats App group for my Aunts, mum’s sisters, to be able to update them with the same news simply and quickly. That same group has been invaluable since Mum died, for mutual support and to detail funeral arrangements . But now we still use it to wish each other good night, to share our favourite photographs and to send virtual hugs to each other each day. I have warned them that they may be stuck with us forever now, as we cling to everything that reminds us of Mum and what better, than her own flesh and blood.

I was mesmerized by a television programme last night, documenting the work of the Ambulance service in the North West. It was fascinating to see the pressures that dispatchers and paramedics were under and the range of emergencies that they were dealing with.  But they were also taking patients to the two hospitals that Mum had stayed in recently and so it seemed more personal and I was eagerly looking out for her wards or medical staff that might also have attended to Mum.

There are reminders of Mum’s life and hospital stay, wherever I look and at the moment, I want to be reminded, I find comfort in those things, now that the sympathy cards and flowers have stopped arriving.

Mind Games

Even after a productive day, my mind played tricks with me which is why I have been up and awake since midnight. I awoke with a start and immediately checked the time then I cried out. In my dream if I did not wake up before a certain time, my sister would die and I had missed my deadline. How am I supposed to sleep after such a nightmare? My sub-conscious is clearly trying to work everything out while I am asleep.

I was surprised as my sister and I had been together all afternoon, at Mum’s house and had achieved a lot together and had managed to share some laughs too. We began by calling round all the utility suppliers to inform them of Mum’s death and to take over her direct debits, I took on gas,electricity and telephone , while my sister tackled water and direct mail. These are time consuming calls to make, although most large companies have Bereavement Teams, which I did not know about. After those calls , we thought we had earned some lunch out as we seem to be comfort eating our way through these post-funeral days. Then we braced ourselves to go to the funeral director to collect Mum’s ashes and then carried them home. Mum left her instructions of the places where she wanted to be scattered, she did not want a head stone, so we will of course do as she wanted and organise some trips to do the scattering in due course.

That was enough by the time we got back to Mum’s house, so we sat quietly in the lounge, with the cup of tea that we had earned.We have both found some peace being at Mum’s house, surrounded by her things, just how she left them. We are in no real rush to pack up Mum’s belongings and house, there is no hurry. In the meantime it is a calm, comforting and happy place where we can share memories of our childhood and of Mum, as she lived there for the last 41 years. This is a surreal period of adjustment and we are still in very early days, so we will just continue to take each day as it comes for now and keep reminding ourselves to behave and react like Mum would have done.

Bring me sunshine

I wear bright colours to make myself feel better and brighter than I actually feel, to cheer myself up from the outside in. It is for that reason that I will not be wearing traditional black to my Mum’s funeral this week. Mum did not specify in her funeral instructions whether she wanted a dress code, as a themed colour is becoming more common these days. So we have advised people to wear whatever they feel comfortable in. For me,  it is not a sign of disrespect, it is simply a use of colour to try to feel more of a celebration of Mum’s life. It looks as though it may well be a wet , dreary day on Thursday still and so we will need all the help we can to bring some sunshine into church.

Both our parents were passionate about their garden and it always looked immaculate. Mum managed to maintain her large garden herself, after Dad died, until this year when she was relieved to pay for a gardener. Mum always placed a vase of flowers in guest bedrooms, whenever you stayed overnight, it was one of things that I missed when I was staying there when she was in hospital, as it was her signature welcome and a really nice touch. We have asked that the ladies who prepare church flowers might be able to take some flowers or greenery from their garden, so that there is something of their paradise in church. We have also asked the caterer to have simple floral arrangements on each of the tables, again to bring colour and nature indoors.

I have always worn bright colours to try to cheer myself up from the outside : when anxious at work, perhaps, giving a presentation or attending a difficult meeting,  I will dress to give myself confidence.It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, that I look bright and confident, so I start to feel it eventually. It can also be a useful decoy for other people, that they think that I am feeling more cheerful than I am, because of what they can see.

Granny bought Joshua a lot of smart clothes over the years and so he will be dressed in something that she bought him for Christmas or his birthday. Again, I will not be dressing Joshua head to foot in black, which I did do at his Grandpa’s funeral. He has many more significant items of clothing to wear to say goodbye to Granny in. She always loved to see him in the clothing that she had bought, to know that I, and he, liked it enough to wear. She was always sensible enough to buy from M&S, with gift receipts carefully attached, but we very rarely needed to return her gifts, as she always had such great taste. The only issues that we sometimes had were that, she would buy a size too small, disbelieving that he could really be as tall or grown up as he was. He was wearing small man sizes long before he was 18 and more recently, as he is filling out, he is a medium. She commented that Joshua was the same slight build and clothes size as his Grandpa, and in fact she donated some home-knitted jumpers that she had made for her husband and could not bear to part with at the charity shop with the rest of his clothes, as they were made with too much love. Joshua wears both arran-style jumpers with pride and they will be even more special now.

We want to feel comfortable and confident at  Mum’s funeral on Thursday, but beyond that , our choice of clothes really does not matter.