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.

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!

Family Planning

Losing Mum has made us think more about Dad too, about our loss, his death and his funeral. It feels more final this time as nobody needs the house anymore and when our father died, Mum handled everything and we simply supported her. We were a tight family unit who stayed by Dad’s hospital bed for almost 3 weeks as he was dying. This time, my sister and I did the weeks of hospital visiting and now we are the recipients of the kind sympathy cards and bouquets. My sister and I are the grown ups this time, we are in charge of funeral decision making, which feels more daunting. Our only concern right now, is to give Mum the funeral that she deserved, a real celebration of a life well-lived, everything else can wait.

We made good progress on the funeral arrangements this week : we have a date, venues and we have let mourners know. Mum was heavily involved in her local Methodist church, where she became responsible for room bookings, amongst other things. So as a tribute to her role there, we were keen to book a room in the church hall for  refreshments after the celebration service. It seems fitting and hopefully, as there is no travelling to be done, more mourners will be tempted to join us afterwards for a cup of tea and something to eat. The church became her social life and she went there everyday pretty much, so it should play a part in her send-off.

Her garden was another love and occupation of hers and the garden is looking beautiful at the moment. So we have extended a welcome to family to come back to the house afterwards, to have the opportunity to sit for a while in the peace of her garden. Since Mum was ill, she had organised a gardener to cut her grass and tidy up, as she was no longer able to manage it herself. On the day of her death,  when we went back to Mum’s house, we confirmed that we wanted him to continue to garden all summer; we could not allow her garden to become unkempt and uncared for, as that would be heartbreaking. We are also hoping that some of the flowers or foliage from her garden will be used to decorate the church and hall, to bring another piece of her to the service.

My sister and I share a clear vision of how we would like her funeral to go and we are laying plans in order for that to happen. As with last weekend however, we need our quiet weekends to restore our strength and to rest at our own family homes, ready to tackle more jobs together next week. So I was at home yesterday, and after what felt like a morning on the telephone, my husband and I took the dogs and Joshua for a walk in the park and then we had lunch in a cafe, which was the first half term activity that I have been able to do with Joshua, on the last day of his school holidays. It was restorative to just be us three together. The importance of family – our tight family unit and the wider extended family too – is brought into sharp focus in times like those we are living right now.

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 .