Today is Halloween, which the shops are full of as the precursor to Christmas, but it is not a festival that has ever interested Joshua. He is not into fancy dress at all, as I choose his clothes and dress him each day, so I doubt that he would recognise that he was wearing anything different particularly. I dressed him in his bright orange pumpkin t-shirt last week for the school disco but I am not sure that he realised. We have bought and hollowed out a pumpkin most years of his life and place a candle inside to make a spooky mask, but it is not an activity that he has ever joined in with, it has more been for us than Joshua. He would not appreciate a horror movie or being frightened, so there really is nothing about Halloween that appeals to Joshua. But unlike Christmas or Easter, I am not sad that he is missing out on the fun of the celebration or the understanding of why it is significant.
It is said that Halloween has become too commercialised these days, and certainly the shops are embracing it as a money-making venture with their spooky merchandise but I appreciate the special window dressing that goes on. I grew up in Scotland and all those years ago, Halloween was good fun. I do not really remember fancy dress, but I do know that we would play ‘trick or treat’ on our neighbour: she would always choose a treat, we would sing a song for her, and she would give us lots of sweets as a reward. We never went from door to door of strangers, only to our neighbour who we knew well and as an elderly lady on her own, she appreciated the Autumn visit from a gaggle of children.
In 1978, we moved to England where the approach to Halloween was somewhat different. On our first October in the new house, Mum was caught out as crowds of children would arrive at the door, in scary costumes, expecting to be given handfuls of sweets. They were rather taken aback when they realised that Mum expected them to perform for their treats ,as she asked them ‘What are you going to do then?’. But she got the hang of the English traditions and when we were tidying out her food cupboards in the kitchen this summer, I found a big bag of Halloween sweets tucked in the back, ready for the visitors who came, so she was, as ever, all organised – though they were probably leftover from the year before!
Happy Halloween!…. we are now on the Christmas Countdown.
One of the things that I dislike about the school holidays is that I hardly see Joshua at all : he has taken to having a lie in until after 10, which I am sure is good for him, but it means that Yorkshire Grandma arrives at 8.30 to allow me to go to work and takes over, so I do not see him awake in the mornings at all. Then, because he has a late breakfast, it means that he has a late lunch so she does not bring him home again until after 7 pm as he eats his tea at her place. So he has been coming in, saying hello, then asking for a bath almost immediately. So bath time is the only time that I really see him properly, which seems very brief. I know that I am very lucky to have childcare that he enjoys, as he certainly loves to spend time with Yorkshire Grandma, but I also feel as though I am missing out.
I cannot however wait until the weekend, as we go away for our family fortnight and so then I will be with Joshua 24/7, so we will be able to catch up on lost time together. We are staying in a family property where I have holidayed most summers in my life, so it is a home from home for us all. Thankfully both my husband and Joshua love going there too, so it suits us very well for our holidays. Joshua knows the routine there, he goes straight to his bedroom as he knows where he belongs so there is no settling in time required and no need to waste time finding our bearings. The house was handed down through my Dad’s family and so when he died, Mum inherited his share and so now, my sister and I will inherit part ownership . As I spent all my childhood summers here, this house, garden and the surroundings will be full of memories of both of my parents. I have always felt closer to Dad there since he died and I am hoping to experience the same closeness with Mum.We are taking some more of her ashes with us to be scattered on a favourite walk, alongside Dad’s ashes, and I am hoping the same small blue butterflies make an appearance that we saw there, as that was very special.
More latterly, Mum has often joined us for a few days of our August fortnight, so she will be missed there too.She would come out on walks and for pub lunches with us, after doing her chores, as well as offering to babysit , allowing my husband and I to go out for meals or to the cinema in the evening or to take bike rides during the day. But it is her company that we will miss, more than her childcare, as she was always an excellent companion who was not in the least bit demanding.
So, one more day at work, then No More Working for a Week or Two…..
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.
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!