Meditation on my mum

A very strange and surreal week just ends. We were called by dad who asked us to come up to see mum. She had been in hospital for 2 weeks. Very odd to begin with as no one really knew what was wrong; after blood tests, scans and prods and pokes, still the medics seemed to be none the wiser. We were called, mum was asking for us, dad said, so we went. Then to our surprise, shock and sorrow she slipped down hill really very fast, and two days after we arrived she passed away. Her heart and lungs were tired and old, and did in the end fail, but actually, for a woman whose reproductive system was the bain of her life for 70 years, her death certificate proclaimed metastasised malignant ovarian cancer as the secondary cause of death. A diagnosis that was only made this last week, and the prognosis of “maybe a couple of months” I finally heard as she was dying. A rum affair indeed.

So, to a funeral. I have taken on quite a lot of the work in organising this, including working with the celebrant to tell her story in the tribute. To this end I wrote a meditation on mum, and I share it here, respectfully to honour her passing and recognise what an amazing lady she could be.

Mum – my meditation

Mum was an arts person, not a scientist. After studying literature at Liverpool University her greatest love was reading, although in later years she seemed to have “far too many to mention” magazines to get through before she could start on the books – but it didn’t stop her buying books… and books and more books… so many that when we emptied boxes when she moved to her bungalow in Swineshead that they were two abreast on some shelves. We could now fill a library with her collection!

mum and dad's 004

She didn’t just read but was a skilled writer too, her love of words shone through in her creative expression. She wrote creative non-fiction as well as some stories, but also poetry, like the one Harry read at the start of her funeral service. She was a stickler for grammar and punctuation – very old school – and I remember my school essays having her read pen corrections as she tried (mostly in vain) to help me with my English. This upset me a lot at the time, but I am envious of her very great knowledge of the mechanics of the English language. This skill was very useful when she was contributing and then editing the village magazines in Lincolnshire.

Talking of mechanics, this was one skill that was essential whenever she made her beloved train journeys. It was a standing joke in the family that every trip by train was fraught with delay, engine trouble or some other drama. She never failed to complete a journey, but she always alighted with a tale to tell.

Telling her tale was major inspiration in her abundant writings. Many did not make it to print but part of her collection were a set of fine stories she entitled “Pilgrimages” where she was in A&E or subsequently admitted to the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston and these appeared in the Heckington magazine. They still make me giggle, and on reading her collected works I see her humour and storytelling were a large part of who she was even if not everyone was privy to them.

When we went to see Julie, the florist for her funeral, she remarked that mum was a clever lady, and I think that is something people will remember about her. Also her dry wit – quite sharp at times – but always delivered with a straight face. She liked satire, and programmes such as “Have I Got News For You” were a staple in her TV schedule. Intelligent conversation as found on Radio 4 was another source of pleasure, and this station was a long standing accompaniment to her life. I remember as a child we started each day before school with the Today programme, Brian Hanrahan being a favourite. Later on when I would ring her there was often Radio 4 in the background – she liked to listen while she ironed. Women’s’ Hour, The News Quiz… these were all favourites.

Later in life she often resorted to Classic FM, especially at night when she wasn’t sleeping. Her love of music was also revealed in her piano playing, she tried very hard! During our childhood there was a time when Chris, mum and I were all taking piano lessons. (Mum and I were both jealous of Chris’ effortlessness with music, his ability to hear a tune and reproduce it with seeming ease!) She reports from this time the piano teacher saying “You have a good knowledge of the geography of the keyboard…. It is just a pity your map reading is a little off!”  (I found this quote amongst the vast quantity of dog-eared A4 jottings that are her writings) However she persevered and worked hard at difficult Beethoven pieces, the pages covered with many, many black notes… I loved hearing her play, and I now have the privilege of owning the piano we all played.

Singing was another great love; I remember her singing enthusiastically in church all my childhood, and after the move to Lincolnshire she joined Heckington church choir when she was only one of three at times. She also was vociferous when watching Songs of Praise, belting out the words which she always seemed to know from memory, even before the BBC helpfully started to put the lyrics up on the TV screen.

Although mum was much more of an indoor pursuits person it seems she did love to dig a vegetable patch – she found it therapeutic she said. I remember black and white photos of her at various homes in the past, sleeves rolled up, fork in hand, smiling. At Swineshead she still enjoyed her fruit and veg patch, always having copious fruits for jams and pickles – there are still jars and jars in her kitchen cupboards today!

She was very proud of her North-East heritage. Both parents hailed from the Durham area and both degree educated, not usual for mining families in those days – she came from a clever family indeed! Mum loved Durham and many pictures in her home were of this beautiful city and its magnificent cathedral; there is one arresting image I recall vividly of the church looming moodily over the river in a northern fog. Dad has said that the cousins should have these; I think that is a lovely idea.

Being an only child, her extended family; her grandparents and numerous uncles, aunts, cousins, were important to mum. She loved to visit the old places, and talked fondly of the annual trips “up north” with her parents when she was a child. When I went to Newcastle University I think she was doubly proud, and it gave her an excuse to visit once again.

Mum was not an easy person sometimes; she had had many difficulties and sadness in her life, which seemed to weigh heavy with her. When I could approach her in the creative places, (we shared writing and reading as great loves) I found a thoughtful and quick witted woman who would play with words to comic effect. The night we spent alone in the house together just when my parents were moving to Great Hale, and we read Mills and Boon to each other – all heaving bosoms and rasping breaths – we both laughed until we cried. Our shared writings and poems, our exchange of letters, our talking into the night or over long, long days (once for 12 hours straight)  about our shared history and thoughts on that. These were small and, sadly, not so frequent glimpses we each got into the others’ world… I will honour these times.

Rest in peace, mum. 17.8.34 – 20.11.14

Been busy….

… away from my computer and from home, so thought I would share here one of the adventures.

Roz at 5

Me at five years

Last week I enjoyed a couple of days with my adopted mum reminiscing over my childhood. Well, I was only able to cover 3 years in the time we were together, but I left with a promise that I would return for more.

Mum used to keep a housekeeping and events diary during the time I was growing up. It was used mainly as a way of completing the weekly letter to my Gran who lived in Dorset, whom we saw twice a year in the half term weeks. Apart from that I think it recorded household expenditure (in the days long before home computers) and some reminders for birthdays. It was the family “go to” book for what happened when. This was true for my inquiry, and the main thrust of our discussion on this occasion centred around 1972 – 1974 when I was between the ages of four and seven. In this time we moved house twice, dad seemed to always be painting and repainting rooms, and mum was constantly washing bedding of various sorts, as well as massive amounts of clothes and curtains. These were the events that were worthy of inclusion, along with the car breakdowns, plus the job and school starts and stops. Included too are what appears to be a constant set of illnesses of one sort or another; we were faithful congregation at both doctors and church.

I am engaged in life writing, and am working on the autobiographical material in my life. I had spied the diaries in the bookshelf last Christmas when I was up with the parents, and it reminded me that they would be a good way to access some facts through the years of my childhood; what really happened when and where. At the time I arranged the visit this was all I was thinking would be possible, but as mum and I were talking, the factual record became dotted with living memories. We recalled my brother’s 8th birthday, long forgotten until we remembered him being car-sick and not making it out of the car in time during his special day out. The car had plastic seats, and although mum and dad tried to clear it up as best they could, the car stank for weeks afterwards.  Mum reckoned that it stank until they sold it – lovely!

We talked too of mum’s history and childhood; my grandparents and her cousins. She has a great pile of stories ready to come out, some of them she has already written for various magazines, competitions and writing groups over the years. I love reading her reminiscences; by doing so and in hearing the stories (some old favourites of hers I have heard many times before!) I am able to add adult understanding to my own history, and that of my adopted family. This feels like an important process of growing up and accepting what has gone before as well as appreciating the long and winding road that brings me to where I am today. Besides, it is all work in progress, and grist for my writing mill…

 

 

 

No Place Like Home!

“Where are you from?” has always been an awkward question for me, it may sound simple enough but my answer is definitely complicated. I used to find a pause would build up while I ran through the many alternative responses in my head, and the questioner would look at me with increasing curiosity.  After years of stumbling, I worked out the simplest solution – give the inquirer the answer they are looking for. As the question often comes when people hear me speak, and my pronunciation is not from wherever I currently am, saying “My accent is from Yorkshire” covers the ground I think they want to cover. I made this leap when I realised that when in Yorkshire I don’t get asked the question, so there it must sound like I am from “round these parts”.

Now I come to consider it, my answer has me assigning a separate identity to my accent and disowning it as a part of me. I think this reflects the difficulty I have had identifying myself as a Yorkshire woman in the past. Although I spent the years aged three to eighteen in various Yorkshire towns and went to school there, I was born in London to an Australian. Then I was adopted by parents of whom neither are from Yorkshire, so we all arrived in God’ country as aliens. The school years and family life in the county did nothing to embed me, the Yorkshire identity sitting uneasily; I never did own it and so answering The Question with “I am from Yorkshire” does not feel truthful.

Until recently I have felt neither at home nor found much belonging in my adult life. After I left Yorkshire I headed to the north east, to university and beyond. Leaving there ten years later I did feel a deep sense of loss, that life was ripped away as I moved south with my husband to accommodate our future plans. I had a connection with the region and made good friends, so moving away was difficult as I felt I lost my footings.  We moved closer to relatives geographically, but as I had never felt relaxed in any family this did not prove to be a comfort. I again felt alien; my accent and lifestyle so out of place and unfamiliar in the south. I have lived in the south now for 19 years, but it is not my home.

I have a notion that home (where one belongs) has a deep attachment to family or heritage or place. Families move around so much more in current times, some are very loose and separations are common. Very often children are not familiar with grandparents, or even parents, who live miles, or continents, away, and scant time or inclination may impede many meetings face to face. Heritage and family ties can get lost within a haze of disinterest if not nurtured. I wonder how many people today feel displaced or dislocated from their home as this cultural isolation from their past is more prevalent.

When the element of adoption is added then this can intensify the dislocation; I certainly have had a “lottery” feeling to my history. My mother happened to be in England when I was born (she may have been traveling on and I could have been born elsewhere), I was adopted here and did not return with her to the antipodes. My adoptive parents were randomly selected, and just happened to be registered at the same adoption agency as me – and I was born early, so if I had come on time, would I have had different parents? This leaves all elements of home (family, heritage and place) very fuzzy indeed. Who and where is home? And to whom and to where do I belong?

Answers have begun to emerge; I have finally found places on the earth, within the soil and with others, that feel like my heritage and family; I have established an identity that comes from inside me; I have taken a name I chose that fits me, it incorporates where and to whom I feel I belong.  I have created a homeland within myself, a heartland that sustains and comforts me. It may not help me yet in answering the question simply when asked “Where do I come from?” but I am working on a new answer that feels authentic and valid in the context of all my history.

Soulmates

When I first anticipated a relationship with J I was berated by my best friend because I banded about the term soulmate. She, quite rightly, was cross as for 15 years prior to this event I had always poopooed the idea of soulmates as romantic guff. She had insisted that it was her soulmate that she was looking for, and I, irritated by her insistence, would try to reason with her, explain how the world was not like that – and even if it was what were the chances of meeting this supposed soulmate? Her response was unwavering. She looked at me sympathetically and announced that Fate would play a hand – and didn’t I believe in destiny?!

In those days I did have a view that soulmates, if they existed at all, spent their entire lives looking dewy-eyed at each other and cooing gently; a condescending viewpoint at best, I concede.  At the time I was married  to a lovely bloke; we got on well, we lived if not always harmoniously then with a great deal more accord than some of our friends – we were friends, and at that time I thought this was as good as “soulmates” got.

Then unexpected things started to happen. I became “Hallmark woman” thinking and saying romantic things. I developed a jukebox in my head, and I found meaning in all sorts of love songs that I had previously not taken seriously. I started singing – out loud!  It was weird I tell you, but it was not the most weird thing of all, that happened 2 years earlier.

I began a masters degree, and as part of the practical work I was to be allocated a supervisor. In the room with me on the day of the allocation were my 25 fellow students and seven strangers – our soon-to-be-assigned supervisors. I immediately noticed the tall, silver-haired, bearded man and I distinctly remember saying to myself – he will be my supervisor and he will be called J .And so it was, and so he is, and I was not surprised. And this completely unremarkable and forgettable event was lodged in my memory for ever as clearly as if it had just happened yesterday.Two together

After the year we spent in a professional relationship we became friends by mutual consent. I did not know at this time that J does not make a habit of “acquiring” friends from professional contacts, and so I did not know that this was a rare event. At this point all was unconscious, maybe now I could perceive it as we were being driven by destiny, and Fate was taking a hand? We talked of things as we did with no other, and we shared our secrets in a growing intimacy that neither of us was able to prevent; it slipped in while we drank tea and by the time we became aware it was too late, we had gone over Niagara Falls and were waiting to splash down – to sink or swim, to drown or endure.

A rendering that may be seen as inevitable began, as both J and I sawed up our past lives to be together. We ripped up marriages and families like ripping up carpets, leaving exposed and cold surfaces. We alienated people and had major transition issues, going in to shock which lasted months if not years. We were a million, million miles away from looking at each other with dewy eyes and we were not cooing gently.

As I look back on this from a few years down the line I see that my original issues with the idea of soulmates were correct; there is nothing lovely-dovey or superficial about meeting someone who unpicks the fabric of your being, which is as painful as it sounds, but wants to help you to weave a different one in the more colourful pattern of the new life you lead. Someone whose deep soul needs are so whispered that you can hardly hear that they are the same as your own. Someone who has spent a lifetime hushing and stilling these needs so as not to have to feel them unfulfilled, but whose eyes reflect the fountains of sorrow you share, and reveals those you can help to heal.

No, I still don’t believe in soulmates in the way that I perceived them back then – but who’s to say my dear friend wasn’t imagining what I have since discovered; soulmates are not found in Hallmark card sentiments, nor in trite lyrics to love songs, but they are found in other people and that precious, intimate connection between souls.