Friday, March 12, 2010

The map of grief

In the last year I have progressed from intense grief for the loss of my mother, to a place on the map that is not so bleak. I miss my mother and think of her often, but now when I go to stay at her house with brothers or sisters, I enjoy the visit. Eleven months ago, I felt differently and wrote this…

Losing my mother

Sometimes, it’s a comfort having my mother’s things around me - her Austrian jug on the windowsill, her mahogany chest in the bedroom, her Piers Browne painting on the wall. Sometimes I hate to look at them.

Sometimes I like to see her photograph – her smiling, strong, straightforward face. Sometimes I can’t abide it on my desk. I never had her photo on display before she died, so if I have it here now, she must be dead. And I don’t want her dead. I don’t like the new dispensation.

We have been clearing out her house in monthly weekend bursts, ever since she died at the end of last October. It’s April now, and I’ve just spent a weekend there. The weather was achingly beautiful – clear blue skies and sunshine, the full bright light of early spring skies, lambs in the fields, daffodils in the gardens and on the verges - and a brother and sister to keep me company.

Over the months we’ve been denuding the house of personal, sentimental and valuable items, and now it’s like the holiday cottage it was when our parents bought it, 50 years ago. It no longer feels like our mother’s home, but like a cottage we all feel comfortable in. We know how everything works – that there are two immersion heater switches, and both of them must be on for the heater to work, that the draught for the fire points to the right, that you have to thump the washing machine in the middle of the door at the top to get it going. But it does not feel like the place where I took my babies, my children, my teenagers, to visit their grandparents, and latterly went on my own to visit my mother.

We have a lovely photo of her, taken 6 weeks before she died. When we visit the house, we take it out from behind the bookshelf curtain and stand it on the shelf, and see her wise, healthy, loving face, and when we drink our wine at meals we toast her.

Helen Willis

It was good to be with my brother and sister at the weekend, comforting to have a hug and a laugh, to share memories and to miss our mother together. But the only time I got that rush of the safe, the cosy, the familiar, was when I was standing at my mother’s sink, washing up. At that moment, she might have been still alive, sitting in front of the fire, doing the codewords puzzle from the Telegraph, turning on the radio for a cricket update.

When Peter and Jen set off on the Sunday morning for their long drive south, I waved them off, and sat under the front wall on the bench that Ma put there (to catch the last of the setting sun) and I looked at the house.

Kevock in March

Behind me on the road, two hikers were walking down the lane and when they saw the estate agent’s sign, the woman said, “I could live there,” and her partner agreed.

“It’s a tidy garden.”

“A very tidy garden.”

“And look, it’s big – there’s an extension at the back.”

They walked out of earshot.

I didn’t feel sad at the thought of someone else living there, or outraged at the thought of someone talking about my mother’s house as if it was on the open market – after all, it was! I ached because she wasn’t there. No matter how many times I go up to stay with a brother or sister, she won’t be there. It wasn’t a chore to visit her, a woman in her nineties. She was vivacious, alert and chatty and she had a great sense of humour, a ready laugh. She was good company, and easy. And she was a rock.

Not one of my siblings – and I love them all – is a substitute for her. She wasn’t there on that bright spring day and she won’t be there in May for my nephew’s wedding, when the May blossom is out and the verges are thick with sweet cicely and cow parsley. She won’t be there to smell the Arthur Bell roses in June, or the lavender in July. She won’t be there to enjoy the colours of Crocosmia Lucifer in August, or the Michaelmas daisies in September.

I have to get used to losing her. To having her missing from my life. To have her gone, out of reach, unavailable for hugs or chats or encouragement, to live without that unfailing love that made the world feel safe.


Ella said...

Well, Im crying

Sue Hepworth said...

Sorry, Ella. xx