Earthy thoughts

I’ ve been thinking a lot about death over the last few days. In a really healthy positive way I rush to assure everyone, especially any friends picking up their car keys with an intervention on their minds.

N started it on a school morning when she assured Ida it was never too late to say goodbye but then corrected herself to the more likely one that sometimes it was. I teased her about the fact we were on the way to G’ma’s for lunch. As I walked there peering into all the lovely spring (monied) gardens along Escourt Road I thought a bit about the big D.

It’s a subject I’ve already wrapped my grey cells around. As I’m sure we all have. After all, it’s one of the BIG ones. I was particularly thinking about it in reference to my G’ma as we were on the way there. She’s recently, well in the last couple of years, made more and more oblique D references. At gift times she says things like, “Oh don’t waste your money dear, I’ll not get much use from that”. She’s started trying to distribute treasures. Last year she insisted I take an early edition of the complete Edward Lear which I adore and learnt to read from as a child. “I want to make sure it doesn’t go astray” I caught her labelling the back of pictures last summer with their ideal destinations after, you know..

She expresses her gladness at my other Granny’s death in 2005. It was suddenly, at home. “It’s what anyone would prefer darling” . When she broke her hip she was desperate to return home, horrified at the thought of a convalescence stop-gap. At the funeral of a friend she wonders wistfully if anyone will miss her.

What I’m mainly thinking about is how we, her family, her nearest and dearest deal with this. Basically we turn it aside, deflect with humour or bluffly refuse the conversational gambit. We say, “oh don’t be silly, don’t talk like that, it’ll never happen”

Well clearly it will. It’s like the elephant in the room, we’re all squeezing around it. Being polite.

Not this winter just past but the one before Steve and I wrote our wills. I wanted everything to be sorted and clear for the kids. We rearranged everything so all the utilities were paid through our joint account and in both our names. I wrote a series of letters for the kids for the future and some for my parents and my sister. We sat down over a series of painful evenings and talked about funerals and stuff I wanted in the kids future, the things I felt were crucial that maybe we hadn’t talked through yet. And it was awful and dreadful and fucking unbearably sad. It was also freeing and liberating, reassuring and comforting. It left me able to just concentrate on my treatment and healing. I loved Steve passionately for being kind, rational and able to hold my hand and listen and plan without putting his head in the sand.

When Ida and I reach the house she’s in the front garden feeding the birds. After the usual flurry of hello hugs and coatshedding I lean on the kitchen counter while she makes coffee and muse a bit aloud on all this D stuff. She adds her sugar and fixes me with a beady look, “is the cancer back darling?” “No I was thinking more about your death G’ma” She throws back her head and laughs. We take the drinks into the garden and I do a bit of weeding while she reminds me of when Zeph was four and at the family tea party she told him how old she was in an attempt to impress him. He looked her up and down very seriously then said into an expectant silence “Well why aren’t you dead yet?” and the room broke out into urgent distraction chatter.

I say how much I love her and how I fully expect to howl and wail at her funeral and be the total opposite of stiff upper lipped. She tells me how leaving the house her and Grandpa built together would be like losing him all over again. That she worries about my darling emotionally inarticulate Dad, her son. We talk about funerals. She is very scathing about Alex’s probable preference for a wicker coffin. We laugh a lot. I cry a bit on the way home. That night I read this post on  Dovetailrats

 I think a lot about Japan. I think a lot about a friend from my past who died last Sunday. I think about souls and electric sparks. About reincarnation and circles and journeying towards destinations. I think about compost and love and poetry, chromosomes and children. About how change is frightening and how you have to practise embracing it.

Whilst internal cog turning I wipe quite a lot of mould off the house (this is an ongoing task. It will never be over, it’s like the Forth bridge, as soon as I finish a bit it starts reforming…) We do gardening;

This is a very lovely ornamental dead nettle with lovely “minnow” narcissus coming up through it. Lots of forget-me-nots that I’ve managed not to mistake for chickweed and uproot this year. I painted a table that had mouldered in the damp conservatory over winter;

I would have done a before pic of table only I thought it may put you off (if all the death stuff hasn’t.. ) Those are the gifted slabs awaiting sand. (Small internal jig of joy) This is our beautiful cat, Mittens;

I cook a roast dinner and potter around. I count my blessings. I seem to have reached an internal conclusion and feel brighter, clearer, happier. Definitely earthier. I resolve to make sure I do no more deflecting but am open and brave and light hearted instead.


7 responses to “Earthy thoughts

  1. You have a wonderful writing style that’s a joy to read. Good article and it’s something I’ll have to pass along.

    Death is a pretty taboo topic in society, but it’s something we all become familiar with eventually. Thinking about it early and coming to a sense of acceptance really is, in my opinion, paramount to life. For you, it sounds as though you’ve come to some sort of understanding. I hope you find peace with it.


    • Thank you for such a thoughtful comment David – it was a really great way to start the day. I read your articles with great interest – many of their subjects reflect my personal safety nets in low times, cook something, clean something, make something, reach out to a friend… Great to read about long term positive actions as well as medication options.
      All the best and a day filled with BT’s – Laura

  2. Karen Woodworth

    Good Afternoon From Madras Oregon….You have not a clue what your posts have come to mean to me. How I enjoy your daily posts 🙂

    I so understand what your G-Ma is doing….while it’s been 7 years since mine passed, and I am now facing becoming a “NANA” this may thru my own son. I can only hope to be half the G-Ma that mine was to me and my boys. I have many, many, many fond memories of mine right up until the day that she passed. It has made me very aware of things undone ie: a will, or anything in writing about what I want to happen once I pass.

    I like you wailed and bawled like a child, even though she had been preparing me for that day for years. I remember when she tried to give me her plate collection right off the wall!!! How aplaud, upset, and angry with her for bring about the time when she would no longer be with us in the physical sense so blantly into the front of my mind. I refused the plate collection, so she took to placing a small piece of tape on back of items with names of them of the people that she was to go to. I was very saddened to see her “Grandmother” Clock missing when I went to visit her once, I asked her about it. Hoping that she had just sent it to be serviced, however she had deceided that piece was to go to the ONLY male grandchild. She wanted to make sure that it got to my cousin, she knew her childern much better than I. I had high hopes that my uncle would set up and be the man that I thought that he was. I was very sad when I realized that he would not, when he let my mother (his only sister) run the estate right into the ground.
    I have a 11 year son still at home, my ex-husband (his papa) is 69 years old. I dread the day when I have to explain death to my son, we have been thru the loss of my G-Ma. We go put flowers at her crypt often, so she is still in our hearts and in our memories.
    Hold your G-Ma tight and ENJOY the HELL OUT OF HER while you still have her close.
    The best part of my daily is ususally getting up every am with my cup of coffee and reading your posts. You bring so much humor to my world with your thoughts and your family.
    I so wish that you did not live so far away, I have yet to try your receipe with the chicken although it sounds YUMMYYY…
    I crochet, I do NOT KNIT…I would so love to teach you the dying craft,in exchange for the pleasure of your company. And a possible lesson on how to sew…yet another dying craft that I have done since in I was school. Your past posts have kindled a spark of desire to take a class to learn. However with a grandbaby on the way, I have been very busy getting a blanket done for him. My son would never forgive or forget if I did not have one ready for his son. *sigh* The things that we do for our childern, even though he is well into his twenties almost thirty….
    My family thinks of you and yours often. Have a great day, it is time for me to get started on supper for them before the start to rummage thru the kitchen on thier own. Which I’m sure you have first hand knowledge of the fallout from that.

    • Aw Karen – Thank you again for such a warm, interesting comment. I would love a bit of hands on crochet time although I seem to be making a bit of progress on that. I love hearing about you making a blanket for your new addition. I really think and hope this stuff isn’t a dying art – look how important it is to your son! I laughed so much about the kitchen rummaging – hope you also have a great day and loads of BT’s
      hugs – Laura

  3. Perhaps it’s a Southern culture thing, but my family (and many others I know well) has always had a placid, philosophical response to the inevitable, including the death of a loved one.

    Again, the Southern thing: as long as there is a dress code, established etiquette, and standard MENU, any social event (which memorial services certainly are) can be got through with grace and comfort–even pleasure. Yes, pleasure.

    Every time I return to Paducah, KY, from whence my people hale and wherein they ultimately reside in permanent repose, I and my family remaining in the area descend on the family plot with secateurs, rakes, garden trugs, old-timey flowered cotton garden gloves and frumpy sunhats, and a bag of sand. In the picnic basket is the beloved Starnes’ pulled pork sandwiches, a bottle of their amazing vinegary sauce, a big jar of iced tea with mint springs, and homemade cookies. Occasionally, I bring along a hidden flask of mint juleps in memory of my beloved Aunt Judy, whose recipe I follow religiously every Derby Day–again, in her honor. Hidden in the sense that most of the family is Southern Baptist and, in theory, tea-toting. The celebration of one’s heritage, however, in the form of Bourbon balls and the julep “restorative”….well, you know.

    We rake and hoe and clip and clean. We use the sand to bring any sunken headstones or markers to an even keel. We toss away any tacky fake flowers on nearby plots that may offend the aesthetic senses and weed them, as well. We plant tough old roses and an October Glory maple to stand under during future hot Southern graveside services. We feed every plant. We place fresh or dried flowers on every grave.

    Then we eat. We spread out on markers and stones and granite steps and eat and eat. We spill Starns Sauce on our expansive “dashboards” or our Bermuda shorts, depending upon the generation of the spiller. There are usually at least three, sometimes four, generations present.

    As we eat, we remember each ancestor, telling funny stories for the umpteenth time, particularly the one about the dust up when my mother and her three sisters (one of whom lies beneath us) went together to pick out a new family marker. They fought until they laughed, and they laughed until tears fell from their eyes and they salesman tried to sneak away from their lunacy.

    Then we pick up and leave, having done our duty by those that went before them and prepared the ground within which we will someday lie. We are thoughtful and reminiscent and HAPPY. We experience pleasure.

    Sweet dreams ’til sunbeams find ya, Aunt Judy.

    • Ah – beautifully written. I come from a mixed heritage when it comes to an easy acceptance of death, my mothers side; when my Granny died we, her daughters and myself as the oldest grandchild, washed her and dressed her and all cried and loved and hugged her body before she left with the undertakers. She was catholic via an african upbringing and parents with a portuguese grandmother and we wailed at her funeral service, cooked enough food for an army at the funeral lunch and got riotously drunk and danced at the wake which descended into an all night party.
      My Dad and his family are as stiff upper lipped and emotionally rigid as any english stereotype. One of my earliest memories is my Grandpa cutting half his hand off with a chainsaw and being sent trotting into the house for a bag of frozen peas to hold the severed fingers in while G’ma drove us all to the hospital. I vividly remember them joking on the way about him having to change the gears with his other hand as she couldn’t do it in his beloved home built kit car. Stoic isn’t the word. The food is just as good though, just more dinner party than pot luck.
      Thank you for this comment and I hope you didn’t mind linking to your thought provoking post. Your rat family is beyond lovely.

  4. I know what you mean! The photo of dead nettle really pleased me, though–such a beautiful perennial, particularly for dark spots in the garden, where the light within each leaf veritably glows. The symbolism of plants can be very powerful, can’t it? I tell you, planting that October Glory maple in the family plot–just right some day to shade the space I am destined to occupy–did more for my outlook and sense of what is real (as opposed to what is noise) than anything else I’ ve ever experienced.

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