Tag Archives: death

Death, distraction and dandelions

When Ida sleeps she usually flings her arms up above her head – It’s hard to describe but she has the air of a very relaxed hipster sprawled over a heap of stuffed animals like a Shoreditch dragon stretched over her hoard.

And yes – she’s back in the cot although happy enough in the lower bunk – that’s a whole other post.

I know quite a bit about her sleeping habits as I’ve taken to spending  time next to her whilst she’s sleeping. This is partly to remind myself how much I love her, easier to remember when she’s not trampling over me in her bid for world domination. Also it’s because I’m in a quite a reflective mood recently.

Steve’s dad, stepdad, passed away recently. He had Alzheimer’s and was quite frail but it happened unexpectedly after a fall and a bad reaction to general anesthetic –  and very, very – as anyone who’s sat by a similar bedside will recognise, quickly.

The death certificate says pneumonia but as we said to Zeph whilst stroking the back of his head – he was just tired and the springs had wound down.

Now I’m no stranger to the complexities of dealing with death, many of my ponderings I’ve shared here before; here and here but once again I find myself wrestling with big questions from my lovely boy.

In  a recent early morning he raged at me, pummeling and kicking in frustrated anger – demanding I promise the cancer will never come back. Which of course I can’t, especially since my particular, highly treatable, flavour is high recurrence.

I have to bear it, shoulder the anger – cup the punches and stroke his back keeping up the murmur. The I love you, it’ll be okay, even when it isn’t murmur.

I know exactly where he’s coming from. Don’t we all? The sudden overwhelming urge to gather up all the people we love and hold them still. To freeze them in this moment so they come to no harm.

So they come to nothing at all. No change, no  danger, no growth. No living – no life. Hard as it is you have to unclench that fist. Because death is not waiting for us at the end of a line – it’s traveling along with us. Being alive is moving through your days with death right next to you. The other side of the coin.

Still, it’s a big life event and as such is rippling my pond. Watching Steve dealing sensitively with Zeph while struggling with the legacy of losing his biological father at a similar age. Recognising his sadness at the loss of someone from his life and a piece of his childhood gone. Sadness for his mum and family and sadness at certain gulfs that line difficult relationships.

Remembering that his default position is to retreat and not talk and mine, after serious therapy, is to talk talk talk it out. That neither way is the right way although an ocassional meet in the middle is good for both our souls.

The funeral was last week and Zeph was very sure he wanted to go and so he came. It was a lovely service – fitting for a very quiet gentle man. At one point we listened to a recording of him singing a solo at a past christmas concert.

The poignancy of listing to his sure voice while he lay in his coffin at the front of the church was very nearly unbearable. At the end of the service Zeph and I went to sit in the churchyard to collect ourselves.

“It was my favourite bit and the worse bit” he said. I just nodded, feeling, as I do now, as I write about it, my eyes prickling painfully. Sometimes our digital age seems crudely cruel. Like magnets pushing at each other it seemed indecent to have hearing him and to never yet hear him brushing shoulders in almost physical collusion.

I try hard not to avert my eyes and talk openly to Zeph. He seems hyperaware of the frailty of life. Every day seems a balancing act of talking about it yet not obsessing about it. Making allowances and setting boundaries.

Mostly I feel not up to the task. Never has the mantra of being good enough is good enough been muttered more fervently as I spread myself ever thinner.

I also have taken to watching him in his sleep as well. Parenting sleeping children is a piece of cake. We’ve also been reading this picture book.

Death, Duck and the Tulip which I’d whole heartedly recommend.

As always most hours are filled with Beautiful Things. This weekend particularly has been lit by the most glorious sunshine. An afternoon of constructing a cardboard robot costume with Ida is hugely satisfying and baking brownies with Zeph soothing with a satisfying end result.

My peony is covered with fat buds and the garden is full of forget me nots and dandelions.

I am very fond of dandelions.

Stormy weather

We just sat with all the lights off, cuddled up in front of our bay window and watched the thunder and lightning.

I checked on Ida but she was out for the count. Zeph came hurtling down in his pjamas at the first crash. I think it must have been right overhead as there seemed to be no pause between the lightning and the peal so we switched everything off and enjoyed the show.

The most amazing storm I ever saw was over Lake Garda in northern Italy when I was seventeen. The lightning lit up the ridges all around us and you could see the olive trees on the slopes. I was wet from the warm rain. The sky was various shades of purple and I knew I’d never forget it.

The air feels clearer now and Loki knows, the ground could do with the rain. If I could just request a clear patch for my garden centre jaunt in the morning I’d be v. grateful.

I’ve gathered my BT’s extra carefully as a friend of a friend of a friend lost her beautiful three-year old daughter today. I send her all the love in the world and hold my children very tight. We swam after school today and I watched Z practising his dive. Puzzling how he is so strong and immense and immediate – filling my life- like breathing rock and so fragile and precious like delicate soap bubbles. I make myself shudder at the thought of them blinking out like bubbles then push the thought away and carry on.

The dive is improving, at least the belly flopping is down to about one in five. He is triumphant and jubilant – Ida applauds every dive like a lovestruck groupie.

While looking for something to cook for tea tomorrow in the bottom of the freezer I find a forgotten and forlorn mint cornetto. It’s waiting for me – the minute I press publish.

I’ve nearly finished bodging knitting Ida’s stripy tank top. Just got to work out how to do the neck…

Ida drew a sheep today – and it kind of looked like one as well. She also spent the day calling me Laura. I’m ignoring it. In many ways it was a long a day as yesterday. I appreciated every minute. 


I’ve just put down the phone clumsily and my eyes are stinging. The children are playing in the garden. My chest is tight and I feel desperately panicked, I want to run out of the door, keep going and never come back. I feel the need to spill some of the words that have been humming in my heart like a swarm of angry wasps for the last few weeks but can’t think of a soul on earth I would burden with them.

This is one of the times my children are no comfort, in fact I push them away. I feel as though I can’t meet their clear grey eyes. I am prickly, repelled, overwhelmed. Rationally I know these feeling will pass. That they are temporary blips on my preciously carved, rigorously guarded happy life but right now…well – it seems impossible to even breathe though this.

A few weeks ago a nice woman rang me to pass on some sad news about a death and to invite me to a funeral, she begged me to come and asked me to maybe say something or do a reading.

I wasn’t kind to her. I should have been and I wasn’t. I was polite but cold. I asked how she had got my number. I told her I was very sorry for her loss but I definitely wouldn’t be coming. I put the phone down very carefully.

Steve asked who it was as he passed through the room. I told him it was British Gas. I let ice form around my heart, over my eyes, felt the frosting on the small mammalian part of my primal brain where I shoved a million newly birthed, mewling squirming thoughts and slammed the door shut.

A week later walking in the park with some friends, in the sun, I surprise myself by mentioning it. The words come quickly, unplanned, unbidden. They say kind things, thoughtful stuff. They reassure me I made the right choice. I smile and turn the subject. The truth is I showed them only a bit 0f the truth. A glimpse of the peak of an iceberg. Under the water, unseen and unimagined, century old ice waits. The debris of decades swirled in its acquired strata.

I don’t show anyone that.

Like Pandora’s box my primitive grey cell won’t stay closed  and slowly, insidiously, those thoughts have wriggled to the front until now, as I sit here in front of the blank screen peering past the swinging door, there’s nothing there, not even a fragile hope with crumpled wings and a torn petal skirt.

Her name was Fiona. Her pet name at home was Tally. That’s what most people who knew her called her. I liked her a lot. We had a lot of things in common. We met at a support group. The group quickly hit the dust as they did back then. Unprepared as I was to deal with myself, with my past, I felt like I made a real friend in Tal though.

She had a lot of admirable qualities. She was really clever and very determined. Funny too in a sly sarcastic way I really got. She stuck out university and got a first. For a while she held down difficult demanding jobs. We stayed in each others lives. Through teenage stupidity, broken hearts, keep fit kicks, a spell of early morning running. She came to all the gigs of my awful grlzz band phase, read the books I recommended. I read the New Scientist to keep up with what she was talking about. We tried an ill-fated jazz jive class, kept junkie secrets and shared single girl cocktail fueled nights out. We tried countless new starts, each time ending holding each others hand as we jumped off the wagon together.

In the end I felt tired of treading the same circle around again and again. I wanted to spiral my way out of my personal misery and choose a different kind of life for myself. I found myself at the bottom of a stinking barrel and rightly concluded it was now or never.

Either you recognise this evangelical rhetoric or you don’t. If you’ve moved through it you’ll have your own story and if you haven’t – hurrah for you, or guess you’re just not ready to hear it yet. 

I pruned Taly out of my life as ruthlessly as I uproot the bindweed in my garden. I hardened my heart, moved and changed my telephone number, I threw away my mobile, so easy for late night texting wavering. I still don’t have one now. I burnt out neural friendship networks and worked hard to form new ones.

It wasn’t that she wouldn’t be supportive, we were always supportive of each other, it’s just one of us would always fail and pull the other one down. Not always her, often me. It’s just this time I could only push my own stone up the hill – I couldn’t carry any of her weight. I couldn’t risk it and so I abandoned her.

And now I sit here in my beautiful life, in my beautiful (mouldy) house, with my beautiful children and I feel like a monster.

That was Marion on the phone. She was distraught, tearful, angry. She is a nice woman. They live in a nice house in Bristol. I know because a resentful adolescent Tally and I robbed it once when we needed money.  She says I abandoned Tally, dropped her when she really needed me. That I couldn’t even be bothered to go to her funeral. That maybe if I hadn’t of hurt her so much she would have sorted her life out. That I had been a bad influence. That she had a box of unsent letters to me under her bed. That she had so much promise. That it was a dreadful unbearable waste. That I was a shameful excuse for a human being.

She doesn’t tell me a thing I don’t know. These things are all the truth. And I know that if anyone I know reads this and even kind people I don’t know they can soothe me with rational truths. It’s just that these are not the only truths.

Under the water lurks more unpalatable truths about survival and selfishness and thank-god-it-wasn’t-me. Also a terrible fear that it may be me if I can’t hold on, if the path slips from under me. That Tal’s abyss is waiting under my feet. That my refusal to even think about going to the funeral is as much to do with a superstitious fear of infection of the unbearable itch as a desire to avoid hypocrisy. I have many grey early morning thoughts about why it was her and not me, what is the difference? I just don’t know and not knowing means I can’t guard against it.

I think there are no satisfactory answers to these questions. It is all down to the vagaries of fate and we are responsible only to ourselves to snatch whatever happiness we can. I try to apply my philosophy of people doing the best they can to myself. It is slippery and will not fit. I have a stone instead of a heart.

Swooping death on the wing

We walked to the nearest electrical shop for Steve to buy some external disk burning thingy. Ours died ages ago but we’ve agreed we won’t replace our PC ’til it is absolutely, irretrievably dead. It’s managed to limp along another year and we are afloat in downloads that he’s unable to burn. It’s causing him physical pain. Of course what he needs is a ipod so he can just download them to that but his toe-dipping into modern technology is slow.

He’d rather we were all still buying records really. He’s moved all of his up high where I can’t reach them without effort after observing me reading an interesting post about melting old records into bowl shapes. I’ll say this for him, if it affects something of his he’s quite quick to see which way the wind’s blowing. Which does make me wonder why he seems unable to learn about wiping down the sides after washing up. As the wind there is blowing in the direction of a crazed machete attack after a bad day.

Anyway this visit to a retail wonderland involved us walking along a footpath that runs along a really busy flyover. Either side is industrial wasteland, including a wide stretch of railway track. Absurd as it sounds we always see a lot of wildlife as we walk along here. Last time we saw a weasel which was Z’s highlight for a long while. Today he was hoping for something else special.

We see a lot of sparrow hawks around here, usually picking off stupid pigeons. We were hopeful of a sighting today and as we reached the top of an incline were thrilled to hear the distinctive call of a raptor of some sort. We all stopped and shaded our eyes and Zeph sucked in his breath, “it’s a peregrine..” “Nooo” I say but it bloody is. Amazing. We stand watching it hover until it makes a lightning dive into the horizon. We carry on our way, all elated, Z congratulating himself on putting our binoculars on the pushchair.

The day is full of small special pleasures. I am hugely pleased with my cards. Z has covered all bases with a tissuepaper flower one constructed at school and a special werewolf one whipped up at home. He’s also bought me a novel about werewolves. Hmmm. On closer inspection it looks great, by Glen Duncan,  I thank Steve for his obvious hand in it.

I manage to get a photo of Ida’s new cardigan. Not always easy as she’d rather be the one behind the lens, pushing the button. My request to get a close up of the fancy bit on the front resulted her running hysterically all over the house with me pursuing her. I got some lovely shots of her retreating back.

Finally with the help of a bit of chocolate bribery I managed this one;


I know it’s still not the clearest picture ever but take my word for it, it’s beautiful. My day has been full of BT’s. My evening will be full of gold stars and glitter glue. I will whine no more.

One death topic today, we have discussed in full all the funeral possibilities in this country. It seems my Dad (grr) has shared his preference for a Viking send off, burning boat style, with Zeph. Now he’s worried how we’ll pull it off. I complicate thing further by mentioning leaving your body for medical science. He’s slightly horrified. “I don’t even like it when you give my clothes that don’t fit to Rueben…”

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.