As I sit here writing this, it would have been my darling mother’s 89th birthday tomorrow, and whilst it is now nearly three years since she died, as I sat looking through photos, I felt the familiar wave of grief rise up again.
Admittedly, my emotions have been on a roller coaster over the past weeks and months as the lockdown has continued and the massive disruptions have taken their toll on me, as with everybody, but more than that, I have been conscious of Mother’s Day in the UK coming into view in a week or so.
Again, maybe because of the emotional highs and lows, but I have been feeling sad that I don’t have my mother here to send her a card.
So when my very clever emotionally astute 17 year old daughter suggested to me why not write her a card anyway, it got me thinking about how important and helpful it can be to mark these occasions by doing something practical.
I immediately went online and added a Mother’s Day card to our shop for next week and plan to write a lovely card full of love and gratitude to my mother, and already the thought of that makes me smile and feel happier.
So that turned my attention to Mum’s birthday tomorrow and I decided to bake her a cake. You might laugh and think that is odd, but I love baking and was planning to experiment with a rhubarb, orange and almond cake today anyway, and again the thought that whilst it is rising (hopefully) in the oven now, it is dedicated to my beautiful mum, lifts my spirits enormously.
I think we have all struggled with our mental health in some form or another over these strange and difficult months, and I know for me it has been a daily challenge, which has been more successful on some days than others. But acknowledging them, accepting the down days and identifying things that can help you is so important. I shall certainly be baking a cake for Mum on her birthday every year now!
Well, what a year it has been, and what mixed feelings it provokes in me as I sit here reflecting on the year that was 2020.
I am struck by people around me seemingly sticking two fingers up at 2020, and saying good riddance to it. And for good reason of course, as for many it has been a truly terrible year, losing loved ones, suffering serious illness and/or facing financial ruin.
Somehow though, I dont seem to feel that way, despite the huge impact it has had on us as a family. Thankfully we have not lost anybody close to us and have remained healthy throughout, although we have had our fair share of trials and tribulations.
Peter lost his job in January and because of the instability and financial consequences of Covid, he has not yet got another one. We have ridden a massive rollercoaster of emotions, as of course most people have, as over the course of the year, he has undergone several job interview processes, only to have each of the offers snatched away, as either the company folded or put the job offer on hold as the uncertainty of the pandemic continued apace.
Billy had his A-levels cancelled and the last term of his school life expunged and so denied that rite of passage at the end of a long school career. Daisy has had to navigate much of her A-level years learning from a laptop in her bedroom, and despite having completed my course and passed my final exams to become a Kinesiologist, my new business has been thwarted as we all lead our lives under social restrictions.
And yet when I reflect back on the year, I am filled with the warm smiling energy of gratitude. Gratitude. We have so much to be grateful for.
We may have spent much of our savings on living expenses for the year, but we have our health.
We have family, and we have joy and laughter.
We have the most beautiful countryside with the river Itchen literally on our doorstep, and we are witness to the changing seasons, which this year seem to have been more spectacular than ever (or is it just me?)
And we have hope and optimism for the new year and for the future.
Hope and optimism is one of the things that I have come to value and treasure this year. I, for one, can’t live without it. I admit its not always easy to hold onto, and there have been times during the year when I have lost it for a few weeks, but it has to be a conscious choice, and I choose to live with hope and optimism.
So I am welcoming in 2021 with hope and optimism and waving goodbye to 2020 with gratitude.
I have been wanting to write a blog post for a while to share the journey I have been on over the past months or even years. And then I thought, what better day to do it than on International Women’s Day as there are so many amazing and inspirational women who have helped me on my way!
I want to talk about overwhelm. I bet that loads of you relate to overwhelm. It is something that I realise that I have lived with forever that I can remember. And in recent years, with the different situations that have arisen, from parents getting ill and dying, to moving house and countries, to losing jobs and income, I have certainly lost count of how many times I have said, I just feel so overwhelmed….
But all of that has gone now. And my life feels so very different without it. And actually it was quite simple to get rid of in the end. As many of you know, I started training to be a systematic kinesiologist 18 months ago shortly after my mother died. At that stage, I wasn’t really thinking in terms of a career change, but it was something I had always been interested in, and as I was feeling so lost and that my life had no purpose, encouraged by lovely kinesiologist friend, Katie, inspirational woman number 1, I signed up for the TASK (The Academy of Systematic Kinesiology) foundation course. I think the first few modules passed in a blur, not sure what I was doing there, fairly overwhelmed by it all, and by the end of those six months, I still didn’t think I would sign up to do the practitioners course the following year, despite being told by several people that I was a ‘natural’.
The turning point for me has been emotional work. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that I have done plenty of soul searching over the past 30 years or so of my life – in fact, I think I first went into therapy aged 26 or 27, and have spent many years dissecting past traumas, relationships, events, etc.
But last year I experienced EFT for the first time with the wonderful Connie, inspirational woman number 2. EFT, for those of you not familiar with the term, is ‘emotionally focused therapy’, or sometimes called ‘emotional freedom technique‘. In short, EFT uses tapping on specific meridian points around the face, which releases stored negative emotions. This may sound strange to some people, but I am a total convert, and it has no doubt changed my life. It has given me the confidence to make better choices for myself. So much so that I signed up for the TASK practitioners course last summer, which I have now very nearly completed.
In systematic kinesiology we also use a form of EFT which we call MTT – meridian tapping therapy. I had my first experience of this last October when on the full week of training for the course. It was the second module and needless to say, I was feeling completely overwhelmed with it all. Overwhelmed by the people on the course with me, overwhelmed by feelings of imposter syndrome (I’m not a therapist, I’m in food and wine – what am I doing here?), overwhelmed by lack of confidence that I would never be able to cope and learn all of this, overwhelmed that everybody else knew more than I did (or so I thought). The list was endless.
On the second day of that week, I had a meltdown. But I was in the right place for my crisis of confidence. Enter fantastic inspirational woman number 3 – Claire, principal of the TASK academy. She did some MTT on me, throwing lots of words at me, mostly about being completely overwhelmed, whilst tapping away on numerous points at the start and ends of various meridians. MTT is almost counter-intuitive as you are repeating lots of negative words describing how you are feeling but the idea is to scramble your brain a bit and almost take a pair of scissors metaphorically-speaking to snip the ends of the brain synapses that have been nurtured for so long with these false beliefs and negative emotions.
It is a not an exaggeration to say that this has changed my life. I no longer feel overwhelmed! Overwhelm is no longer a part of my life. I think I can count two occasions over the past seven months when I have started to feel overwhelmed, but then realised, and stopped, and said to myself and the overwhelm, no thank you, I don’t want you in my life, you are no longer a part of my life. I now love my life and am so much happier without overwhelm.
I have now got my final weekend of training coming up having passed my practical exam and scored 82% in my mock exam, and I am excited about the future, and where it is going to take me – a future without overwhelm.
I love kinesiology, I love helping people, and if I can help people to let go of some of their negative emotions and lead a happier and freer life, then mine will be a happy life well-lived.
I cant end a post about wonderful inspirational women without mentioning my beloved mother, who was brave, funny, vulnerable, kind and loving and would have been 88 on Friday. And so many other wonderful women who have helped and supported me along the way, from childhood friends to new friends and therapists met on all my travels in various countries over several decades along the way – thank you to you all – I wouldn’t be where I am today without you 💜
I think I have been to Manchester before some where in my dim distant past, but last weekend Peter and I spent 24 hours there, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were blown away by the slick service, the sophistication and the fantastic energy of the city.
We went to Manchester to see John Mayer who was playing at Manchester Arena – I have to admit that you cant help thinking about the horrific attack that took place there two and a half years ago, but as I said to somebody, you cant live your life in fear, and the atmosphere inside was certainly fearless and electric.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Leaving aside the six hours it took for me to get to Manchester, when I eventually arrived, we still just about had enough time to get our supper which Peter had booked at Dishoom. What an incredible slick operation – I haven’t experienced service like that for a long time. Despite us being over half an hour late for the booking (we did call to let them know), we were whisked to a table, drinks orders taken and fairly swiftly after that our food order.
Dishoom is contemporary Indian, and I have to say the food was as slick as the service. Our okra fries arrived with our drinks – demolished within minutes. Followed by masala prawns, lamb sheekh kebab, house-style chicken tikka and gunpowder potatoes. Did I mention the service? Super friendly, efficient with plenty of managerial presence conducting proceedings without a hitch. We were in and out within an hour, but dearly would have liked to stay and linger with another glass of wine…
A ten minute walk took us to the Arena and swiftly through (very tight) security and into our seats. A fantastic concert – two and a half hours of all of his best tracks with a super-talented band and backing singers – and of course it doesnt hurt that John Mayer is fairly easy on the eye!
Peter had found and booked us a hotel called Native Manchester. If you havent stayed in a Native before, do yourself a favour and check them out. They are studio apartments in old refurbished buildings or super-cool modern developments or even mews houses, with a great contemporary design and lots of extra details you wouldn’t expect. The one in Manchester is an old converted warehouse in the Northern Quarter and has only been open a month.
In fact, I am pretty sure we were the first to stay in our room, as it didn’t look like any of the bath/body products had yet been opened. We booked the smallest room as we were only there for one night but it was still spacious and edgy with the original girders and brick work. But wonderful design details – a little table attached to the end of the sofa, a discreet drawer under the sink in the bathroom, gorgeous lotions and potions from Bramble, set up by somebody from Cowshed. Every studio apartment has a little kitchenette which had the basics you would need to cook something simple but everything was quality, even a Sabatier knife!
We got a late check out as it was all important rugby World Cup quarter finals in the morning, so whilst Peter languished in bed watching England thrash Australia, I nipped down to the oh-so-cool lobby and fetched us some cinnamon rolls and flat whites – it all felt very New York.
Rugby over and we had a lovely wander through Manchester. Those of you who know me, know that no outing is complete without a stop for coffee, and of course this was no different and top of our list. We found a Scandinavian artisan coffee house called Takk – they actually have three outlets in Manchester, and like our whole experience of Manchester, it was slick, sophisticated and plenty of substance.
I know I have posted this photo before but it is the photo on my iPad that I look at a hundred times every day, so that’s why I feel like I want to post it again.
I have been sitting rereading my posts of the last few years – grief, death, love. And reflecting on the past year, in particular, as we approach the first anniversary of Mum’s death. Some people dont think about dates or marking anniversaries, but it seems to be something deep within me. It’s not something that I necessarily do consciously. I just find that my mind has often been cast back over the past couple of weeks, to this time last year, and reliving those last few week’s of mum’s life.
So this weekend I have been thinking about this weekend last year, when we realised that it was now a question of days not weeks, and that Mum did not have long left to live. The agonising feeling that you didn’t know when she was going to die – it could be any time. Every time I left her house, I wondered if that was going to be the last time I would see her alive. Had I said everything to her that I wanted to? Had the children said their goodbyes? As she became more sleepy in that week and started to slip away, it was hard to watch and witness other people’s pain and try to hold them as well as holding myself together.
In the end of course, Mum slipped into unconsciousness a few days before she died and I remember her penultimate day being a happy one. For some reason a peace and calm surrounded her and her room and I even remember playing some of her favourite music including a bit of Nina Simone’s ‘my baby just cares for me’ and dancing round the room and singing – she would have loved that, and I hope somewhere deep down she heard me and smiled within.
Rereading my posts, I have taken comfort from realising that its true what I wrote just over a year ago, that she would be with me always, and smiling down on me, helping me with the tough decisions, that life inevitably throws at one.
And its true what they say that it just takes time, time for grief to ease, never fully go away I dont think. Certainly at the beginning of this year, I turned a big corner. I had a distinct feeling of Mum looking down on me and saying, ok, time to let go now, time to move on, a new year, a fresh start. She said, I’m ok, I’m whole again, you need to focus on your life now. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
But everybody says its the first of everything after a person dies, that is the hardest. My birthday last year was particularly hard, as she would have been the first person to ring and wish me a happy birthday. Then there was Christmas, but actually, Mum’s birthday, which was last month, was a happy occasion, marked with a lunch with Emma, at Mum’s favourite restaurant in Winchester.
I think that with each of these occasions, the anticipation has been worse than the reality and so that is what I keep reminding myself as we approach next Saturday, the first anniversary of her leaving this world.
So one year on, the grief has not completely gone, but since the beginning of the year, it has no longer been overwhelming, and mostly when I think of Mum, its with a smile and a feeling of warm shining love. It’s just now with the first anniversary looming, that I cant help but focus on the loss of her.
But I am happy to report that I have kept my promise to Mum – I think about her everyday and she is certainly forever in my heart 💜💜
I wrote this blog post at the end of last year but for some reason never posted it….
It was three years ago that I wrote about the sad and fascinating process of packing away a life, as Thomas was coming towards the end of his. And now it has been six months since Mum died, and we are at the very end of packing away her life. We have finally exchanged contracts on Apple Tree Cottage, the house that Mum and Tom lived in for the last 25 years, and are due to complete the sale in the next few days.
Every inch of their life has been rummaged through, picked apart, from the finances, to their clothes, to the jewellery and precious personal possessions and letters. As anyone who has been through this process will know, it can be gut-wrenching at times, bitter sweet, as happy memories abound and the reality that they are gone for ever hits you again and again.
Grief seems to come in waves, every time you think that you are beginning to move forwards and leave it behind, the next breaker crashes down.
A few weeks after Mum died, when the tears were flowing freely, a friend pointed out that there was a reason that we used to wear ‘mourning’ black for a period of time after a bereavement – so that people knew that you were fragile and needed to be treated kindly. Now this makes more sense to me.
Tomorrow, I will lock the door and leave the keys behind at Apple Tree Cottage for the last time, and that part of my life will be over. It was a part that spanned nearly half of my life. Perhaps with all of its overwhelming emotions, it will also bring some sort of closure and enable us, Emma, Daniel and me, to move on. I certainly have many lovely things to remember them by, not least the bird table that I look out on every day and know how much Mum and Tom used to enjoy watching the birds in it.
Escaping for a few days R&R has given me time to reflect on the past few weeks. Goodness, you can’t underestimate the power of a little bit of downtime, always so difficult to allow, but the effects are huge.
It’s been a tumultuous few weeks, and whilst there is still so much to do – probate forms to fill in, estate agents to appoint, the house to clear out, when Peter announced last week that he needed to go away for a few days for some business research, I jumped at the chance to go too. Always up for a road trip, but right now, more importantly, I realised that I needed a change of scene, and a chance to unwind, even if only for a couple of days.
We stayed the first two nights at the Cow at Dalbury Lees, in Derbyshire, which I booked following an article in the Times on Saturday morning, very fortuitously for us, about the best summer pubs in Britain. It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but a real gem. It is newly refurbished, and uses lots of reclaimed wood and recycled items, such as old polished milk churns for bar stools. Our only negative was that we were put in a room right above the bar, so our first night was fairly noisy, but when we mentioned it the next morning, we were moved to a delightful room at the back of the pub.
As regular readers of my blog will know, coffee is always at the forefront of my mind, and what a pleasant surprise, when a fabulous flat white was served up at breakfast yesterday. I don’t think pubs are usually renowned for their coffee, but the barman at the Cow certainly knew how to make a good one. In fact, everything they served was on point. The chef clearly knows a thing or two. Produce was fresh and everything cooked really well – simple and of the moment.
In fact we have been blown away by the wonderful quality of produce and service everywhere on our trip so far. How times a-change. Lunch yesterday was at Bear in Derby, again lovely contemporary concept – lightly battered cod bites and pulled pork in soft tacos with slaw and avocado, and good flat whites.
Now sitting here in the wonderfully named ‘Medicine Kitchen and Bakery’, this cafe reminds me of some of the fabulous places in Sydney, large airy open spaces with lots of big wooden tables, for lingering over. And whilst I may presently get the probate forms out, it is still wonderful to be in a different environment. Somehow it just makes me feel lighter, less burdened, less sad.
But I am keeping my promise to Mum, wherever I go, she comes with me. I look out of a window, and for a split second, imagine that phone call, where I describe where I am, what I am doing, what I am about to eat or drink. And then I remember, all too quickly, that of course, I can’t do that. But this morning, when those thoughts popped into my head, I smiled, because I realised I was keeping my promise. Of course I will never forget you. I will think of you every day. Forever in my heart, Mum 💜
My beautiful mother died on Friday morning. Of course, as seems so often to happen, I wasn’t there, even though I had spent most of my waking hours there all week. But I’m ok with that, as we had so many conversations over the week, even if they were one way after she became unconscious the last couple of days. I firmly believe that she could still hear me on some level, so it was important, to keep telling her how much I loved her, and that would never change, even when she was no longer with us, I would still go on loving her. And I also told her that I knew that she would never stop loving me, even when she was no longer here. I would carry her in my heart forever, and she would always be there when I needed her, and I could feel that love when I needed some help with whatever difficult situation life would throw at me.
Grief is such a complex and difficult thing, and as I wrote in my last blog post, mine was kick-started when I was reminded of the cracking woman (as a lovely friend of mine called her) she was. The thing is that as somebody gets older and more frail, it is so easy to forget that. My daughter, Daisy, expressed this so well, and has given me permission to share it.
“It seemed inevitable that the frail elderly lady who has been getting weaker over the past weeks was going to die, but when you remember that woman was Judy Strafford, the artist, who did all those amazing paintings, made all that incredible food and wrote that beautiful book, it hits you that that was the same person, and feels completely overwhelming.”
This totally resonates for me and seems to sum up some of the conflicting emotions that constitute grief. I think one of the harder things is that feeling that you will never see them again. I know I felt that with Thomas, and nothing can take that away, except time, and allowing yourself to feel it. And perhaps the occasional gin and tonic 😍
I don’t know if everybody experiences grief in different parts of the body, but mine is firmly in the coeliac plexus (formerly known as the solar plexus!) – right there between the ribs, below the breastbone. This is the second time I’ve watched somebody dying in as many years, and whilst I am so grateful to be able to be here daily with my mother, holding her hand, looking into her eyes and telling her that I love her, it is also hard being so close.
I started to go through some of Mum’s papers last week, and what really kick-started my grief was coming across some wonderful letters and photos. One was from Charles Spencer, in response to a letter Mum must have written to him after the death of Diana and his tribute at her funeral. Another was a letter she had published in the Times in 2002 on her love of sprouts, and all the delicious ways to cook and eat them. There was a gorgeous photo of eight glamorous women, called the Lunch Bunch, which was the bridge club Mum was part of for forty years or so.
And I realised that in these past few years of caring for a sick, fading, elderly lady, I had forgotten what an incredible, vital, vibrant, creative creature my beloved Mother had been. She was all of those things and more – not least a fantastic cook producing amazing suppers night after night, and she has loved life and lived it to the full, particularly in most of her thirty five years with Thomas.
I don’t think she will be with us for much longer now, as she no longer wants to eat, except for a few mouthfuls of yogurt, that are gently fed to her by the ever-caring Liz, but her colourful, energetic and beautiful soul are what I want to remember, not the past weeks, or even months or couple of years.
You know when you open Facebook and those memories pop up? Well, yesterday that happened to me, and my heart skipped a beat. Pure deja vu, and overwhelming sadness. This is what it said….
“Had a lovely chat with Thomas on FaceTime yesterday, so I could see him sitting up in his hospital bed, to which he is now confined, in Mum’s old studio, so he is surrounded by paintings, and looks out onto his beloved garden! He has lots of care and support and still the same old Thomas – strong, stoical and spirited. He has been setting specific time goals to aim for the next thing he wants to be around for – previously it was Christmas, then Mum’s birthday, and now, in the best Thomas spirit, it’s the EU referendum!!!! It did make me smile – I am so happy some things don’t change 😍😍😍“
It is with a heavy heart that I now write about my dear Mother, who has been bedridden since the beginning of March, as her body has weakened significantly, and her appetite is reducing daily. She spends most of her time asleep, and her waking time gazing out of the window at her beloved garden, just as Thomas started to do two years ago.
Mum is of course being looked after beautifully by her (our 😍😍) wonderful carer, Liz, who ensures that she is always comfortable and brings the all important smile to her face.
But I can’t lie, it is very hard being faced with somebody you love dying, and in the same place, same bed, same room. The funny thing was that before even reading ‘my facebook memory’ last night, every time I have walked in and seen Mum over the last week, I have been struck by these feelings of overwhelming sadness that here we are in the same situation again.
We have had many conversations about dying over the past weeks, and you may think this is something intensely personal, and not to be shared. But I think it is a conversation we should be having more often. It is bloody scary, and of course none more so than for the person dying.
One of my mother’s fears is that she will be forgotten. I reminded her that she once told me that she thought about her beloved Mother every day, and had never forgotten her, and I assured her that I will do the same and I will keep her in my heart forever 💜