The Missing Mum Years

My childhood home

This is my dear late Mum’s house as it stands now. It was my childhood home until I married at twenty years of age and moved out. I’ve been reminiscing about this house over the last couple of days. One of my sisters had been back to visit there recently. Although she advised me against it, I asked her to share her photo with me. Big mistake! Huge mistake, in fact. It’s no longer how I remember it. Gone is the beautiful orange door (not that it’s visible in this picture) – it’s been replaced by a dull grey. The window frames have all been painted stark white over the original orange. Orange was Mum’s favourite colour. The steps outside are also not visible in this photo. The neat box hedge has completely overgrown, as has the glorious pink azalea shrub. I feel so sad. I shouldn’t have asked to see this photo. I should have known it would be different now, six years after losing my Mum. I still miss her so much. I always will.

The steps at the front of the house were a barrier for me for the last four years before Mum passed away. Being a wheelchair user now, there was no way I could climb them to get into the house. To make matters worse, Mum was severely agoraphobic, which meant she couldn’t leave there. It meant that we didn’t see each other for all that time. It broke my heart (and hers). We spoke on the phone a lot, especially towards the end. I would call two or three times a day to check she was okay. She mainly was as fit as a fiddle … until she had her stroke. Before that happened, she would vigorously mow the grass, raking it up, digging and planting flowers and tomatoes.

Those last four years were so painful. I didn’t feel sorry myself; I never did, but I felt angry and frustrated about my disability stopping me from seeing her. It was hard to come to terms with, and we missed each other terribly. The only time I got to see her in those last years was when, towards the end, she was admitted to hospital after her stroke. Hospitals are nearly always accessible. She was never the same after that happened. I wrote a post about this at the time. You can read about it at https://elliethompson.uk/2016/11/26/grief-without-death/.

I’m glad I can’t see the inside of the house; it must be so different now, and it would only upset me further. The kitchen was always my favourite room. The kitchen units were orange, as was her one-person teapot, which sat permanently on the side waiting to be filled. She loved her cups of tea and her toast and marmalade, which she’d have for breakfast every morning. After we lost Mum, there were all the usual formalities to arrange; the funeral, the interment, the house to sort out etc. My sisters came from various parts of the country to deal with all this, but I had no choice, being unable to go up those damn steps. My sisters were very kindly involving me as much as possible by taking pictures of everything, so I could decide what I’d like to have. I chose Mum’s little orange teapot. It reminded me so much of her.

Mum’s orange teapot sitting comfortably on my kitchen windowsill

I have a tradition now. Every year, on Mum’s birthday and on Mother’s Day, I take myself off to a quaint tea shop in my city. I order myself a pot of tea (I usually drink coffee) and some toast and marmalade. Sometimes, I order a slice of cake – Mum always enjoyed her cake. Having recently bought the loveliest card I could find in John Lewis, I sit for a couple of hours and write to her. I write it as a conversation between us, just as if she were there with me, drinking tea and eating toast or cake. It makes me feel closer to her at those times. I wish she were still here to join me. But, however much I write, it’ll never make up for those four years when I couldn’t see her. I missed so much of her later life. I think I’ll always miss her – the pain doesn’t lessen. Perhaps, it will in time.

A Pot of Tea

[Photo credit Deposit Photos]

I went and had a pot of tea
And sitting there were Mum and me
With toast and orange marmalade
Just like Mum had always made

It felt so grand, us eating out
A special day, without a doubt
We sat and talked till half-past-two
The waitress brought another brew

A red tea cosy on the pot
The tea inside was steaming hot
We let it cool a little bit
I fancied cake, I must admit

A slice of orange chiffon cake
Complete with bits of chocolate Flake
Served with a jug of double cream
It was delicious, quite a dream

We laughed and ate till half-past-four
We should be headed for the door
But I was loathed to leave the scene
This place where Mum and I had been

I stopped and thought and shed some tears
It’s now been over six full years
My reason is so very plain
I so wish Mum were here again.

The Engagement – 1989

Tiny Diamond Ring – TOR


“He can cut the grass for you and you can cook the dinner”, she said. These were the words of my Health Visitor. As time went by, her words became a self-fulfilling prophecy, except … he never cut the grass and I always cooked the dinner. We lived in separate houses, but I spent much of my spare time at his, not only cooking but, cleaning, shopping and caring for his two children, a girl and a boy. I, too, had a boy and a girl of roughly the same age.

He didn’t work; I did, and my wages lined his pockets. He was a liar too and a good one at that. He was saving for our ‘future’, he declared. I didn’t want a future with him but I was too scared to express my thoughts. He was unkind to me, and also to the four children. His daughter, every time she asked for something as simple as a cup of tea, was responded to with the words, “And what have you done for me today, child?” *Rose at twelve years old was too scared to say anything knowing her reply would never be good enough. I witnessed him demanding the same question of his younger son, and my innocent children. I felt a failure as a mother, unable to defend them. I was always wary of his response to me if I did, and of his subsequent attack.

He was determined to make a future for us; a future I was terrified of but couldn’t find a way to escape. I’d moved in, leaving my own home standing empty with a ‘For Sale’ placard planted in the ground outside. He wanted marriage; I didn’t. He ruled the roost. I bought my own unwanted engagement ring – even the tiny diamond put me into debt. He didn’t care. I was completely under his control and he was a bully.

I woke beside him one morning and somehow, reality hit me. I didn’t want any of this. It had been the story of my life, constantly the victim. When he was in the shower, I phoned my best friend and poured my heart out. She listened in horror and told me to meet her at my home; she’d arrived before me. I appeared with tears of terror and desperation running down my face. She pulled the ‘for sale’ sign out and threw it on the ground and a minute later, was on the phone to the estate agent telling them that the sale was off. My tears of fear turned to tears of relief. By then, I was an emotional wreck and she arranged for the children and I to go to stay with my Mum. We were there for six weeks as I slowly healed. I couldn’t face my ‘fiancé’ so my Mum, who had provided us with sanctuary, made the call. I could hear the fury in his voice as he demanded I returned to him. Mum, in no uncertain terms, told him I wouldn’t be doing that. What for? For him to cut the grass, and for me to cook the dinner!?

HOLIDAYS – HOME AND AWAY

See the source image

At the risk of sounding crazy, I’m going on vacation for a couple of days to my hometown. I don’t mean the town where I was born; I mean the city where I now live! I know it sounds like an odd thing to do, but there is a somewhat obscure reason for this.

A friend who I made at my college asked me if I’d like to go down to the coast for a few days. His parents live very near a lovely seaside town which has a beautiful beach, and the local Pavillion Theatre isn’t far away either. I enjoy watching a good play or a show and don’t get the chance very often. I’d have to travel by train, a two-and-a-half hour journey. I’ll be staying in a lovely hotel with disabled facilities, breakfast included (plus the all-essential wi-fi) and a sea view. I’d see my friend for some of the time, and I also want to have a mooch around by myself too. Wonderful!

So, what’s the first trip got to do with the second?

Well … I’m so looking forward to going away to the coast. I’ve not been there for a very long time. In fact, I’ve not been anywhere much (other than back and forth to London when my Mum was sick), and I haven’t had a holiday away from home since, believe it or not, 1985! I’m nervous though because I’m, understandably, entirely unused to sleeping away from the safety and security of my house. I’m worried in case I forget something important. I haven’t packed a suitcase in decades! However, I do want to go.

The fact that I am nervous and relatively scared is the reason for my first trip. I thought, rather than jump in at the deep end and travel away from home, I’d dip my toe in my water and have a weekend in a local hotel in the city I’m already in and am used to. That way, if I forget anything, or don’t like it, I’m only thirty minutes from home. I’m more confident about that and am really quite looking forward to it.

I can’t help wondering what my dear Mum would have said if she were still here … I think she’d say, “you go girl!!” 🙂

 

(Image courtesy of trip.101.com)

 

TEA AND CAKE

Image result for tea and cake

Today is Mum’s birthday … or, perhaps, I should say, ‘it was Mum’s birthday’. As most of you know, I lost my dear Mum a year ago. It’s been hard; very hard at times. I’ve been trying to heal from my pain, but grief is no respecter of time. Some people get over it in a couple of years, some less, but many more never.

I wasn’t sure what to do today. I wanted to do something special in honour of Mum’s birthday. I finally decided to go to a favourite café of mine to have tea and cake because that’s what she would have been doing at teatime today. It’s a quaint place with lace tablecloths under glass tops, sepia photographs on the walls, brass kettles on old-fashioned cake stands and waitress service as opposed to the usual queue up and help yourself.

I asked for a pot of tea, as opposed to a mug or cup as Mum always, always drank her favourite ‘tipple’ poured from the pot. I’m a great coffee drinker whenever I get the opportunity. It wakes me and my tastebuds up and makes me feel almost human, especially in the mornings. I never usually drink tea –  But, Mum always drank it, but never coffee. Actually, tea’s not bad – quite refreshing really. I chose a piece of carrot cake, one of my favourites, and Mum’s too, and she would have liked this one as it was homemade. She much preferred ‘the real thing’ as opposed to shop-bought ones.

I’d bought a birthday card, strange though it may seem. Perhaps, to buy a card for someone who is no longer here, in body at least, could be seen as rather odd. I feel Mum is here with me in spirit though and especially today. I sat in the café for an hour, writing my words as if I were talking to her. I can’t send it, of course, but I shall keep it with the rest of the items I have that I was able to keep after she passed away. I thought she would approve of me sitting there, having tea and cake and I told her I loved her and missed her so much. I said that I wish she were here with me. And I did.

As I write this in the evening, I am missing that phone call to say, ‘Happy Birthday, Mum’. I realise that she’s not coming back, and they’ll be no more birthdays or Christmases. In fact, they’ll be no more days at all with my Mum, at least not in this life as I know it, but maybe in the next. I hope so.

Happy Birthday, Mum x

MY FORGET-ME-NOT SHED

Image result for a blue shed

I’m aware that I’ve been away since the middle of July (or thereabouts), so that’s nearly four months which must be the longest I’ve ever been away from my blog for. A lot has happened in my life during that time.

Ten-and-a-half months have passed since I lost my beautiful Mum. That time hasn’t been like I would have expected it to be. I haven’t been able to grieve. Strangely, and somewhat disconcertingly, I haven’t been able to cry either. I still cannot look at my Mum in any of the photos that I have. This isn’t how I expected grief to be. However, I am aware that everybody grieves in their own way and in their own time. Maybe, the time isn’t right for me yet.

As for other goings-on in my life, they have been more positive. Some of you may remember that my care regime was about change drastically with new carers coming into place and old ones going. I’m pleased to say that it has all worked out far better than I could have imagined.

I was also at the beginning of having a lot of work done on my house too. This has been a prolonged process, but I am getting there gradually. My bedroom is finished and is now a haven of peace and calm in which to sleep. The new shed has been built in the garden, that is, after being ripped-off by builders who I, eventually, sent packing, and consequently, employed new ones who have done a great job.)  The shed is painted a delightful shade of forget-me-not blue (at least, I think it’s delightful – I can’t speak for the neighbours).

The next and most significant project is adapting and renewing my twenty-five-year-old kitchen. This, I’m most excited about. It’s going to have lowered worktops, a new lower hob and a sink, all of which will be accessible to me in my manual wheelchair. The work is due to start in about two weeks. I’m currently at the stage where I and my carers are frantically sorting through cupboards and drawers with the intention of clearing out everything we haven’t used in the last two years, (that includes packaged food in the units that are well past their sell-by date!) I can’t wait for the new kitchen to be installed, although I’m not eager to face all the mess and disruption. However, as they say, “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”)

Well, I think that’s just about a relatively accurate round-up of what’s going on in my life at the moment. I promise I’ll try to catch up on some of your blogs as soon as I can, and I really will try not to leave it another four months until I pop into WordPress again. Thanks for sticking with me through my absence.

 

MOVING FORWARD – THE PASSAGE OF TIME AND BIRTHDAY CAKE

Image result for Steampunk Clock

Why an image of a clock to begin this post with? This is because it is actually a good depiction of my feelings and where I’ve been at for some time. Life has felt rather surreal during this last year. The clock face also shows the passage of time I have been through over the last few months.

At last, I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting back to normal after my Mum became ill, had a stroke, and I finally lost her only five months ago (almost to the day). There was the funeral to get through (and all that encompassed) and now, we are dealing with probate, Mum’s will and the sale of our family home after spending my first twenty years of life there.

However, as far as my psychiatric health in concerned, I’m feeling brighter which is good (and about time too). I am now on different and new medication which, in the last week has begun to help improve my state of mind, and I’m sleeping so much better which makes a great difference to how I feel during the day. The severe anxiety attacks have also lessened which is a huge relief.

The many cogs in this clock also represent changes in a more positive way … slowly … as time has ticked by and the wheels have been turning, my relationship with my son has improved, and we have become closer which means I have more contact with my two beautiful grandchildren, Josh and Lily who are a delight to me. I have definitely become closer to my sisters, particularly the one who lives the furthest away from me. We may be separated by many miles but are hearts are inextricably linked and always will be.

The recent passage of time, like each cog, has been whirring, clicking and ticking by slowly but steadily. A lot else has changed in that time too. My eldest granddaughter has now turned eleven and will be going up to senior school in September, and my youngest granddaughter will be starting primary school at the age of four-and-a-half (she seems too young). Where has the time gone? Am I really old enough to have a granddaughter in senior school? Goodness! I must be older than I think! I’m definitely older in years than I feel and I am fortunate enough to be told by several people that I don’t look my age. However, I am reluctantly coming up to ‘a biggy’; a big ‘0’ birthday in three month’s time (which I’m trying to ignore) … ugh! How am I going to get all my candles on one cake?!

Image result for Birthday Cake with Many Candles

In addition, I would like to say thank you to my dearest friends here at WordPress who have stuck by me through thick and thin over the last year or so – it can’t have been easy at times. Their blogs have kept my head above water some of that time by distracting me with their diversity, interest, humour and compassion. So, shout out to Bun at https://bunkaryudo.wordpress.com/ and Mick at https://mickcanning.co/ and Carol anne of https://therapybits.com/. Also, thank you to any of you who may have called in or dropped by my blog and hung around with support and kind words too. Love to you all, Ellie xxx

MIXED EMOTIONS (AND POTTING UP GERANIUMS)

elderly woman gardening

(Photo credit: http://www.healthtap.com)

Ok – so this isn’t a picture of my Mum and those plants aren’t actually geraniums, but to all intents and purposes, both of those things could have been facts as that’s exactly what my Mum would have been doing at this time of year if she were still here. She loved geraniums of all colours and would have been repotting them all into bigger pots as they would have grown after their dormant period in the dark and damp basement of the house. They would have all been neatly arranged on the patio outside the kitchen, making a huge splash of colour in the garden.

In fact, this was actually what she was doing along with mowing the grass, cutting the hedge and tying up raspberry canes just two weeks before she had her stroke last year. She remained in hospital from then until the day she passed away just before the New Year this year.

I miss my Mum. I hurt. I’m still hurting. I don’t when or if the hurting ever stops. I have photos of her in my living room and by my bed and yet, believe it or not, I can’t look at them. I cannot look at my Mum. I just am not able to ‘make eye-contact’ with her. Perhaps, it’s too early. Perhaps it’s the pain of not having her here anymore. Maybe, it’s the shame. Perhaps, the guilt that I wrote about in a previous post is telling me that she would be ashamed of me.

I can vaguely scan past the photos. I know the one on my desk in front of me so well. It was a photo I had which was taken only weeks before Mum had her stroke. It’s a picture of her in the garden which was always a sanctuary for her, with the big honeysuckle rambling up a large trellis covering part of the brickwork of the house behind her and next to that are the peach-coloured, climbing roses clambering up the wooden fence. The patio in front of her, adorned with pots, large and small of her favourite geraniums, orange, white and red, all in full bloom.

But, every time my eyes catch the slightest glimpse of her face or her eyes or smile in the photos, my heart is wrenched from my chest, and my mind is screaming, “Noooooo ….”  I cannot cry – I really can’t. My eyes are prickling from the sheer pressure of my tears building up behind my eyelids and fighting to get out. Maybe, I can’t can’t cry because I’m afraid that if I start, I won’t ever be able to stop. I want to go and visit her grave and lay fresh flowers there, but it’s 50 miles away with no public transport with wheelchair access so impossible. Sometimes, I still feel so close to her and almost forget for a second that she has gone. At other times, she seems so very far away.

All the legalities regarding the will, probate and selling the house are continuing to go on in the background. It’s so hard to think of my childhood home being taken over by someone else. Who knows what will happen to it … maybe, it will house another family for many more years although there is also the possibility that it will be completely gutted and turned into several flats and that’s much harder to stomach. Moving on, emotionally, isn’t easy but I have to remember too, that it was only five months ago that Mum was with us and living in that house.

Mum was a great one for ‘keeping things’, usually followed by, “It’ll come in useful for something”, a trait that I’ve inherited. Amongst all the ‘useful somethings’, we’ve unearthed photo albums, not just of our childhoods but also of Mum when she was growing up and even some of my great-grandmother in the 1800’s … real treasure … a pictorial history of my family on my Mum’s side … fascinating. It’s going to take me forever to sort through all of those photos and distribute them to our remaining family. They’ll certainly provide me with lots of happy and no doubt, funny memories too which will probably eventually get passed down to my grandchildren and who knows, perhaps their grandchildren one day? Actual history in the making. Mum would be pleased.

THE BUSYNESS OF GRIEF

Image result for white poppies

The funeral was beautiful in as far as a funeral can be thought of as ‘beautiful’. White poppies adorned the wicker casket which was interwoven with daisies and wildflowers and not the sombre, traditional dark wooden coffin that many people have. Mum was a great lover of flowers and plants, and she tended her little patch of garden so carefully over her 86 years. It’s sad to think of it being so neglected now as is the old and empty house which was my home for many decades.

It’s been six weeks since my precious Mum passed away. The sadness and loss will never leave us all, but it’s strange how people differ so much in their ways of dealing with grief. My youngest sister is very tearful and is deeply mourning the loss of my Mum. She’s unable to concentrate on her studies, nor cope with her part-time job. My other sister has travelled home again and has thrown herself into her work. However, she is frequently prone to breaking down in racking sobs and is in need of much consolation from her colleagues.

As for me, it’s as if nothing has happened. I think, if anything, I only feel numb and apart from weeping briefly at the first news of my Mum’s death (and I haven’t cried since that day), I am carrying on with life much as usual. I’m keeping myself very occupied and haven’t really stopped since the funeral. My life is as busy as ever and with assistance, I’ve been concentrating on sorting my house out as much as I physically can.

In fact, over the last two weeks, the whole of the downstairs of my house has been decorated. The builders have only just left and there is a huge mountain of mess to clear up. The smell of paint is lingering and I haven’t quite got used the new colour scheme yet. The new curtains are being put up tomorrow along with the new ceiling lights. It’s been ‘all go’ for a few weeks now and I’ve felt quite excited by it all but somehow, also exhausted in equal measure.

I know in my heart that my frantic busyness is just a way of coping, or perhaps, rather a way of not coping or not wanting to face reality because it is all too painful. However, reality has a way of kicking us in the ribs when we try to avoid it. There are Mum’s possessions to deal with and the house to sell. There is so much of everything to be sorted into heaps of ‘deal with now’ or ‘deal with later’.

There are so many practical issues to deal with that I haven’t had time for emotions. Emotions are something of which I’ve had far too many of in my life and I’m not welcoming these new and painful feeling that are threatening to engulf me. I have been fighting them off for weeks but I know, or at least I think I know that as soon as I stop rushing around, those emotions will not only wash over me but quite possibly drown me.

Frighteningly, this seems a distinct possibility and I find myself desperately looking for the person that can ‘save’ me. But then, I realise that very person is the one no longer with me other than in spirit and spirit doesn’t seem enough now. I’m not a child anymore and yet right now, I need my Mum more than ever and she isn’t there, and I have to face the painful fact that she will never be here again. Rest in Peace, Mum. Rest in Peace.

 

 

 

GRIEF WITHOUT DEATH

I miss my Mum. I miss her so much.  A death you would think.  No, my Mum hasn’t passed away, but she’s had a severe stroke and has been in the hospital for nearly three months now. I miss her presence in my life – she was always there to talk to when I had problems with my children growing up and always in these later years when I’ve been battling with my mental heath.

She used to support me through everything and as the years ticked by, I was the one supporting her (and rightly so). We would talk on the phone for many hours, putting the world to rights and putting each other to rights. We rarely had a cross word.

I have to confess, there have been times when it’s felt a bit of a chore to have to phone my Mum every day, sometimes twice a day in more recent years.  I would, perhaps, think, “I want to spend more time with friends” on that particular night or “I’d like to spend the time writing my blog”.  Worse still, I’d be keen to text a good friend for a heart-to-heart or get that email written that I’ve been meaning to do for days.

Now, the evenings come, and I find myself thinking,  “I’ll just phone to see how ……….” – My sentence is cut short by the stark realisation that my Mum is not occupying the same space as she used to do. Something else is in her place – a horrible silence broken only by memories of how our relationship used to be.

Gone are our chats, our shared laughter and our mutual support. There are no long discussions about what she had planted in her garden that day with the full expectation of seeing her little seedlings and shoots develop into strong, tall plants. She’d tell me how she’d tied them up with green, garden twine against bamboo canes and watch them develop and bloom.

She won’t go back to that house again, nor her beloved garden that was her sanctuary, her escape from the world when life got difficult – not now. She could never manage the stairs, feed herself or live without 24-hour care and yet she’d managed independently since her separation from my father. She had lived in our family home for over sixty years. And to think the grass was being cut by her only two weeks before she had her stroke.

The damage to her brain is so extensive that she’s still unable to communicate verbally or in any other way,  and any hope of further improvements is met with serious doubt by the doctors and consultants.  The physios, the OTs and the speech and language therapists are not hopeful either.  I try to talk to her on the phone when I can’t get there – hoping to get a response but my questions always have the same replies – nothing – it’s heartbreaking.

I’m still travelling up to the City by train to see her at least once a week. The journey is always tough, fraught with difficulties and exhausting but I need to be there. I need to retain that little bit of hope. However, she isn’t even able to acknowledge that I’m there and I wonder where she has gone inside that broken shell of a body.

I feel I should not be grieving as she is still present with me. But I am – I’m grieving the loss of the person that my Mum once was; her presence in my life, her faded personality and her love, care and affection. She is no longer there.  But grieving when she is still alive; is that right? Is that acceptable? It is simply grief without death.