Chocolate Button Memories

I have a small mouth; a fact most people find hard to believe – I’m told I can be quite loud at times! Just to clarify, it’s the inside of my mouth that is small, it’s not like I have tiny lips and can only eat crumbs, that would be weird! What I’m trying to explain is that there just isn’t enough room in my mouth for all my teeth. Actually perhaps I haven’t a small mouth after all, maybe I’ve got giant teeth, or maybe I have too many teeth, who knows! What I do know is that I spent an awful lot of time at the dentist growing up! I spent hours having braces tightened until it felt like my skull was being crushed from within, retainers were mended on an alarming frequency and I’m sure I started saying ‘arrrrghhh’ in my sleep!  At one point my mum and I were taking weekly trips to the orthodontist, it didn’t take long to developed a tradition of sharing a packet of white chocolate buttons on the drive home.

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As with all traditions, the chocolate button practice quickly evolved to become the first medicine administered for any aliment faced. There was the time I attempted to demonstrate my great acrobatic skills by skipping not one but two rails on the monkey bars, apparently failing in my quest and only succeeding in simultaneously shattering both my monkey bar dreams and my right arm as I fell to the ground; then there was the glandular fever episode (I believe it’s called mono in the States) during my late teens, possibly caused by kissing one too many frogs and even once I’d managed to scrape my way into university, white chocolate buttons appeared in care packages to cure home sickness; there really was no end to their magical healing properties!

care package parcel with love

These care packages were the greatest, most wonderful thing ever! Who doesn’t love to get an unexpected parcel from a love one? And one filled with chocolate is never going to disappoint! Mum crowded these parcels with little stories she’d written about daffodils growing up in the shade of weeds only to finally make it into the light and reveal their beauty to the world; smiling suns beaming from the front of silly cards, trinkets from home and of course, white chocolate buttons. Just as the button tradition had evolved, so too did the care packages; every single Christmas from university right up until she got sick, she sent chocolate advent calenders for both me and my house-mates (even when I had 12 of them!).

chocolate face

In my entire life she had never been sick, sure there was the odd cold here and there and she’d thrown up once from some poorly cooked meat and well let’s not forget that time the entire family got sea sickness on the way to a summer holiday! Well I say the entire family, my dad stood there eating a giant hot dog completely unfazed as the rest of us quickly turned green. The point is, she was a rock, reliable and strong. And then suddenly she wasn’t. I didn’t understand and I’m ashamed to admit it but I was very good about it…

You see, I was angry. I was so, so angry and I didn’t even realise it. It annoyed me that she was sick, how dare she be ill! She was the mother and her job was to look after me! – I just want to interject before I go on because I appreciate that I sound like a spoilt brat here and my mum’s world was filled with so many more things than me and I’m an adult, you know, I pay my bills and go to work and take responsibility and do all that other rubbish stuff you have to do when you grow up but somewhere deep inside, as soon as the core stability in me that my mother represented was shaken, I inadvertently regressed to this toddler mentality and the worst thing was I didn’t even know I was doing it.
So I was angry at her, I had no patience, I was frustrated, I made inappropriate jokes, I refused to accept any of it was real and therefore I didn’t pander in any way, I put my own priorities first, I went out with my friends, I didn’t visit as much as I could have, I switched between reading every thing there was to know and bugging her for ‘what did the doctor say’ when she didn’t want to talk, to then refusing to talk about anything at all when she did.

Not long after she’d first been diagnosed, I was staying for the weekend and she was struggling to swallow even water – the tumour was blocking the bottom of her oesophagus, after two days of this I convinced her to call the doctors, they instructed her to go straight to hospital. She cried in panic and I hugged her. It’s a horrible thing to see your parent cry, I’d only seen her do it once before and that was when I was eight years old and the big fat man bashed into her chair in the cafe at the swimming pool whilst we all sipped from giant mugs of hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows oozing over the brim. He bashed her chair and yelled as if it had been her who had knocked into him. She cried in the car over the steering wheel whilst my brother and I looked at each other not knowing what to do or say and instead just agreed that the fat man was a big mean nasty pants! She cried the hospital day and said it was too soon, she wasn’t ready. I didn’t have my brother to look to for guidance, it was just me and her. So I pretended it was all fine and played cheerfulness because in my head, none of this was real.

hot chocolate

We sat in the hospital that afternoon, she was scared beyond relief. I sat there icy and thinking, and this will sound awful, I sat there thinking, just die. Die now. I don’t want to go through this. I didn’t understand what death meant at that point. How it felt, how much it hurts. I didn’t want her to be dead but if this was the start of her dying I wanted it to be over with as soon as possible, I didn’t want to see her get weaker and weaker, I, and here’s where I’ll sound horribly selfish again, I didn’t want to be caring for her, I wanted to go out and get drunk and wear big sparkly heels to dance the night away in, I didn’t want a dying mother, I didn’t want any of this! So she lay there desperate to live and I sat there wanting it all to be over. The doctor explained she would need a tube in her stomach for a while to help her feed and three doses of chemo. She was going to live but it was going to be hard.

She spent a week in that hospital to get her strength back and then they moved her to the big hospital up the road to have her first dose of chemotherapy. I called the hospital from my desk at work, they’d somehow lost my mum between the hospital moves. Of course they had! After several hours of phoning she turned up on some ward at the big hospital.  Above her bed hung a large sign ‘NBM’ – nill by mouth. Every time the tea cart came round she politely refused the cup of coffee and slice of cake she so desperately wanted. Her neighbour, in the next bed was visited by the female equivalents of Tweedledee and Tweedledum who had brought their sick mum burger king. My mum retched at the smell and washed her mouth with water before spitting it into a pan. I brought her a teddy bear.

teddy fighter

Once home she was bearing up well with the chemo, her stomach tumour had shrunk enough to allow food to pass down the throat, meaning she wouldn’t have to use that horrible feeding tube that detached itself in the middle of the night and soiled the bed sheets with liquid food whilst she slept, only to wake up exhausted from the chemicals killing her cells and having to clean it all up alone in the dark.

By the third dose of chemo her hair was starting to fall out. She asked if I wanted to cut it for her one weekend I was visiting. I pulled away in disgust ‘ugh no!’ I stated without even lifting my eyes from my phone. It was only later as I drove home I realised what she was asking. Her hair was falling out and she didn’t want a stranger to cut it for her. It must take a lot of strength to cut all your hair off, it must take a lot more strength to ask someone to do it for you, I guess cutting the hair makes cancer real, it highlights to the world that you’re sick, it’s a part of your identity, it represents so much and how callous of me to not even recognise it, dismissing the request without even seeing her face.

Guilt is a horrible feeling, it eats at you, clawing away at your insides and there is nothing you can do to change it. I didn’t like her being sick, but she was only sick, she wasn’t dying and if at any point it dawned on me that I wasn’t being as supportive as I should be, I would conclude I’d have years to make it up to her. Only I didn’t and the worst thing? I didn’t get her any white chocolate buttons and every thing that they represented!

 

rawr dinosaur love

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gone with the Wind

It was on the list for the top 100 greatest books of all time that I’m trying to read before I die. It was a good distraction. So I read the book and held her hand and repeatedly stopped to check she was still breathing. Of course I now want to be Scarlet O’Hara, I mean she’s got an acid tongue, an iron will and this belly full of fire; and just like a fire everyone is attracted to her warmth but get too close and she’d burn you alive! You’ve got to admire those attributes in a person! Margaret Mitchell painted Scarlett as selfish and vain but despite her many flaws and her own reluctance, Scarlett always does the right thing even if it in the wrong way but most of all she fights for survival no matter what.

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And Rhett Butler, well don’t even get me started on him! I know he’s just a character in a book but to me, oh my, he simply the most perfect man. Just as flawed as Scarlet. Arrogant and not afraid to be hated, considered a villain by all those around him but a hero in the heart. I’m such a sucker for a good book!

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Any way, there I was swept up in the Civil War, just as Melanie is dying and Scarlet is finally realising what’s important in life and my real life is echoing the words on the page, so much so that book and reality were beginning to blur. It felt much safer in the book than alone in the room counting my mums final breathes, her skin clammy and cold, her eyes rolling uncontrolled. Guns fired down the driveway, the sound of hooped dresses swished along the corridors and my mum’s room filled with the muggy Atlanta summer haze and gun powder smoke, for a moment I was on my way to Tara.

She’d been fighting the devil in her chest all morning, moaning and distressed by some great battle only she could see; one she was loosing. I told her it was ok to let go but somehow I knew her question without her speaking the words, “where was my brother?”.

I told her they were 15 minutes away, she visibly relaxed, knowing she could hold on that bit longer.

My brother and uncle arrived. We sat around her bed. I read my book. My brother played on his phone. My uncle read the news. There wasn’t anything else to do but wait, we’d said all our words.

Somehow you know. You just do. I looked at my uncle and he nodded. The last breath got caught in her throat and then this silvery liquid, like unicorns blood fell from her mouth and with that she was gone. Her neck pulsed for a second whilst the blood continued to pump but that quickly too stopped. I tried really hard to keep in my tears but a couple sneaky buggers escaped. My brother patted my shoulder, I pulled away. I needed to stay very still or I’d shatter into a million pieces and like Humpty Dumpty, you’d never put me back together again.

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The nurse instantly shuffled us away into a waiting room whilst she ‘made the body comfortable’ – my father nicely pointed out later that they would have been blocking up the crevices, you see, after you die all your muscles relax which means that your bowels open and well I guess things can get a bit messy. Death and dying strips away all manners and modesty, we really are all the same at the end, just as we are at the start. My mum was incredibly independent, she’d have hated people looking after her; it’s an example of how strong her mental will was that she was able to do everything for herself right up to that very last morning.

The nurse entered the waiting room –
“We’ve made her comfortable now and you can go in and sit with her for as long as you want to” – I didn’t understand this, as far as I was concerned, that was just a body, skin, bones, cells, atoms, nothing that made up my mum, just the shell she had vacated. Why would anyone want to sit in a room with a dead body?
“We’ll keep the body here for as long as you need us to…until tomorrow” wait what? What happens tomorrow?!
“Have you chosen your funeral director? They’ll need to pick up the body” what, hang on, what, but she’s just died, I don’t have a funeral director, where was I suppose to get one of those? How do I get one of those? it’s a Sunday, who would be open on a Sunday?!
“The nurses can pack up her belongings for you to collect tomorrow or you can take them now?”

My uncle chimed in “you’ll pack up her stuff now won’t you” oh, will I?! Why me? Why didn’t you say my brother would do it? Just because I’m a girl. I don’t want to go back in that room. Don’t make me, I’m scared.
My uncle “I’m going to go say goodbye for a few minutes, then go downstairs, I’ll see you down there in a bit. You don’t seem very upset? Are you ok?” – trying really hard to keep my shit together here, don’t know what I’m suppose to be doing. Don’t want to break down in front of uncle and brother and have awkward hug, just want to be on own or with someone who gets me, mum gets me, want to be with her, oh shit, no she’s dead, ummm who else? Nope, that’s it, damn it, I’m screwed!!
Brother “well I’m going to take myself for a walk, you know, get some air”
They both left me alone in the room. It’d been all of five minute since mum had died and I didn’t know what to do. The Boyfriend sent a text message asking how things were going so I replied “not great, mum’s just died”. I picked up my book and finished ‘Gone with the Wind’.

When I entered the room, the window was open and so were her eyes. She didn’t look like my mum, the body wasn’t my mum.  Every ounce of life had vanished and instantly it was just a body, a dead body, it could have been any dead body. It’s hard to explain but the colour of life just vanished, it’s not that the tone had changed as such but whatever it was that makes you alive also gives you a glow and that body had no glow. In fact it was creepy as hell! I wanted out of there as quick as possible, so I sped around stuffing toothbrush and ‘get well soon’ cards into her overnight bag. I crawled under the bed for her slippers and unplugged her phone. When I eventually made it down the stairs, carrying her belongings, my work stuff, my brothers bag, yesterday’s left over lunch; I looked like a pack horse, you know the donkey’s you find in little Greek fishing villages, the ones that carry heavy loads up cobbled streets? Well that was me.
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I left my uncle and brother to say their goodbyes and headed to my mum’s house for the first shower in four days. Her dog and cat seemed unusually sad, they knew. As I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, I watched as tears formed; just at that moment the bathroom light flashed, something it had never done before or since. I felt my mum’s presence flying over the house as if to say ‘I’m ok now’. I’m not one for signs so I simply got in the shower and let the hot water try to wash away the days, a job it failed.

I sat on her bed numb whilst the dog and cat fought for who could get closest. I messaged my friends and told them not to call. I didn’t particularly feel anything, I put her clothes into piles of charity, Ebay and rubbish. I arranged a funeral director. My brother called her friends.

And just as Scarlett declares at the end of Gone with the Wind ‘tomorrow is another day’ only for me, tomorrow seemed impossible.

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Dyslexic deathbeds

I made little zooming noises as we spun around the hospital corridors, the Formula 1 driver to her wheelchair Ferrari. She rolled her eyes and laughed when I crashed us into the doctor’s doorway.

Formula one fast car vintage car

Her arm ached but the scan showed it cancer free, delighted she clutched my hand and beamed. She didn’t seem to hear the doctor explain that although there were no tumours in the arm there was everywhere else.

I didn’t want her to go in the hospice. The only way people come out of a hospice is in a body bag. Plus she was going to die next year, not now, we had Christmas, my 30th, holidays, days, months, years left, not now, this was all far too soon!

“It’s just to sort out the medication, to see what’s working and what’s not, I’ll be in for a week, that’s all. We’re not there yet, it’s just a week” she assured me. I didn’t want her to be in pain but we weren’t ready to throw the towel in yet!

The hospice was an old Georgian building located next to a field full of sheep, you could hear their ‘baa’s’ all through the night. The women’s institute sold cheese scones for visitors and nurses’ supplied morphine and cups of tea in equal measure.

I visited on the Friday and then spent the weekend flying over London in a helicopter for work. She wasn’t interested.

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People change when they get really sick. Perhaps they run out of energy or maybe chemicals alter in the body and it becomes a matter of self preservation, who knows! Over the last month of her life emails came and went, phone calls and visits; slowly she stopped asking how I was, stopped showing any interest in my life at all. This probably sounds selfish but it came as a shock, it was the first time in my life that my mum didn’t care. I know of course she did but it wasn’t so present. I was losing her before she left.

We spoke on the Monday night, I told her about the helicopter ride and she talked about friends who had visited. They were going to keep her in a few more days to review and then she’d be home again. On Tuesday morning they called me at work, things had changed over night. And just like that, it was time.

We spent 4 days in the hospice. She was hyped up on morphine and talked about the painting of the man and girl whilst pointing at the open window. She wanted lucozade. I applied lip balm and jolted awake in the middle of the night from my chair in the corner, waiting with baited breath, heart caught in my mouth for her chest to rise and fall. I played her classical music which felt inappropriate when rise of the Valkyries played. We had conversations and I held her hand. Most of the time though, I worked on my laptop and she slept.

The hospice was a strange place. Children played in the hallway. Visitors carried flowers and fruit baskets back and forth.  A giant who reminded me of the BFG, doubled over with age, wearing a worn leather motorbike waistcoat would pass in the corridor, he’d wink as if I were his comrade keeping the secret of his sneaky smokes. I imagined him throwing caution to the wind in his youth, tearing down some highway in Utah. His cough got worse over the week.

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The last night, she got up and took her self to the toilet. At 3 in the morning she asked me a question, I didn’t hear it so she started spelling it out.  All these letters came at me, only I’m dyslexic and I didn’t understand. My particular type of dyslexia is hearing related, I can hear perfectly well but my brain has trouble communicating with my tongue. I have to see information to take it in, rather than hear it. If you’re spelling a word I need to trace the letter into my hand with my finger so I can picture the shape and try to workout what it is. This also means I’m utterly useless at rhythm, sequence, languages, clapping in time (unless I follow others with my eyes – slightly awkward at concerts!) and well a multitude of other things. It does mean I’m great at seeing patterns and solutions which others don’t, I remember facts and stories, I see the big picture, I have a great sense of direction. That’s the thing with dyslexia, you spend your whole childhood believing your stupid because basic tasks like tying your shoes and reading a clock face takes so much longer to master than everyone else but you’ll be so much more creative or gifted in other ways, it’s just hard to work out the balance.

Any way, mum started spelling out what she wanted. I didn’t have a clue so she started again but this just made things worse because I didn’t know where the word started or ended. I’ve never felt so dyslexic in my life! I flashed right back to those times in school when you look up from the test and everyone else is head down, scribbling away and you can’t even understand the question. Your cheeks flash hot red and you want the ground to swallow you up whilst you cry in desperation and sheer panic.

harry potter ron weasley panicking

“Can you get that for me pet?” my mum asked
“Get what? What is it you need? I don’t know what you want? I don’t understand, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.” I despaired

Suddenly you’re five years old, standing in the dark and your mum is asking for something on her death bed and you have no idea what it is. I got her some more morphine and hoped it would suffice.

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Storm in a teacup

I wasn’t familiar with the whole grief thing, I presumed you cried for a bit, got a little sad, maybe lost a bit of weight (like on the break up diet), people tell you how sorry they are (which you don’t understand because it’s not like they gave your mum cancer but then what is the right thing to say?), after a while you quietly miss the person and then life goes on. Well let me tell you, that is not how things work! Oh no, no no no! You think you’re doing just fine and WHAM, out of nowhere, slap to the face and before you know it you’re going all kinds of bat shit crazy! (we’ll get to that in future posts).  For now, I thought I’d tell you what grief felt like for me…

wham batman slap

Imagine if you will, you’re sitting in a beautiful old English tea room in some forgotten corner of London, delicately sipping at your bone china cup.
Ok fine, you’re in Starbucks drinking lukewarm coffee from a cardboard mug – same thing! When out of nowhere – a smell, a song, a picture, the way someone tilts their head, the back of that ladies head over there, anything and everything and all of a sudden these waves are flooding in from each corner of the room preparing to engulf you.

The next thing you know, you’re floating in the middle of the ocean all alone, gently rising and falling with the waves. Sounds tranquil right? Well no! It would be terrifying to find yourself in the middle of the ocean when you were just one second ago in the middle of a tea room/coffee shop!

waves water sky

You attempt to scream but the wind steals your voice. So you panic. The more you panic the stronger the waves get and you fall and spin and get tangled in your own limbs and you’re scared. Really fucking scared!
Great purple clouds tear apart the sky, it roars and deafens you as white hot electric flashes of anger serge through the cloud’s vein’s. And you thrash and try to fight the sea. Sharks brush your legs whilst horse hooves break over your head. And it’s too much and you can’t cope and flesh is torn from your bones and you’re left exposed and empty.

They took my mums stomach you know? And some of her oesophagus, oh and a chunk of her gullet. Then they stitched her back together and told us she was fine. They lied. The waves took my stomach, they tore straight through me and left nothing inside.

violent waves

Eventually you get too weak to fight, there is nothing left so you forget how to breath and allow yourself to sink.

It’s eerily peaceful beneath the swell. Tiny bubbles escape, forming silk strings, suspending you like a frozen puppet in murky waters. The storm rages above but you’re safe beneath the surface. There is this strange sort of freedom. It’s ok to stay on the couch watching Disney movies all day, replaying that one song over and over again ‘now I’ve seen the light and it’s like the foggggg hasss lifteddddd’, you can eat the whole pot of Ben and Jerry’s with extra chocolate sauce and whipped cream, it’s acceptable to stay in bed ALL day and who cares if it takes you four days to reply to a text message. None of this matters because you’re broken to your core and that means you can go do anything you want. You’re free and nothing can hurt you any more; you’re unstoppable and you’re going to conquer the world!! Only that all takes effort so instead you play that Disney song again and open another bar of chocolate and sit there cold because getting up for a blanket is too much effort.

under water girl

Sadly, at some point the ocean spits you back out.

When you finally look up, all around you people are eating biscotti, wiping foam moustaches from their lips, instagramming the misspelt name on their Grande Latte and your friend is still debating which chair cover to choose for her upcoming wedding, completely unaware of the trauma you’ve just sailed through. Those tiny waves ripping across the surface of your drink leaving you more alone than you can ever bear.

storm in a tea cup

End of the start part 2

Rightio then, (rightio?! Bloody el I’m British! – and cockney apparently).

ImagePost funeral madness… If you read my last post, you’ll remember I’d just delivered a rather successful funeral speech and was playing the bereaved daughter terribly badly (just to reassure you, the grief kicked in a few months later with quite the punch).
So there I was, bouncing from person to person, smiling manically as if it was my mum’s surprise party, not her funeral and the guest of honour was simply running late.

Whilst we were waiting for everyone else to arrive at the wake an old lady sporting candy floss pink hair beckoned me over to her table. “You won’t remember me but I used to look after your old dog Cleo when your mum went on holiday”.

Ah Barbara. Yes, I remembered Barbara. When my mum first moved to the village Barbara had indeed looked after Cleo the wonder dog, well until Barbara tried to groom Cleo – Cleo wasn’t the kind of dog you groomed.

ImageFacts about Cleo –

  • Silent but deadly farts, strong enough to wilt even the most resilient house plants
  • Ate everything
  • Slept at the foot of the bed
  • Snored. Loudly
  • A walk wasn’t complete without a roll in sheep shit

Cleo had a bad experience as a puppy at a groomers so after that, the only people allowed near her with a brush were my mum and I. Barbara ignored this advice, Cleo didn’t like it and nipped Barbara’s arm. Barbara hit Cleo so hard with a brush Cleo ended up chewing a chair leg until her mouth bled. After that, my mum never let Barbara near Cleo again.

You know that busybody who is in every committee, book club, village fete planners etc etc? Well that was Barbara, so sadly for my mum, there was no getting away from her.

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Me – “oh, yes, I, I remember you” over the top smile trying to mask hatred for dog attacker
Barbara – “yes, I still have this scar to remind me of Cleo” points to tiny pin prick mark on arm
Me – “err, sorry about that” looks around desperately for escape route
Barbara – “yes, your dog Cleo used to lick the hair around my dog Button’s willy. Oh it used to get so tangled I’d have to get the hair detangle spray and brush it all out” motions brushing hair around dog’s willy
Me – “err, sorry about that?” what the fuck?!
Barbara – “it’s funny what you remember about people isn’t it, when I think of your mum, I think of my dog’s willy”
Meshocked face, did you really just say that! But before I can react….
Barbara – “it’s terribly sad though because my poor dog Buttons died a week ago”
Me – “Ummm oh, I’m sorry” MY MUM DIED A WEEK AGO AND YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT YOUR DEAD DOG’S WILLY AGHHHHHHHHHH

Barbara also spoke to my mum’s neighbour Mike. Older women seem to like Mike. He’s no spring chicken himself but he’d managed to escape settling down right into his 50’s and I guess these women all think they can be the one to tame him, maybe it’s the George Clooney appeal, only he doesn’t look like George Clooney but that doesn’t stop women chasing after him. Any way, Barbara told Mike about her weekend away the previous week (I presume to get over Button’s passing) where Barbara and her husband had spend the entire time naked in their caravan. Mike had the distinct impression he was being invited to join them on their next trip.

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Barbara caught me as she was leaving, seizing my wrists with both hands “well, have a good life then” she instructed, eyes burrowing into mine. I got the feeling she really didn’t mean it.

After I’d escaped the the willy conversation, my brother asked everyone to raise their glasses to my mum’s memory.
Martyn wanted to say a few words too…
Martyn was one of the founding members of the theatre group my mum set up in the village. A man in his late 30’s, average height and slim, with a feedom to his movements, like he needed to express his words, not just say them.

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Martyn rose, shook out his body, shuffled his papers, coughed, cracked his neck and then marched into the centre of the room to say his piece.
Only these two old men stood up just as Martyn was reaching the centre “no, no no, that’s not how you do it, you need to look more remorseful, bow your head! Go back and do it again”.
Martyn returned to his starting place, coughed, shaked his body, dramatically turned his head to the side, looked down very remorsefully and then approached the centre again. The two old men rose “no, no, no, now you’re over playing it, try looking like you want to cry but stiff upper lip old chap, try again”. Martyn returned to the starting place, he shuffled back and forth following the old men’s instructions on how to play the part. When the two old men were finally satisfied that Martyn looked suitably remorseful yet inspired, sad but holding it together, etc etc he reached the middle “Oh, I’ve forgot what I was going to say after all, never mind” exclaimed Martyn. The two old men “oh good grief” they exasperated. Everyone clapped.

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It was very surreal, half the room didn’t have a clue what was going on having all come from different periods of my mums life and not understanding this was a theatre performance. People stared at me, their eyes asking ‘what is going on?’ as I smiled back ‘no fucking clue!’. But my mum would have loved it.

A small mix of family and friends piled back to my mum’s house. My uncle drank too much and asked what we were doing with various belongings of my mums and could he have them. My brother put my nephew to bed. A few of us sat outside and reminisced about the terrible music which had invaded house parties at my mum’s house during the summer holidays from uni (I draw your attention in particular to numbers 2, 5, 8, 10, 13 & 25 on this list and let’s not forget this European classic! – gets in your head that one!).

We swapped memories – The Christmas party where my brothers group and my group fell back to our house once the pub had closed to find my mum having a party with the neighbours, having exhausted the vodka supply we attempted to mix Baileys and coke (I’m not sure why), don’t try it, it curdles and forms this sticky, brown sludge. We had a food fight and rubbed it into the walls.
The house party we had when she was on a business trip, we thought we’d fully cleaned up after the party, until upon her return, she quietly pointed to some vodka jelly hanging off a picture and with a knowing smiled asked if we had a good night?
The time we got a new cat, my brother returned from the pub, a little worse for wear, walked in the back door clutching the cat to his chest, declaring he’d found her across the road only to see my mum, uncle, myself and various others all stare at him amused as our cat, with perfect comic timing, wandered into the kitchen and meowed. My brother stared at our cat and then stared at the cat in his arms before heading back out through the back door without another word.
How she’d find my shoes on the doorstep after a night out (I presume I put them down to unlock the door, having already removed them from my feet for relief from the blister pain).
On my 21st birthday, my friend Kirree and I decided to recount our night at 3am with permanent ink on the wooden breadboard and how my mum continued to use that board until the ink eventually faded to nothing.

Once the night grew old, everyone drifted back to their haunts and I was left wondering ‘what now?’.

 

 

 

End of the start part 1

If it had been left up to me, we would have played one of the following –

  • Burn baby burn
  • Highway to hell
  • Ring of fire
  • Wanted, dead or alive
  • It’s getting hot in here
    (I can’t read any of these without singing them)

I could go on but you get the point.
I’m not trying to imply my mother’s funeral was anything to be celebrated, quite the contrary, my mother was incredibly awesome. You know when Peter Pan lost his shadow? Well that’s what living without a mother feels like, as if a part of you is missing, only Wendy can’t sew you back together this time.
ImageMy mum was being cremated so I thought a song about fire would lighten the mood. You know, a bit of comedy value on a depressing day? Sadly my brother and uncle didn’t feel the same.

I wanted everyone in bright colours, a brass band, balloons, a bouncy castle, fireworks, jelly and icecream – actually maybe I just wanted my 5th birthday again (although I didn’t have a brass band or fireworks – who has those at a 5th birthday?!). I wanted it to be a celebration of her life, not a mourning of her death. I wanted everyone to get drunk and something dramatic to happen and the gallant knight to come rescue me as I cried dramatically, yet beautifully over a gravestone; I wanted everyone to get drunk and share stories – I wanted the film version of a funeral!
(For the record, when I die, my funeral will be EPIC! Everyone has to come as 80’s/90’s cartoon characters! Best.Funeral.Ever!).
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This is what actually happened…
The day after she died I went back to work. The biggest event of my entire career just happened to coincide with my mother death. So she died, I worked, I managed 84 hours of work in 4 days, the event was a huge success, I didn’t drop any balls. The very next day I went to my mums funeral. We wore black.

The boyfriend and I fought on the drive about traffic and grey skies, the radio played that Simon and Garfunkel song I’d become obsessed with as a 3 years old and made my mother play on repeat to and from playschool; I didn’t know how to act so I burst into the house saying ‘who’s ready for a funeral’ as if we were going to a funfair or a day at the seaside.

I begged my brother to let me hold my new baby nephew so there would be a barrier between me and people trying to hug me but my sister-in-law had already masterminded that one and wasn’t giving up the baby!
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“Weeeeeee are herrrrreeee todayyyyyy” – the minister’s voice drawled in a most irritating fashion. I wanted to laugh.

My uncle’s speech was highly emotive, about childhood and friendship. My nephew gurgled and friends cried, I looked everywhere but the coffin. My boyfriend insisted on sitting at the back so I held my own hand.
My mum’s best friend, an actress, performed her speech with great gusto lacking only the jazz hands but even those wouldn’t have held back her tears. And then it was my turn…

You know that episode of Sex and the City with Miranda’s mum’s funeral? You probably don’t know it but stick with me here!…Well the funeral minister (in the episode) kept talking about Miranda and her husband (she wasn’t married or even in a relationship), it just made the whole thing worse for Miranda.
Only 3 films/TV episodes ever made me cry growing up – that Sex and the City episode, ‘The Family Stone’ and ‘Uptown Girls’ – an odd combination I know. And nothing else got a tear out of me, not ‘ET’, ‘The Last of the Mohican’s’, Bambi’s mum dying, ‘Beaches’, nothing! My friends would call me ‘dead inside’ but now, well, if I’m on my own then a toilet paper advert will set me off – those bloody puppies chasing that roll around, every time! There is no stopping the tears! Any way, I diverge, back to the funeral…
Image(This seemed better viewing than an Andrex Puppy picture!)

 

So the minister calls me up – “Annnndddd I’dddd nowww likeeee to invitteee her daughtterrrrrr Betty to comme say a feww wordssss”

Only my name isn’t ‘Betty’! Nothing wrong with the name Betty but it’s not my name! (that’s the Sex and the City moment if you were waiting for it).

So up I pop. I’ve spoken in public before but only at work when I’m telling people their roles on an event (did I mention I’m an events manager? well just in case you were wondering) but that’s work and it’s different and most of these people have known me since I was born, or in my awkward teenage years which I never really grew out of or as an adult who would call her mum at 3am drunk to discuss the highs and lows of the night because she knew her mum would answer and agree that her friend was being unreasonable to have gone home with that not so hot guy and left me to get a taxi on my own and of course chips and cheese didn’t have any calories in it when you’re drunk. Sorry, I diverged again there.
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I started my speech with “Ahhh shit!” – a solid opener, don’t you agree?!

And then went on to talk about how my mum rode a motorbike to school (she was a teacher – you really are learning a lot about my life today!) and had a book published on mathematics and took a gun off a kid who was swinging it around the playground and built a school in Gambia and hiked the Himalayas and travelled the world and made films and set up theatre groups and well, all the other incredible things she did but mostly I talked about how she never let anything stand in the way and always made things happen and that we should all learn from her and do the same. I guess it ended up being more of a pep-rally than anything.
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I like to think I nailed the funeral speech (I’m available for weddings, funerals and retirement parties)! As such I was so relived I made it through, oddly proud I’d been the only one not to cry and maybe I felt a little bit drunk on the power of it all; I ended up a tiny bit hyper active with this manic smile on my face like I’d just won the 100 meters. I’m not sure anyone quite knew what to say to me, especially when they were crying and I was bouncing about. This would be one of those times that I wish I knew what was the socially acceptable way to behave!
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We haven’t even gotten to the wake yet! Which for the record includes tales of dog penis’, amateur dramatics, nudists in caravans and 90’s euro pop but that will all have to wait until next time.

 

The beginning of the end

When you’re standing in a toilet in King’s Cross station staring at an unwanted positive pregnancy test, you kind of have to wonder how you got there. Not literally, I mean, I know I got the train to St Pancras International, crossed the road to King’s Cross station, brought the test, pee’d on the stick and waited for those two little blue lines to appear; what I meant is how I ended up at that point in my life, but then you knew that so I’ll continue….

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The problem with your 20’s is you still feel 18, it’s years until you hit 30; by which point you’re suppose to have your shit together; you know, the house, the husband, kids, successful job, blah blah blah. Only it doesn’t happen like that. What actually happens is you find yourself on the wrong side of 25, Sundays are spent on the couch with ever worsening hangovers, you’ve still got no idea what you want to do when you grow up, you’re not a millionaire but you know you’d be just darling at it if you ever got round to actually buying that lottery ticket, you find yourself living with a man who is perfectly nice but a long way from the one, the week before pay day sees you poorer than when you were a student and hours are lost hitting refresh on the Glastonbury website for tickets you never manage to get.

You’re not successful, you don’t own property, you have no savings, you have too many shoes, you haven’t travelled, you’re slowly climbing the career ladder unsure if it’s the right one but… these are all things you will think about tomorrow.

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And then you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be; who knew protection was so important?! So you book the appointment before you can really think about it.

The day you have the abortion also turns out to be the same day your mum gets diagnosed with cancer and life is never going to be the same after that.

I was doing ok. Work was manic of course, they restructured the department which meant no one knew if they had a job or not, just a little stressful, I was ok. The boyfriend and I continued to have screaming fights but I was ok. Mum was batting through chemo, I wasn’t visiting enough, I still had time, I’d make it up to her later I told myself. I was keeping things together, I WAS OK!  But then the boyfriend announced he was going to move to another city which would make me single and homeless. Single and homeless and unsure if I’d have a job the next month and my mum was dying, probably not so ok anymore.

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So I cried. I never used to cry. I didn’t know what people did when they cried. A walk seemed like a logical idea, get some air, clear the head sort of thing. Only you know that mental person you cross the street to avoid? Well that was me. Just wandering around, crying, as you do.

I found a bench in a park, sat there and I wept. That proper gross crying with snot and weird noises that bubble out of you from somewhere deep inside your throat. The really unattractive crying that is never seen in films! Uncontrollable sobs, gulping for air and dramatic sniffs. No hot man appeared and put his arm around me as I’d been led to believe in every chick flick ever made!

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It was just me, the bench and a night view across London – which makes it sound slightly romantic. It wasn’t, it was cold and I was snotty.

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Then a funny thing happened. This cat appeared. How often do you see a cat at the top of a hill in a park? Not often is the answer!

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Then another cat approached.

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And then another. It was some freaking cat convention!

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It was about then that I realised I was a woman, alone, crying in the dark, sitting on a bench, surrounded by cats. That’s got to be a low point right?!

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