A space to remember mums, grans and great nans we have lost.
story of mum wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Loz. I know if she were still around, she'd be spurring me on, joining in, making amazing things happen. When I first had the idea, and dismissed it - I thought of her. And decided, in her spirit, to give it a go. And here we are.
But sadly she isn't here. And I miss her. And as we get close to launching the site, I miss her more. Because I would love to show her what we've made. But more than that, I would love to show her her two beautiful little boys, her lovely husband, her family, her friends, the love that remains strong in her wake.
When I was pregnant with my first child, Loz told me I could call her any time, day or night. She said that the night might be the time I felt worst, found it hardest, and I could call her, no matter what time it was - even if all I wanted to do was swear or cry. I never called her at 3am - but through those difficult exhausting frustrating nights, I knew I could - and that helped me immensely. She taught me that you're not a failure if you struggle - it would be weirder if you didn't.
In the daytime, I did ask Loz for help - for tips on feeding, baby ailments, nappies, relationships, whatever my latest crisis might be. My boy was (and still is) always dressed in her sons' hand-me-downs. Much of my parenting was (and still is) influenced by her generous hand-me-down advice. She told me to always get three people's advice on anything and then make up my own mind based on which voice felt right to me. Her voice still sings loudly in my head.
She was an inspiration and role model for how to juggle family and work - balancing her baby on her hip at board meetings, living in a deliciously messy house, and managing to hold four conversations at once. I can still see her sitting in my front room with the boys racing around – Loz has just brought round another huge bag full of clothes for Jago, Max is playing with the pop-up ball, and Jasper is coming in for a breastfeed. We’re drinking herbal tea and eating vegan flapjacks and lemon cake, while Loz and I manage to carry on a half intelligent conversation about work and life and love.
When she went, it was sudden, immediate, no time to prepare. The shock has waned now, but the loss is still very current. I think about her often - the moments I would like to share with her so much, but can't. I am so sad she is gone but so glad to have known her friendship.
Loz was a gentle spark that set all sorts of wonderful things in motion. Always moving yet somehow calm. Generous with her time, her advice, her smiles and her energy. She was a fantastic mum, and an amazing friend. She loved making eccentric (sometimes positively disturbing!) things, making films, and making other people's lives better. She was vibrant, creative and passionate. I hope she would be proud of what we've made here.
To Loz, with love.
What can I say, where can I begin? Ok. I will begin with 3 butterflies who appeared this week fluttering around the back door, seeming to try to get in and ‘speak’ to me. I have a strong feeling that ‘old friends’ often appear as butterflies. These were quite insistent and had been ‘knocking’ at the window the day before also. This time I stopped what I was doing, went outside, and talked to the butterflies, who sat clutching the brick wall at the back of the house, against the wind and soaking up the autumn sunshine. I knew immediately that one of the butterflies ‘was’ Caroline, who died 2 years ago, too young. Her birthday is this weekend, November 5th, and I felt she was appearing to check up on her 3 children who live just over the lane with their amazing dad, Adam. Caroline asked for her memorial event to be held in our garden, and it is from here that the butterflies keep coming. So tragic to die with 3 young children, and such a strong message about the shortness of life, and the imperative of getting on with one’s dreams. She was (and is) an incredible mother figure who balanced her career, as a social worker, and being a mother and wife, emanating love, concern and very clear boundaries. I often envied her ability to sit in the garden and read, to take her space and read, as her children laid the table, or played, or read themselves. She held them close, yet created and demonstrated her own space. So much younger than I, yet a very close friend and role model. I miss her very much and continue to watch her children grow, as I told her I would.
Another of the butterflies was ‘clearly’ Gabrielle, a colleague who died 5 years ago and who at that time helped me deal with her loss through arriving and sitting with me often, as a butterfly. She was an essential part of my philosophical and intellectual growth, yet also exasperating! A true genius who wasn’t quite on the ground. As a mother I think her daughters found her too distant and chaotic partly because she chose her theatre-dance career over every thing, and she really didn’t enjoy the earthly ‘messiness’ of motherhood. Much later, when ill, I think finally she and her 2 daughters found ways of reconciling their losses and appreciations.
The third butterfly flitted in and out and did not settle and I was curious wondering if it was my friend Bina, whose husband was an artist whose retrospective we had recently seen, a mother of 2 grown women; daughters who had grown up alongside our daughter in east London. However, soon afterwards that day it became clear that this butterfly who did not cling so tight to the wall was my dear childhood friend Mariko, from Japan, who took her life nearly 2 years ago and whose daughter I had arranged to skype that very day. I got the time wrong and was suddenly jolted into this realization when her daughter rang. Mariko’s daughter and I have been in touch via skype for the past 2 years during which time she herself has become a mother …without a mother. And she is doing well through difficult times. She told me that Mariko (who was so special to me when I was 8 -12 years old when in the USA and with whom I stayed in touch and re-met in Tokyo nearly 40 years later) had kept a baby diary covering events of her daughter’s first 4 years. What a gift!! Especially if your mother is not there to ask… when did I first walk? Was I a fussy eater? What was my first word? Etc.
So, November and warm autumnal butterflies and memories and mothers . There are others who did not appear that day, yet who are still warm in my heart: I wish to honour , my mum and grand mum ( about whom my daughter Pippa has already written) and friends Beatrice and of course, young Loz …. Perhaps I can write more on each of these extra ordinary mother-women another time.
Jean, died suddenly in 2006. Feels like yesterday. I still call you when I have news but you don't pick up. You left me without a picture of your life. Your stories died with you and your photos can't help me tell the grandson you never met how incredible you were. So, see what I did? I created a place where families can preserve their stories and memories as a legacy for their kids, all in chronological order, the way life happens. The boys now know all about you, AND all about me, so that on the day when I leave them bereft they will have a record of the times we spent together and the memories we made, to treasure forever. You did that. I miss you. I hope you can hear me and I hope you know that my heart has a hole which can never be filled. xxx www.saveeverystep.com
I'm sharing a poem I wrote after my Gran's death many years ago as the best way for me to sum up how she was and how she inspired me. It was read at her funeral by my Uncle.
I always looked forward to visiting Ginty and Pop - first in Luxembourg (home of exotic croissant breakfasts on their city balcony, sugared almonds from an elderly neighbour, and trips to ride artificial horses through the woods in the eccentric Bettembourg Park), on my first ever parent-free trip to Canada with my brother for Christmas (frozen lakes, ice-skating on puddles in moon-boots, a crazy number of TV channels and quiz-shows relished in a tiny doily-laden room with Grancy, my Great-Gran), and then back home on the Isle of Arran (sunset-chasing of course, endless shark-spotting though we never saw one, steamy tearooms for cake on wet miserable days, bacon sandwiches, a warm fire and word-games after a long hike).
Ginty worked as a translator during the war, fluent in French and German. My mum has passed on a collection of war-time letters from Ginty's first love who was killed, a cousin of Pop who she eventually married. I haven't been able to bring myself to read the letters yet.
Somehow Ginty seemed to fit wherever she lived, supporting her local community, a hub of social activities like the regular French Club for wine and conversation, or an Easter egg hunt in her huge garden overlooking the sea. As she grew older and less agile, she remained fascinated by what was going on in the world outside her cottage - she loved to hear about the music we were listening to and the 'talent' we were chasing at the Island's 'Shiski Diski'. I have an abiding memory of dancing together in a hug in her front room to Sorry by Tracy Chapman. Her world was small but her mind was wide and I loved hanging out with her. She inspired me to stay open to others' experiences, to treasure the magic of small moments and good company, and to eat cake when it rains.
For some time now
she's found it hard to hold the wheel
her bony fingers like bunched petals
closed to the falling night.
Today we've basked in the sun
but now it stoops to blind us through the windscreen as we race towards the sea.
We chase sunsets like others chase tornadoes
clasped in the palm of the moment.
The car brakes, spitting up stones.
We've found our spot and are still.
Beyond, the hills.
Seagulls circle, calling in the hovering sun.
She says "Who needs strong legs when you have the whole sky?"
takes my hand and we fold a silhouette.
Birds settle over rock pools and hold their breath with us
as the sun slips beyond the hills.
Now red clouds reach clenched hands towards us and watch themselves
slowly open in the mirror of the sea.
The birds have flown
replaced in the air by a chill.
I find I'm alone and close my eyes.
Only to find the sun imprinted on my lids, reminding me.
To chase again tomorrow.
If you were still here, I would have driven up country. I wish I had gone more often, visiting you more. You were such a great mum. This week we got a new kitten....you would have loved her mum. Shes on my lap as I type. Email from Cam today. Still missing mum and dad. Like we all do.
I am so grateful to my amazingly creative mum for not having a TV and building a puppet theatre, creating puppet plays for me and my brother and friemnds so we had something much more exciting to do than watch TV! She built another puppet theatre for our sons and inspired one of them to become a professional puppeteer.
It may be seen as cheating to include an Aunt here. Well not when I tell you of my "second mum". My Aunty Jenny was born perfectly normal, then when she was very young she contracted polio. She nearly died.
She was abused by someone close to her when she was young.
She was my dad's twin, my mum always joked that when she married my dad she married Jenny too, she came on every holiday with us.
She never recovered from Polio, it caused her to be seriously disabled throughout her life. She spent her childhood in hospitals, having countless operations. She finally learned to walk with two callipers for short distances. She was paralysed in her left arm and only had 80% use in her right.
As she got older she developed other illnesses.
My Grandparents were very protective of her, she went away to college but she returned to live with them afterwards. She never married.
She only had one serious relationship and he cheated on her and despite their engagement it turned out her was married. His name was Jack Renoulf and I hated him.
Throughout mine and my sister's childhood she was always there. She would dress us up like dolls, do our hair and paint our faces, my mother didn't like it but we thought we looked beautiful.
She always took us on holiday and told us we were the daughters she could never have (she had had a hysterectomy when much younger).
When my Nana died she stayed with Granddad and when he got ill she cared for him.
While I was at Uni she sent me money every week to help with rent.
When Granddad died she was on her own. I didn't see her so much, as my now husband had moved in and my sister had a family, although she would have Jenny for stay for six weeks at a time.
She was lonely.
She was getting more and more ill every day and spent large amounts of time in hospital.
She had a stroke and spent a lot of time in a rehab centre.
I had a son, she adored him. She took us on holiday so she could spend time with him.
She moved into a managed flat, a high dependency one with medical staff.
I became pregnant again. We found out it was a girl and told her the same day. She was so excited.
We took her to Longleat for the day for her birthday, she loved it and loved to see Moo enjoying himself. We took her out to dinner. She seemed fine.
She had her 63rd birthday party, she thought it would be her last, it was a massive affair, my Dad was not happy he hates a fuss and always joked it was never his birthday, it was only ever Jenny's. I thought she was talking rubbish. We used to joke Jenny was like the boy who cried wolf, she always thought she was dying, but she was still alive.
I had a hospital appointment. She invited us around for lunch afterwards. We went round, Ed laughed as though she said she would cook, we landed up cooking and he landed up washing up. She loved spending time with Moo. She kept trying to give us money for baby stuff, we said "don't worry, leave it you can get the baby something when it's born". She gave us a yellow cardigan for the baby and a Buzzlight Year towel for Moo.
I thought she was fine.
We went home. One week later there was someone at the door at 11:30 at night. Ed went to see what the hell it was. It was my parents. After ten minutes he came upstairs, I thought we were being burgled.
He was crying
Jenny's dead. HE said
I thought it was a sick joke. HE said it again, crying harder. I couldn't breathe, I screamed. I couldn't stop screaming.
He took me downstairs, my parents were there, crying.
It was August Bank Holiday 2010
I wrote a poem for her funeral. I organised the funeral as everyone else was too grief stricken. I designed and printed all of the Orders of Service.
I thought I was losing my baby due to the stress.
I got more ill.
I gave birth and for her middle name we called her Jennifer
So you see it's not really cheating. The day she died I lost a second mum, I was lucky though as some don't even get one.