This year has been a challenging one. The last six months have thrown up two life situations that have been full of difficulty, but at the same time laced with possibility and learning. The first three months were dominated by a short term contract in a Welsh school to support pupils to develop their own website. The experiences there are for another time. For now, I want to focus upon the last three months which have been shaped by my Mum’s car accident and subsequent death. My early thoughts on this experience were shared in For Dying Out Loud, but I thought it would be helpful to share (for me and hopefully you) how the first few weeks after her death have played out.
I think it is fair to say that I am a little woozy at present – recovering from a small operation and still processing Mum’s death. I write this in the hope that it will bring me greater acceptance and clarity, as I’m sure it will. Let me start with our second trip to Canada, which was actually booked long before Mum’s accident, but has been perfectly timed, after her death to follow her wishes to celebrate her life.
However, before the celebration of Mum’s life we had other instructions to follow. Mum had decided that she would be cremated at a local provider. The basic arrangements were agreed and paid for, even the transport of her body from the hospital was organised. Kim just had to pick up her remains, and then we had to decide how we would meet Mum’s request about the disposal of her ashes. Mum had no desire for a grave or marking of a place to remember her, she desired her ashes to be scattered over ‘flowing water’. Ignoring the helpful advice that ‘a toilet would meet the brief’, we decided to scatter them in Mission Creek, a river that runs through the city along a walk that Mum loved, known as the Greenway. Eventually, we found a suitable bridge and Kim and I took it in turns to take a handful of ashes and scatter them with a few personal thoughts. I did not feel any great goodbye during this. I found it difficult to connect this gritty, sandlike stuff to my Mum, I understood the significance of the action, but it already felt like I had said goodbye.
And so to the Celebration of Life. It’s helpful during the early days after the departure of a loved one to focus on the organisation of what has to follow. This gives us a purpose and a rock to cling to, whilst the river of life is coursing past. I don’t believe that we don’t then think about how painful it is, but that we are doing something positive that both keeps us occupied and makes us feel useful. I can’t say that I did a lot of that! Kim did most of the work, but come the day of the Celebration of Life everybody pitched in.
One of the key features of Mum’s celebration was colour. The venue and everybody attending had to be colourful. Mum had, for decades, worn bright colours, often rocking the one colour look from head to toe that is now apparently trendy! So, the rule was, wear bright clothes, turquoise being the best choice. Most people wore their brightest clothes, sometimes if that didn’t quite rock our boat they were given one of Mum’s colour coordinated hats, just to hit that spot.
The whole event was held and led by a new friend of Mum’s, Corrine. Mum had met this wonderful lady whilst she was in ICU in Kelowna Hospital and very confused. Corrine supported Mum to understand where she was and how she could move through this challenging situation. Corrine and Mum came from the same place, when it came to making spiritual sense of our world, so it made perfect sense for Mum to ask Corrine to lead us through the celebration of her life service. Kim and I both shared our own thoughts and stories, an essential part of coming to terms with our loss, and we also had many photos from her life on display – including a slideshow of original images from the 1960s, some of which were taken in Canada.
After the event the immediate family and friends went out for a big meal, and a couple of celebratory drinks. “To Mum!” we cheered. And the next stage of life commenced, although we didn’t really notice. I am not sure that I have completely tuned into the fact that she is not here to tell me I am a terrible correspondent, or ask where the photos are I said that I would send her last month. I know I miss her reading posts like this and pointing out all my typos! Sometimes I forget that she is not around anymore, thinking we haven’t spoken for a while, before I remember that is no longer possible.
The absence is strange. Our parents and siblings are our longest relationships, when they leave this world part of them remains, in our memories and our hearts. It is this that we must cultivate in our own way, finding a way to hold any pain with compassion for our loss. It is perhaps a little easier when this loss is that of a parent who has lived many years. The loss of someone much younger, unexpectedly and before the natural point is far more traumatic. The confusion and raw, visceral pain must be maginfied manifold, but I believe that the living through it remains the same. Compassion, love and kindness is the antidote for grief. How we find those in ourselves when we feel our hearts are torn open is the challenge. Perhaps, the knowledge that they are always there, no matter what, is a small starting point. We may not be able to imagine this truth, we may need much support and guidance to re-discover them, but they are there and they will surface, even if scars may still remain. This is a truth.