There is a flower called hope and she lives in us all
I am sharing something quite different today, so bear with me. Put the kettle on, settle down with a cup of tea and let’s see how we go.
Since the loss of my wonderful Mum three years ago today I have striven to become more ‘me’ in this life. I have taken hope and inspiration as my friends and let myself blossom, no longer hiding away my gifts. As part of this I have begun a journey of words and started writing my first book this year. A book of my tumultuous life in recent years, of inspiration and of helping others. With this in mind and in honour of my Mum today, I am putting myself out there with you. Here is the very first draft of a part of that book.
This is the story of one day in my life that brought hope when I thought there was none
I will resist the urge to say ‘it isn’t perfect, it isn’t very good blah blah’ and instead say I just hope you enjoy the read. Thank you for bearing with me and have a wonderful day x
I had never experienced the funeral of someone I utterly adored and I was frightened and apprehensive of what to expect. I didn’t know how I was supposed to behave; what I should do and say when I felt all eyes would be on my family and our grief. I wanted to show the world how incredible this family was, how we would celebrate Mum’s life and be strong for her. Could I do that?
I awoke early in my bedroom and peeked behind the blind. The early morning sun touched my hand whilst family members were waking up in the rooms around me. I could hear them all amid the quiet atmosphere in the house and listened as they rose and trooped upstairs for breakfast. My family were starting the day as they meant to go on; together, loved and as one. The laughter of my two young nephews and niece filled the air upstairs. Their footsteps thundered across the kitchen floor and brought life to us all when we needed it most. I knew they missed their Gran terribly but they smiled their innocence and lived for the day. Strange things happened that morning as we moved around one another in the house with hushed gestures. Electric appliances failed time and again, switches ceased working. We just knew mum was with us and keeping us on our toes. I could see the sparkle in Dad’s eyes returning for a moment as he thought of mum sending him jobs to do by causing these failures. We shared a moment and laughed. Mum knew Dad needed to always be kept busy, especially in her absence.
As I looked at my reflection in my warm, sunshine filled bedroom I placed a silver heart pendant around my neck and pulled my new dress on over my head. The beautiful pendant sat with its pink beads just next to my heart and I knew my sister would be placing her identical pendant over her heart. Mum had asked that we wear bright colours to her ceremony, that we make her day full of colour and celebration. So my sister and I did what we have always been taught to do by Mum throughout our adult lives. We shopped and my goodness we did that moment proud.
My sister and I roamed the streets of Padstow a few weeks earlier during a surreal and memorable shopping trip as we searched of our dresses. The tiny back streets were busy with tourists and hugged by cottages in pastel shades of pink, turquoise, lilac and cream. The shops reflected the day with their slate edging as children pressed hands against the windows and searched for sweet delights and fudge. It was busy, bustling and seagulls wheeled overhead as we weaved in and out of every shop that sold clothing. My sister and I had spent many hours shopping together previously but this was for our mother’s funeral whilst she lay resting in her peaceful hospice bed. It was utterly confusing and exhausting. We jostled with conflicting emotions yet found our joy in admiring jewellery that mum would adore, comments that she would have made by our sides. Should we be enjoying this sisterly time together? Enjoying a day out by the seaside being girls when the reasoning was so sad? We visited every tiny little shop that town had to offer, browsed and thumbed dresses of every imaginable style. As we sauntered past yet another shop, wondering when we would find the right attire, we saw an inviting open door and walked in. The shop was tiny, full of ladies browsing and we grabbed every dress we could find.
My sister walked out of the changing room in yet another dress and looked me straight in the eye. She squared her shoulder backs, stood proud. Her face deadpan yet with the merest twitch of a smile and a twinkle in her eyes.
‘Oh my god. Sue. You cannot wear that!’ I clutched my knees as I fell about laughing at the dress we had both loved on the hanger.
It was a fish print tea dress and we felt the fish print might be a nice way to represent mum living by the seaside. The trouble was Sue looked like she was wearing an apron. A very pretty apron, but an apron none the less. We imagined us arriving at mum’s funeral in such attire and couldn’t help ourselves. The tears fell down our cheeks as we leant on the changing room door for support and tried to snigger and snort quietly. Every time we looked at one another we burst out laughing again. The other ladies in the shop began to avoid us and glance at us with disdain. Poor mum deserved so much more than her daughters turning up in kitchen clothing. We scuttled out of the shop laughing and enjoying a moment of release from our grief. As it turned out we later found two stunning flower print, summer style dresses that day. We would be beautiful and elegant and a tribute to the woman that brought us into the world.
My dress was the palest sky blue, covered in bright spring flowers with sparkles at their centres. A summery pink shawl hugged my shoulders as I continued to ready myself. I placed a much loved high heel shoe on each foot and rose from my bed. I smoothed down my beautiful dress, observed the pain and strength in my eyes and breathed deeply. I heard the voices of my family in the hallway and adrenaline coursed through me. I could do this; I would do this for mum and play my part to make the day uplifting. Find a way with grace and love to remember. I closed my bedroom door gently and walked forwards with family by my side.
The hearse was shiny and black, like an enormous beetle carapace, and our funeral director welcomed us sincerely as he dipped his head to the ground. I had always expected funeral directors to be thin, hunched, with pursed lips and a yellow tinge of morbidity. Ours was more like Father Christmas but in less fanciful attire. As I looked towards him and blinked at the bright morning sunshine I was reminded of his kindness in recent weeks. Reminded of his round belly and wonderfully warm smile. He had kept us going when we felt like falling apart and had brought moments of laughter into our darkest of hours. I couldn’t help but feel safe with him by my side, guiding us through this day. I sat deep into the cream seats. Again my expectations were entirely different from reality. As I huddled close in the back seat to my brother and his family, like birds on a wire, we chattered and smiled. We remembered happy times, we enjoyed the scenery of Cornwall rolling by and we found strength in our huddle. I was surprised at how uplifting the day felt so far, though I knew the hardest parts were yet to come.
The crematorium loomed in front of us as we arrived and adrenaline spiked within me again. Inside the magnificent cream building there were friends and family members waiting for us, waiting to be there for us. There were Aunts and Uncles that I had not seen in recent years. Cousins, old friends, family friends, neighbours and more. My hand shook as I reached for the hearse door but the grounds surrounding me took my breath away. We stepped out onto a terrace backed by the cream walls of the crematorium. The land rolled gently away into gardens filled with young and delicate trees. Their glossy bottle green leaves swayed heavily with the weight of summer as insects danced around them. Butterflies drifted down to beds of rainbow coloured flowers that hugged the trees, lifted my spirits and carried me into the welcome room.
For a moment I just stood, tensed and stared at my feet. I couldn’t begin to imagine what to say to this sea of faces. How was I supposed to speak when all I wanted to do was run outside and far away from the moments ahead? And then I looked at my Dad and, without knowing it, he gave me the hand on my back that told me what to do. I knew his pain like I knew my own yet he stood tall, handsome in his suit and colourful tie. He moved around the room and spoke to everyone with a smile on his face. I watched as he made genuine connections with people that loved him and could see it brought him a sense of belonging. I scanned the room and saw my sister and brother talking to cousins and dear friends. There was serenity in their movements. I scuffed my shoe heel on the floor and wondered how I could do the same. Dad must have known my hesitation for he brought people to me for introduction and I followed this lead. The kind gestures and expressions of sorrow knitted us all together for mum.
The seats were hard and I was reminded of church choirs from my youth as we sat for mum’s service. I could feel the quietness behind us from rows of loved ones gathered together and a feeling of peace enveloped me. Peace wrapped her arms around us and quietly settled us in. Mum’s casket was magnificent, an absolute artwork of spring and summer flowers and she would have adored it. Mum had always loved her garden and spent many hours admiring seasonal flowers as the years went by. She had adored the sunshine on her skin and on her lightly freckled face. She found peace in her garden birds, roses, lavenders and more. It is fair to say that Dad had always been the gardener, been the one to dig and plant tirelessly for his beloved wife whilst Mum had happily played her part in creating pots full of pretty annuals. Mum would sit on her garden bench with a cup of tea and admire it all whilst Dad, ever busy, would dig some more. They danced this way every season and I loved it. The parts they played were familiar and comfortable. In a final tribute to mum, she was surrounded by not just the fresh flowers filling the room but also by the flowers on our dresses and the sunshine she had given us to carry in our hearts.
I completely embarrassed myself. I poked myself in the eye by accident and let out a high pitched squeal into the hushed room. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me at that moment before the service began. I sounded ridiculous and, to make it worse, it also made me want to laugh. Emotions were high and thankfully Father Chris joined us and brought me to my senses sharply. He was much like the funeral director in that he had a warm welcoming face and a sparkle in his eyes that I admired. It occurred to me that his name was almost the same as Father Christmas as well. He guided us onwards and weaved a beautiful story of mum through us all. He lifted us with memories gathered from close family. He brought us gently through the understanding that this was a goodbye but also a great celebration and a moment to cherish. My sister in law was the image of summer in her butterfly print dress and held her daughter close whilst she spoke her poetry. She had always been a peaceful and intuitive soul, just like mum, and her words were stunning. We sang with our hearts, we let tears roll down tired cheeks, we smiled at happy memories and held hands as a family united. As the service ended I rose and walked towards mum and her flowers. In life she had been my best friend and sunshine. In death she was still sunshine and flowers, willing me to go on. As I touched those flowers goodbye I knew I would never be the same without her. None of us would. But I scanned the faces in front of me and saw just how many lives she had touched. How many hearts she had lifted and cared for and inspired with her gentle manner. She was truly an inspiration.
The sunshine was glorious as we regrouped outside and dropped our shoulders. I could sense people relaxing and beginning to share their stories and memories. I walked alone amongst the flower beds and made friends with the butterflies surrounding me. Dad joined me after a short while. We had been an inseparable team these past two weeks; propped each other up from the moment of Mum passing through every step of planning the funeral and beyond. With words unspoken we admired the hills around us and acknowledged we had made it. We had given mum a service that told of who she was and celebrated her incredible strength in life. It was time to move on to the wake and I longed for a summery, ice filled, gin and tonic. Longed for a comfortable chair with my loved ones by my side.
The setting for the wake was meant to be, I knew that from the moment we first saw it. It was a country pub nestled amongst picture perfect thatched roofs, surrounded by a traditional English village green in the height of its summer. Ducks paddled across soft grass and quacked their afternoon stories in the breeze as we arrived and entered. The gravel crunched underfoot as guests followed us, eager to relax their grief. A procession of colour and life. The slate flagstones, oak beams and ash filled fireplaces around every corner soothed us all as we propped up the bar. We found laughter and conversation in the bottom of draught beers, gin and tonics, wine and more. But the best was on the horizon as we gathered our family and friends. We led them to the sun filled oak conservatory and I smiled.
Mum was everywhere in this room. She was in the lightly coloured soft furnishings of rattan and cotton. In the heat from the sunshine, the flowers and the beautiful food served for us all. But most of all she was in the huge olive tree that stood at the very centre of us all. Mum had been given the name Olive for her golden skin as a baby and, like the olive tree, she had been a lover of warmth and the Mediterranean in life. I looked around to my left and saw friends perched happily on chairs, tables and window ledges. They were laughing and smiling and creating new friendships with one another. I looked to my right and saw family members bonding after years apart due to the time constraints of modern life. Everyone looked happy, relaxed and truly celebrating the day. With our love of mum and our love of life we had created something more akin to a wedding party than a funeral. I leaned back into the soft cream chair and breathed out. I kicked my heels off under the glass table and tucked my tired feet under a soft cushion by my side. I let down my hair, I let down my defences and I admired the people around me.
Under the branches of that great olive tree they were Olive’s legacy. Under her watchful eyes across the years, Mum had loved and inspired every one of those people. I realised there never was a goodbye that day. There never was a real loss, for Mum continues to live on in us all. In our gestures, in the warmth in our hearts and in every sunrise that touches the freckles on our noses.
Glasses clinked on the table around me as one by one my family flopped onto cushions and brought familiarity and laughter with them. A fresh gin and tonic was pushed into my hand, the ice melting slowly. We raised our glasses and began to create the next chapter of our lives sat atop those cushions. We began to live again.