“The death of a mother is the first sorrow wept without her”
This week marks the anniversary of my mothers death last year and it has been a very hard year without her. My father died 5 years ago on Christmas Day and I am an only child, so the loss of my mother marked the end of a very significant era in my life.
I have thought long and hard about saying any more about this sad topic – Peonies & Posies is intended to be a joyful place providing respite from the woes of the world. Losing my mother has had a significant impact on the way I relate to that world though and I think that perhaps sharing the emotions that arise after a loss like this may help others – after all death is a part of life for us all.
Peonies & Posies was born in the weeks after my father died, on a few cold January evenings when I was looking for a way to stay connected to him. My father was a butcher by trade but a gardener in his heart – he spent hours outside tending his roses, sweet peas, carnations and dahlias and growing delicious fruit and the worlds best tomatoes. Having spent much of my youth denying any interest in gardening I found that once I had married and we had our own home the desire to create something beautiful in the garden was in my blood. My father and I spent many happy hours gardening together and I still have treasured plants that originate from his gardens. Writing about gardening and learning to photograph what I love has helped to keep him close in the years since his death and for that I am grateful. He died after 2 long debilitating years of illness and with the intense sadness of his loss there was also a sense of relief that his suffering and the inevitable difficult end was over.
As an only child my relationship with my parents has always been close, but after the death of my father my mother and I grew even closer – spending more time together, taking short holidays back to her native Lancashire, theatre trips, concerts, films and shopping. We have always loved the same books and TV series, talked regularly on the phone and laughed over the same silly things.
Her death has been hard because it was so was unexpected – although she had been ill for a few months the doctors and nurses caring for her did not expect her death to come so quickly. Even though she was in her eighties she always seemed energetic and youthful, with many of her friends believing she was a decade younger than her true age and I fully expected to be around for at least another decade – to come to my children weddings and to hold her great grandchildren.
Losing her felt like losing a part of myself. In the early days I expected this sadness, expected to wake up every day with the sinking feeling you get when you realise the world is not as you would like it to be, expected the nightmares, the emotional exhaustion – after all grief is a normal emotion when someone close to you has gone.
What I did not expect and am only now beginning to understand is that grief changes you. It is not something that you recover from but rather is a new part of your life – a constant companion. I can say that as time goes by grief, my new companion, is not as demanding as he was – more a dull ache, a quiet voice in the background but none the less a part of me – a part that did not exist before. Of course I have experienced other losses – my lovely grandmothers, one of whom is above, aunts & uncles – but their loss was a deep sadness rather than a life changing event.
On some days grief makes his presence felt more keenly – a dark lone figure blocking my path, someone I cannot get around and wish I did not have to face day after day. As a friend said to me after she lost her daughter – grief is exhausting. In the worst moments grief attacks when least expected – a hit to the stomach that leaves you shaking and sobbing at the most inconvenient moments – a wedding, a west end show, a Sunday night TV drama – these are times when you want to run away and hide under the covers with your emotions, but a brave face is necessary because you are in the company of others and do not want to distress them with your emotional outpourings.
Grief is not just about the person you have lost but also about yourself – the child in me died with my mother and I miss her – in her place lives this stranger called grief and I can only hope that as time goes on he will learn that his place should be beside and not in front of me so that I can carry on with my life without having to negotiate a blocked path on a daily basis.
Grief has reduced my joy in the everyday pleasures of life – my love of the simple task of cutting flowers and creating something beautiful with them has suffered and I have left my camera to get dusty in the kitchen far more than I like to admit. But grief is walking beside me more often now and although I know he will never go away I am beginning to feel more optimistic that I can learn to live with him rather than rail against him on a daily basis. I am gradually learning a new way to live and hope that in the year to come the joy of the flowers and my garden that first inspired Peonies & Posies will once again provide the daily inspiration that I crave to get my camera out and start bringing the flowers back into my home and life.