An Open Letter to My Mum for Mother’s Day

She picked me a handful of flowers today
Marguerites, pansies, some dandelions I had ferociously
attacked last autumn
but which had nevertheless survived

I looked into that expectant face
tendrils of hair falling against the wild flush of summer
in her cheeks
and knew that soon
there would be no more lovingly snatched flowers
or breathless smiles
quite like that

and so although they weren’t my kind of flowers
I put them in a vase
and kissed her
and listened to all the things she was trying to say

for childhood cannot be stilled
or put on hold until that last desperate moment
when,
feeling it flutter its wings against us
we clutch it too tightly,
too late

Like a bird
it will simply struggle
and fly away.

You wrote this poem about me when I was just a little girl, about the age Finley is now I imagine. You always had a way with words, with creativity and imagination being forefront to the hobbies you later developed into an art. So super talented and boy was I proud to be able to call you my mum.

I look back now and wonder if there were some divine intervention at play in my teenage years that neither of us were aware of. When all my friends were going through an ‘I don’t want to be seen dead with my mum’ stage I was looking forward to our Monday after school shopping trip and afternoon tea at McDonalds, not giving a second thought to all my friends and peers being at the same mall in groups, none of them hanging out with their mums for fun as an after school activity. We always used to share a thick shake and cheeseburgers taking it in turns to switch between your favourite, chocolate and my favourite, banana. The boys at school used to stare at us and whisper as they walked past but it wasn’t me they were looking at, it was you! I think you were quietly flattered to have so many young admirers, my to-be future husband one of them (little did I know then!). The cheeseburger tradition on a Monday is now something I share with my own son Finley on a Monday while Cohen is at kindergarten, except I have swapped the milkshake for a flat white. Perhaps the milkshake will make a reappearance in the future but for now with a three year old and two year old (and boys at that!), a strong caffeine infused coffee is more my cup of tea so to speak. These two boys are hard work! You would have loved them to pieces. 

I see you in Cohen sometimes, the way he will stare into space away with the fairies imagining who knows what. Nana says that is something you used to do as a child too, lost in your own little world. Cohen is more like me and Finn is definitely his fathers son and yet opposites attract, with Cohen trailing his father around like a shadow and Finley preferring me. Perhaps in later years that will change as I realise more and more just how alike we are as I get older. 

I’m 33 now which is only 7 years off the age you were when you found out you had breast cancer. I remember being in New York on 9/11 and your panic at wanting me to come home immediately. As a parent now I understand your panic, but little did I know at the time that part of the reason behind your hurry was that you had just been diagnosed and you needed me home with you. Life was never the same after that with the cancer hanging over us all like a dark cloud, even in remission. 

When it came back I don’t think I ever comprehended the finality of it all.

I had loved and lost before, first with Grandad and then with Aunt Deb. But truly, who can imagine a life without their rock and best friend? I recall a friend at high school losing her mum when she was around 16 and I just couldn’t fathom at the time how she had the strength to go on. 

Just 5 years later there I stood in her shoes.

I remember it all happening very quickly. One minute we were in a cafe having a lovely lunch as a family and being in denial that the cancer was back and what that meant, the next I was being called into the bosses office at work early in the morning and told to go straight to the hospital because you had been admitted after waking one night with tingling in your legs that turned into paralysis literally overnight. I spent practically every day thereafter at the hospital. To me it seems like it was months but it can’t have been, though I don’t actually remember for how long it was. I remember we used to hang out and talk about our favourite TV shows, read gossip magazines and drink coffee from the hallway coffee cart. I still didn’t comprehend it. Who can? 

But you never came home again.

I don’t think even you knew or cared to admit you wouldn’t be coming home. You were still making big plans. You had giant scrapbooks at home filled with all the places you were going to go, some of them the places you had been before when you lived in London as a young, vibrant and beautiful woman full of promise and big dreams, before I came along and forced you to return home. I hope it was a decision you never came to regret, the decision to keep me and do it all on your own. Deep down I don’t think it was ever something you regretted, though it must have been an extreme change of plans for the life you had envisioned for yourself as a dreamy teenager imagining the adventures of Europe and the big impact you would have on the world with your talents. I must have altered your entire path.

Thank you for keeping me.

To this day I regret not being by your side when you passed away and from the depths of my heart, I am sorry. I just couldn’t do it. By then you were a shadow of yourself, you could barely open your eyes and my pain was too great after watching the woman I loved literally fade away to nothing. But in maturity I now see that I should have put that aside and been there the way I would want my sons by my bedside when I pass over. I can’t imagine them not being there. I was 21 and only thinking about myself as so many young people do. 

I hope you can forgive me.

I loved you so much.

Grief does funny things to a person. For me it manifested itself in irrational phobias that were never something that I feared before. It zapped my confidence. It locked me in a ‘paddock’, in a comfort zone that I still struggle to this day to step outside of. I didn’t learn to drive until I was 27 because it terrified me. Flying makes my heart race and makes me feel physically ill, so I avoid it at all costs. When walking alone around the neighbourhood or with the kids I am acutely aware of dogs and I am scared a stray dog is going to attack us, however ridiculous that sounds. At one point I wouldn’t even walk out to our letterbox alone. Social situations outside my group of friends are awkward encounters. Going some place new makes me incredibly nervous. Heights. Water. So many crazy things at complete odds with who I used to be before you left. I have heard however that these things are pretty normal and I am working on it for the sake of my own sons, I do not want them to grow up to fear the world. I need to try and make those changes and step outside of my ‘paddock’. It has been long enough. 

So Mum …

Happy Mother’s Day for every one of the 12 years that have since passed and the many more to come. You will always be remembered for the Shona that we knew.

Mother, daughter, sister, wife, niece and friend.

You touched so many lives and I hope you know how much you were loved as you took your last breath. 

Loved in every sense of the word.

I can only hope I leave behind an imprint on people’s lives as deep as you did on ours. 

Never forgotten.

mum-and-i3

Inner Equilibrium

MAKE YOUR BED AND LIE IN IT

Part 3

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So now you’re going to be liking the wonderful, unique, quality person that you are, you need to know how to achieve inner equilibrium. And if you have this, happiness and success will have a more fertile ground to grow on.

You need to stop events, and other people, from dragging you along in their wake; you are responsible for your own feelings and the way your life shapes up. Taking ownership of your life is very important. The sea will still get choppy, but if you are at the helm of your own boat, you can control the boat a lot better than if you step back and give yourself up to the mercy of the water. This is not a fail-proof theory but for the most part it works. And sure, all sorts of stuff can stress you out, but it’s how you react that counts. Be strong; be wise. Remember, a high self-esteem means you don’t take rough spots too much to heart, and a positive attitude means you don’t nurture them. Nor do you create problems that aren’t really there. Besides, the more involved you are in the interesting and exciting life unfolding for you, the less petty and obsessive you will be over minor annoyances.

Dealing with general problems and tensions in a constructive way helps enormously towards inner peace. They’ll be there, but they can be minimised, often solved fairly quickly, and even got rid of before they have time to grow. The best way to tackle any feeling of unease you may have is to pin it down before it seeps through to the rest of your soul, and set out to do something about it. With a very obvious problem, face it, and get moving towards resolving it. Often just a “does it really matter?” will bring the answer “no, there’s really nothing to worry about.” But where the tension is real, you have to find answers. Only by getting past it can you get back onto the highway again. If there is no answer to be had, sometimes you just have to put the concern in a box at the back of your head for a while and close the lid so that you can get on with your day to day living.

Remember:

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.

Emotional issues like hurt, sadness, and grief often have to be ridden out until your system is ready to let go. We can all expect a fair amount of difficult stuff like that in our lives. Seek support, comfort and distraction and know that time is a great healer. You shouldn’t try to hide from these fundamental emotions.

Where to Start: How a good sense of self helps you free your energies

MAKE YOUR BED AND LIE IN IT

The second instalment of my mums bookphoto-1429277005502-eed8e872fe52

“LIFE IS NOT LOST BY DYING! LIFE IS LOST MOMENT BY MOMENT, DAY BY DRAGGING DAY, IN ALL THE THOUSAND, SMALL, UNCARING WAYS – THE SMOOTH APPEASING COMPROMISES OF TIME.”

STEPHEN VINCENT BENET

Real freedom is being happy with who you are as a person, allowing you to grow in a forward direction, and to relax and live life to its fullest. You are never inferior or superior to anyone else, but you are the best you possible, someone you both love and respect, and you have a healthy attitude towards life. Your time isn’t spent trying to sort out hang-ups about yourself, or struggling to rise above things; your time is spent constructively by living and your energy is positive energy.

Feeling great about yourself enhances your life in other ways besides giving you freedom to move. If you feel as if you’re someone worthy of love and respect, others are likely to feel you are too; if you’re at home with yourself, they will be also. And the inner beauty and serenity that your attitude towards life – a bright, positive one – brings to you will lend you a glow and vitality that draws people like a magnet. Having the support and friendship of the world in general is a big advantage along life’s journey.

Becoming Your Best You

First of all, accept that you were born the person you are. Whether you feel you have been blessed or not, you’re you. But that doesn’t mean you have to be faithful to the way you are at the moment. You can be better, the best you possible; liken yourself to a rose bush that can either be left to its own devices to produce mediocre blooms, or a rose bush that is tended and nurtured and has really magnificent flowers. You can have that healthy self-esteem that real confidence and energy are built upon.

If you know your assets, you can work at bringing out all the good points about yourself, and minimising the not so good. Picture a new improved version of yourself: your looks and personality enhanced in a way you may not have allowed yourself to dream about before. Bring that picture to mind as you work about becoming that person – mind movies are potent things.

You can become this wonderful, authentic person; step by step by step. As from this moment onwards, love who you are and what you’re going to be.

But it’s not only about looks and personality . It is also about finding your bliss, your path in life. This is covered in a separate section and is irrevocably connected to becoming a better you. It is the impetus that makes seeking your freedom so desirable. Your “bliss” is the life you want to live as the new you!

Make Your Bed and Lie In It – Introduction

I am going to start intermittently sharing my mums book in parts with you all. It inspires me to read, hopefully it may inspire some of you along the way and reveal why she was such an amazing lady. It may not be a movie but I’m pretty sure she would be feeling pretty chuffed regardless!

INTRODUCTION

MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR LIFE

When you see life as a truly precious commodity, you don’t want to let it just drift by. Making the most of time, your gifts and your blessings is essential. Even if you live to be eighty, you want it to have been a grand existence, no matter how it started or what obstacles you encountered on the way. And if you don’t have that long, it’s even more important to use and enjoy your time to the fullest.

By integrating the wisdoms of this book (and others like it) into your life, whether you falter a little or a lot, you have a strength of spirit and purpose that enables you to harness a real dream of a life from the universe.

There will be glorious lilting moments, softer contentments, warm satisfactions; there will also be mistakes and hiccups and sadnesses; all of them making up the story of your life. To have a story to tell, and giving the people in your world the chance to tell a story about you, is better than ending up with vague memories (on your part) or vague platitudes (on theirs.)

You:  “Oh, it was just a life. I wish I’d done a bit more with it, actually. I had/never had the opportunities. Too late now, I guess.”

And them: “Oh, she was a nice enough lady. Two lovely cats. She worked hard for thirty years but I’m not actually sure what she did there. ”

(Or, worse: “her? She was a cow.”)

No, this is what you want. You want to be able to say you have very few regrets; that you accepted your gift of life with a big thank-you, undid the satin bow and carefully removed the paper and used what was in the box with reverence and panache. And you had a great time along the way!

And you want someone else to say: “Yeah, she was really cool. She did this/that and she made a real difference, in fact I can’t imagine life without her. And she was always so kind and funny, but sharp. Totally switched on. We loved her. We’ll miss her.” (Or better still: “They should make a movie of her life.” Well, we can but dream!)

“LIFE IS A PRETTY PRECIOUS AND WONDERFUL THING. YOU CAN’T SIT DOWN AND LET IT LAP AROUND YOU …YOU HAVE TO PLUNGE INTO IT; YOU HAVE TO DIVE THROUGH! AND YOU CAN’T SAVE IT, YOU CAN’T STORE IT UP; YOU CAN’T HORDE IT IN A VAULT. YOU’VE GOT TO TASTE IT; YOU’VE GOT TO USE IT. THE MORE YOU USE, THE MORE YOU HAVE…THAT’S THE MIRACLE OF IT!”

KYLE SAMUEL CRICHTON

Finding My Bliss

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My mum was a big believer in having a passion. A love. A bliss.

Before she died she wrote a book called ‘Make Your Bed and Lie In It’. She had written many books in her lifetime but this was written in the years after her breast cancer was discovered and she lovingly had it printed and bound for the all the women in her life. My strongest memory of this book was having just started working at the printing company that 13 years on I still work at. Part of my job is to bind and when she came home with this book that she was so proud of, I proceeded to tell her that the coil on it was too small. I was 19 and thought I knew it all and for some reason, I just couldn’t let it go. It really upset her and to this day I still feel absolutely terrible for making a big deal over something so minor when it was something so important to her and something that she had put her heart and soul into. Isn’t it funny the things that we remember? I get teary just thinking about it now and how naive I was to only be worried about something as silly as a binding coil that made it hard to turn pages when she had spent months pouring her heart into writing it.

The reason I share this story with you is that I want to do her proud and I want to share with the world her wisdom and writings. I truly believe that in doing so it will be a healing and learning experience for me and it will be a tribute to the beautiful talented woman she was. And because I have yet to find my own bliss.

Once upon a time I was a writer. I guess you could say I still am in some respects but after her death I stopped many of the things I loved to do. I once was a painter. A poet. An aspiring novelist. Then she died. I lost myself in other distractions. First came my new boyfriend. Then came a proposal. A trip to Europe. Wedding planning. A wedding. A first home. The prospect and excitement of starting a family. Infertility. IVF. A long awaited pregnancy. A baby boy. A surprise pregnancy. Another baby boy.

But who am I now? Other than mother and wife. A year and a half on and I feel the strongest desire to find my own bliss.

She wrote:

Too many people feel they need to ask, 

What has the world given me?

But they should be asking,

What have I given the world;

And if you have given generously of yourself,

If you have contributed things of value and beauty,

You shouldn’t need to question how fulfilling your life has been.

You will be blessed with riches.

Since the birth of the idea to start writing a new blog I have evolved in my original plan of writing a more ‘traditional’ mummy blog to writing from the heart, whatever that may be about. To collaborating with my mum to create and write something a little different. I will of course write about motherhood and my boys but it will also be a blog about discovering who I am after all this time and finding my ‘bliss’. Perhaps a chance to pour out my own heart and soul the way that she did in writing her book. To grieve. To remember.

Maybe it will also help you to find yours.