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My writing soul: is it goodbye?

5 Feb

I hoped the silence would be temporary, but I think perhaps the past year has taken more out of me than I realised, and now we are moving city and schools and lives. So I fear the silence might be permanent.

I hope I’ll find my writing soul again, but a part of me believes that maybe I found writing at just the right time, or rather writing found me, to carry me and give voice to my tortured thoughts at a very difficult time.

Can you write your heart out and have anything left to say? Only time will tell.

In the meantime you can still find me over at In The Powder Room for my regular weekly column on a Thursday. So I’m still writing and mixing it up – a little.

A milestone I wish I could sidestep

2 Feb

Today is not a day I wanted to see again. 2nd February 2011 and I heard those words for the first time “Strongly suspected lung cancer”. A precise yet misleading jumble of words only superceded in its devastation by the final field on a form flashed up on screen at the doctor’s surgery a week later:

<header> Prognosis=

<body copy> 6-12 months.

Of course there was to be nothing as munificent as a whole year.

And so the rollercoaster began. The concrete cancer diagnosis, the tests that confirmed its spread to the liver. The terrifying fits and subsequent brain scans that showed further metastisis. Radiotherapy. Chemotherapy.

And then 10 weeks later, the end.

So it’s a year to the day my sister rang to tell me the routine scan bore shadows.

And with those words I remember she took my voice.  Leaning against the glass of my patio doors for support, silent, the breath sucked right out of me. Curious physiology.

2012: Why I don’t feel like celebrating.

31 Dec

Don’t much feel like welcoming in a New Year – 2012 – a year my mother never saw.

All change and every first is tinged with enormous sadness now. I turn around, bursting to share my news, to feel and share and experience together.

It’s just not the same.

But I WILL try and embrace that difference. There is going to be an awful lot of it this year.

Love to all for the year ahead.

M2Mx

Happy Birthday Mum

25 Oct

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 72.

I remember vividly her birthday last year. She, me and all the Milks, my sister, her husband and their girls, and a special day out at London Zoo. I’d just had my fringe cut and, as always, was nervous what my mum would think.  At 33, her opinion was still the most important to me. A daughter dancing for her mother’s attention.

We had taken a picnic. A trademark affair. Couscous and roasted vegetable salad, an assortment of sandwiches, delicious rye bread from the deli. We sat on a rounded bench encircling a dwarf maple, our feast of delights spread out around us, carefully placed among the splattering of pigeon droppings.  Later, we sang happy birthday as my mother pretended to hide under the hood of her jacket, much to the delight of the children, as we tucked into the most delicious coffee cake I’ve ever eaten. (made by my clever sis). And I remember thinking fleetingly – “Could this be the last time we all celebrate together like this?”.

I don’t know why this thought came into my head that day. Perhaps holding something perfect in your hands makes you fear the loss of it.

2 months later as we all sat together on my mother’s old red velvet sofa and posed for a photograph the same thought came into my head. “What if this is the last picture we have all together like this?”

2 months later came the diagnosis, and 4 months later my mother passed away.

I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but I knew what was to come. Instinct wrought from intimacy.

I miss you mummy, every day.

Brahm’s lullaby – played at her funeral.

Balham on the up

14 Oct

Soon after diagnosis my mum uttered the heart-stoppingly sad words  “This isn’t my world anymore”.   Of course she wasn’t talking about Balham at the time but the life that was slowly being robbed from her, but as I wander around Balham today, taking surplus plates and old saucepans to the “Mary Portar-esque” charity shops I can’t help but be reminded of these words.

When we moved to Balham in the 1980s my dad warned that he would not see his children brought up in “this hole” (we were of course –  big words, small muscle as usual).  Prostitutes on the corner showing skirt for trade, children playing in the gutters (still not sure what was meant by this part of the story – like they were washing in the drain overflow or something).  Neighbours with tatty clothes and half-wild kittens they’d swap for cigarettes. Damp, white-washed concrete streets interrupted by the threatening graffiti daubed on the pet shop’s walls.

But within the tattered edges was a colourful, characterful place. The Caribbean market with its exotic fruits with unpronouncable names, the tucked away Asian supermarket throwing forth its dizzying spiced aromas, and  the flame-haired grandma selling flowers at the corner of the traditional street market,  calling everyone love and signalling to the deaf fruit-stall man that “Old Bert” was on his way and causing trouble again.

And now? Gone are the corner shops selling single malboroughs for 10p and liquorice shoe laces longer than your arm. Gone is the russet-haired flower lady, the site of her stall now occupied by tables of overpriced wooden toys and other superfluous, but mesmerisingly cute trinkets. (“objet shit” Mr Milk likes to call it).  Gone is the opera-singing homeless man at the underground station and the rainman postman who could recall a little too much about your personal mail. Replaced by artisan bakeries, glossy estate agents selling houses at unreal prices, asian-fusion eateries, Starbucks and Waitrose.

Where once was life in all its technicolour splendour, now are just subtle degrees of parlour grey. Cinammon and five spice replaced with hibiscus and lightly smoked turbot.  Whitewashed concrete and shabby edges improved by brushed steel and clean lines and poor old Bert edged out to make way for Richard and Miranda and cute little Angus.

Balham isn’t the same for me anymore either mum.  I think it’s about time to move on.

Thanatophobia

5 Aug

A couple of years ago I went through a period of acting a bit strangely.

I’d been in the middle of a third life crisis for a while , and I think in hindsight I was also struggling after becoming a mum the second time round. Little Milk had been testing to say the least – “a big character” some might say. “A frickin lunatic” I’d proffer.  Off the career ladder and looking after pooing/screaming kids 24/7 and I found myself asking “is this it?”. Somewhere in the midst of all that soul searching and quizzing and introspection the subject of my own mortality came up, as if it was the only major milestone left I could think of. Not exactly rational. But I was hooked.

I just couldn’t stop thinking about what it was going to be like when the time came, how it might happen, and when.  I also became unhealthily fixated on obituary sites. Now if you’ve never visited a site like “Gone too soon” (my favourite) let me explain. They’re a chance for people to write memorials to the recently deceased, or to commemorate the anniversary of an old passing, or to mourn the loss of a baby born pre-term.  The title is a clue to the fact that most of the deaths are unexpected, sudden, shocking; due to illness (usually cancer), accidents (fires, car crashes) and a really surprising amount to murder. Many are described in horrific detail and many put to music, most commonly “Every breath I take” by The Police. Needless to say they are heart-wrenching, deeply upsetting and reflect a horrible part of life that you usually try to ignore.  That is, evidently, unless you are me.

For a while it was all I thought about, and it scared the shit out of me.

Thankfully there was some forced intervention this obsession slowed and I got on with living.

In any case, when my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer I was a bit worried to say the least. I expected my fear of death to my dragged up again and to find myself rocking back and forth in a darkened room, curtains billowing and Police on the stereo at full blast.  But I didn’t, and I haven’t.

Actually I’ve been pretty sane. In fact I was thinking today, it doesn’t scare me anymore, the death stuff. I think the thing is, the more you cope with, the less you fear. It’s somehow easier to put it in perspective and be stoical. Now I just find myself thinking – “Either there’ll be nothing and I won’t know any different (in which case, duh, get over it), or I’ll get to see my mum again”.  And that last bit just makes me smile. Wouldn’t that be something.

Thanatophobia “An intense fear of death”.

Next post: Not about death. I PROMISE!

Sad

29 Jul

I want to be a child again, running around without a care in the world. My mum there next to me, cooking dinner with her pinstripe apron, smirking at our antics. What i wouldn’t do to be back there, 8 years old, snoopy jumper, ankle socks. The snowman is playing on the small, white plastic tv, and my family house like a cocoon around me. What I wouldn’t do to be back there, happy, content, safe.

More than a house

5 Jun

My mum’s house will soon be on the market.  My family home. The house we moved into in 1980, when I was 3. A house built on clay and memories.

This is the hardest part so far.

And my thoughts are becoming more and more consumed with these pictures from the past. Reruns played over and over;  stop – rewind – play,  stop – rewind – play.

My 3 yr old self, raw from the recent divorce, padding in to my mother’s room and standing by the side of the bed, head bowed, eyes on my feet.  “Can I come in?” whispered with an eager heart.  Climbing in sheepishly next to her and lying bum to bum,  warmth so familiar, so reassuring.

A young child returning early from a school trip with swollen eyes, weepy from fresh cut grass.  Childish excitement deflated like a limp balloon.  And my mother laying me gently on the bed in my childhood room,  and tending my eyes lovingly with damp flannels.

My rebellious, secretive teenage self lying prone in the early hours of the morning, wide-eyed from narcotic experimentation, lamenting the worms that still wriggle from the carpet. Watching guiltily as my mother pads around excitedly, preparing for her youngest’s birthday.

My young adult self, suffering from my first and worst bout of depression and lying in a bath that my mother has run. Her sitting patiently on the toilet as she reads to me from Alison in Wonderland, hoping that the words will comfort with the innocenct simplicity of childhood.

My recently married self – foolishly but deliriously drunk and lying on the grass with my new husband, sister and brother-in-law, like starfish watching a flight of swallows in glorious fomation soaring back and forth across the sky.

And my mum, in every room – laughing,  reassuring, scolding.  Kind, proud, determined. Her music, her cooking, her love.

And somehow I have to say goodbye to all this. Let someone else strip out the worn, dated kitchen – my mother’s kitchen – to replace it with stylish, cold granite.  Flush away all of my family memories and reinvent their own.  And I want to scream and barricade the doors and picket at the fence. No entry here.  But Mr Cameron is eager for his pound of gold, and the clock is ticking.

The phoney war

13 Mar

“A period of 6 months after Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939 where nothing much happened. Also referred to as “The Twighlight War” by Churchill, and “The Sitting War” by the Germans.” (Wikipedia)

Yesterday I was trying to explain to Mr Milk how I feel at the moment. “I just feel very weird.  A muted sense of panic, an uneasiness that won’t go away”.  ” Well it’s just like the phoney war isn’t it?” he replied. “Someone has declared war on you, but nothing seems to be happening.”

And he was spot on.  I am stumbling around in full body armour, pumped up and ready to fight,  but I find myself standing alone on the battlefield with no sign of the enemy approaching.   All around me  is spookily quiet and I’m struggling to make sense of it.

I know that the enemy will come, and when it does the charge might be swift, unrelenting, brutal, but for now I can see, smell, taste nothing out of the ordinary.  The blossom is beginning to form on the trees in the promise of summer and my darling mother looks as well and as beautiful as ever.

This silent and invisible enemy that stalks me is scaring the shit out of me;  I just wish he’d turn to face me, so I can look him in the eye and know what I’m dealing with.

That moment : Part two

17 Jan

This post is a “kind of” answer to That moment.

If we don’t know what might happen to us, if we are frightened by the “what ifs”, if we are constantly looking over our shoulder for that speeding car, what then? It’s pretty bleak isn’t it?   There will be those of us that think about these things, and those of us that will run a hundred miles an hour to get away from it. I’m pretty sure the latter will have groaned, clicked close and returned to the singing puppy by now.

“If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine. – Morris West”.

For me, this is the only real answer. I’ve spoken before about being rather than doing, or being rather than thinking in this instance. The age-old anecdote “Why worry about it, it may never happen” but put in a rather less irritating way, and not by a smart-arse builder. I remember taking out a book from the library once on “Finding happiness” by the Dalai Lama (yes I probably had too much time on my hands, new mother and all that) and naiively expecting some kind of 5-step guide to eternal optimism. At the time I was pretty disappointed that all he seemed to have up his sleeve was an appreciation for pretty flowers.

However, in hindsight Mr Lama was quite right of course. If we allow our imaginations to run wild, to consider all the things that might happen to us, to twist and turn around a maze that has no middle, what is the point in that? Where would all that energy get us in the end?  All we can do is enjoy the here and now, for soon the now becomes the then and the here becomes the over there, and the soon becomes the….hmmm, well you get what I mean anyway.

And if it does happen, if the worst thing you could possibly think of comes along and sits on your lap, will you fall apart? Choke? Vomit?  Someone once said to me after I’d been depressing them to death about my fear of my own mortality  “So what if you die, what would be so bad about that?” It was a very strange kind of question – and surprisingly difficult to answer. I stuttered about trying to formulate a response “Umm, well it’s the unknown, the not knowing where I’d be”. “But you’re dead”. “Ummm, it’s the thought of not being here anymore, and I can’t get my head around that”. But you wouldn’t have to get your head around it, you’d be dead”.  And so on.

“It all happens for a reason. If it’s been put on you, then that means you can carry it” (Tony Gaskins)

I love this idea, I find it really reassuring. It re-establishes some kind of order, gives me back some control. There is a purpose behind events, you are “chosen” because that is your journey. Nothing is random, unpredictable, devastating like the speeding car. Your challenge is taking you by the hand and asking you to lead it, because you are the one with all the answers.  Somewhere within you you have all the power, the resilence, the foresight.

I suppose that’s a pretty humungous dose of spirituality right there, in fact I’m starting to sound a bit like sodding Billy Graham, really scary for an atheist who usually prejudices against religious types (my friend Simone will have a field day).  But you see, the thing is I’ve seen first hand the strength of the human soul. There is something there so great, so wonderful, so determined – that “that moment” could never ultimately have the upper hand. We will always survive, always win, always learn, always pick ourselves up and move on.

That is not the same as forgetting. It is not the same as no longer feeling the pain. But it is living, moving on, and I’ve seen enough of it in the past few weeks to know that in my heart, if the speeding car comes, I will be ready.