I’ve reached that time of life where, when I stare into the mirror in the mornings, I see an unexpected but familiar face staring back at me. I look frighteningly like my mother. I’ve always had a look of her, and my daughter in turn, looks like me; we joke that we could be Russian dolls. It’s a welcome reflection though. My Mum, Margaret, died in January so I don’t mind the face staring back at me, it’s nice to see her.
My brother, my Dad and I were all there. My dad and my brother are not especially religious but asked me to pray as she went, I closed her eyes and opened the window, an old superstition she would have liked. There was plenty to do in those early days and the paperwork, “deathmin”, is all consuming for a while, but now, eight weeks on life has gone back to normal – when nothing feels like it’ll ever be normal again.
I do death professionally of course but my involvement with a family usually fades out just after the funeral. I stay in touch as much as they’d like, ask how they are when we bump into each other in the Co-op and they’d always be welcome in church, but overall, once the last cup of tea is served at the wake, they are usually left to getting on with the task of grief, alone. I suddenly know how that feels.
The day after her death I had tickets for the Strictly tour. Myself and my daughter frocked up in impossibly glamourous evening wear, drank gin in a tin on the train and had a lovely time. I posted pictures on my Instagram and a whole load of lovely folk wrote: “It what’s she would have wanted.” Maybe, maybe not. How could I know? Perhaps she was delighted I was having a blast screaming at Fleur’s couple’s choice or perhaps she’s livid. I knew my mother for 48 years, she was a constant surprise in life and now she’s dead I wouldn’t presume to be able to second guess her.
Perhaps though, it’s not about what she would have wanted but what I want. At the funeral, I hated the thought of leaving the flowers behind to be mulched on the crematorium compost heap, so I took them to the wake. With scissors and ribbon and a Blue Peter style tenacity, I pulled apart the coffin top arrangement and made posies for everyone to take home. I’d had printed some little cards with Mum’s photos and dates on, only business card size from one of those online printing companies. I attached the cards to the posies and was praised on my attention to detail. Those cards are a bargain if you order in bulk, so I had a thousand printed and find myself with a few left over.
I’ve been handing them out to anyone who’ll have one. And they’ve really helped. It means when Mum’s death comes up in conversation, I’m able to show a picture of her, ask them if they’d like it and when I hand them over, I say: “This is my Mum, would you take her somewhere nice?”
Mum has been to places in death that she never went to in life. She’s had cocktails in the Raffles hotel, Singapore, been on a gondola in Venice and skiing in the Alps. She was recently on safari in Kenya. I’ve also taken to leaving her tucked in unexpected places. Margaret lurks in between the pages in quaint bookshops, waits in maps in walking shops and rests down the wood panelling in country pubs. She’s been on a cruise and is off to Ibiza in the summer. Not every destination is far flung and exotic though, she also sits pinned to fridges watching the joys of family life play out and tucked in phone cases earwigging conversations, she always was nosey.
I can’t know what my Mum would have wanted, but I can know what I need in trying to navigate the work of grief. I need to know she’s still thought of, still talked about and still remembered.
Her name was Margaret, take her somewhere nice, would you?
This week I have been…
Watching… the brilliant Race Across the World on BBC One. It’s rare that we find something we all want to watch in our house and rarer still that when we do, we don’t binge it all in one sitting. That’s not an option with this fab adventure series.
It’s about more than just the physical journey of course, with a limited budget, no mobile phones and relying on the kindness of strangers couples must make their way across Canada to win a cash prize.
It’s really about what they learn about themselves and each other along the way. Beautifully shot with clever edits.
Speaking… to a headteacher’s conference in Leicester. As a former Head of RE in secondary school, I know teaching is a tough gig, and it’s only getting tougher. I was booked as the light relief after a heavy morning of professional development. The headteachers were a joy and laughed in all the right places.
Eating… baklava. I live in a small town in north Nottinghamshire which isn’t very cosmopolitan, but a new Turkish coffee shop has just opened. It is the town’s first and serves good coffee and great baklava; my bloodstream is currently 78 per cent filo pastry.