01 January 2010

Happy New Year?

I was thinking a lot about yesterday about New Year's Eve 1999. We spent it with my parents, playing games, no doubt drinking too much, and generally having a lovely time (we had two children under the age of two, so didn't get to do much socialising!). It was a perfect start to the new millennium. Mum died two years later and I found that the memories of that night filled me with incredible sadness on this ten-year anniversary. By the time I went to bed last night I was feeling utterly grief-stricken. Not how you're supposed to be feeling on New Year's Eve.

I couldn't sleep, but gradually a narrative began to form itself out of my feelings. A lot of this has been drifting around in my mind for a while now, but something about last night's belated mourning brought forth words to describe it all. It may be completely inappropriate to share them, but it seems important to do so, if only so that I can stop looking back and turn to face the New Year with a more cheerful state of mind.

April: The Burial of the Dead

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,          
And bathed every veyne in swich  licour,          
Of which vertu engendred is the flour[1]

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing        
Memory and desire, stirring      
Dull roots with spring rain.[2]


I've always had ambiguous feelings about April. Even before my mother died in that month.

She had gone into hospital on the Tuesday, nearly unconscious. When I saw her on the Thursday morning she had come back to herself and was joking, as ever.
"How do you like my black eye?" she asked. She'd fallen out of bed a few days earlier and had an impressive shiner. Her next questions were more disturbing.
"Where am I?" she wondered. On being told, she then asked "How long have I been here?"

There was an apple tree in blossom in the yard between her ward and the next one (it was an old part of the hospital, all on one floor and laid out on the ground in the shape of a television-aerial). But the tree was behind her bed and she could not see it. Would never see it.

By the time I returned in the evening, she was no longer able to speak to my brother and to me. They moved her onto a different ward, a chest ward. Her breathing was becoming laboured and the pneumonia was taking hold. The patient in the bed opposite seemed to be quite mad; offering comic relief to the grim situation in which we found ourselves.

The next day, one of my mother's friends brought in a red flower in a pot. By then, it was clear to us all that this was Mum's final illness, that she would not be leaving the hospital. The gift would have been perfect if Mum had been able to see it, if she would be taking it home with her after getting better. As things were, it seemed terribly wrong.

When Dad collected Mum's effects after her death in the early hours of the Sunday morning, he fretted over not getting her reading glasses back, before realising that he would have no use for them. I found myself regretting the loss of the inappropriate red flower.

When her own mother had died (another April: almost exactly six years earlier), Mum had gone to see her body in the nursing home. It was still warm, she told me, and she'd held her hand and been glad to see her at peace, free of the worry that had always been part of her in life. Perhaps this memory was in my mind when I went to see Mum in her coffin at the funeral home. She had been in a terrible state when I'd seen her last in the hospital and I wanted to erase that memory with something more soothing.

She did look restful, although the undertakers' skill had not managed to disguise the bruising around her right eye. I picked flowers from her garden to put on her coffin. I would have liked to put lilac blossoms on there too (there was a lovely lilac tree in Mum's garden), but they were not yet in flower, whatever Eliot might have written. The tree later blew down in a gale. On Mum's birthday.


Five years passed and on the anniversary of Mum's admission to hospital we were house-hunting. In Canada. Her death had cut a cord that was anchoring me to the land of my birth and we were now at the end of the long process of emigrating. On that day, 16 April, we found the house that would become the future focus of our lives. The weather was terrible: driving rain and snow (not quite Chaucer's 'sweet showers'). In the house, the kitchen woodstove was warming and welcoming. Here there was the space to build the small-holding that my mother had once dreamed of creating. I would plant an orchard and watch the apple trees blossom. There were lilacs in bud all around the building. I knew that I'd come home.

[1] Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (Prologue, lines 1-4)
[2] T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, (lines 1-4)


Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss.

My cousin in the UK was trying to console me after I heard the news that my other cousin in Canada was so ill. She said that I would find a place to put my grief so that it wasn't a constantly overwhelming presence in my mind. She was right, though it is still there, and it waxes and wanes in my mind. Grief is something that never really goes away though. I hope that you find some peace with it very soon though. x

Northern Beauty Seeker said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your mom. Grief really doesn't go away and it seems to rise to the surface as we circle into this time of year. On Winter Solstice I spend the evening thinking of my mom who passed away just weeks before I met my husband to be. I felt like meeting him was a gift from her.

I think your memories and sense of the connectness of life painted a lovely picture, both of your mom and her impact on you. I hope writing this helped you find a pocket for your grief.

Best wishes for a bright new year in your home :)

Amanda said...

Thanks for the comments and wise words: I'm feeling a whole lot more positive now (and slightly embarrassed about being quite so distressed!).

Happy New Year to you both!

Perovskia said...

Thanks for sharing :)