Grief and Death: The Final RIP-off

As some readers may remember, my much-loved Grandad, Grandad Lush, passed away earlier this year. On the 26th September, it will be six months since he died, and to have spent half a year without him already, having had him in my life for 38 years, is still unfathomable to me.

Grief is such a strange and personal thing. Such a hollow of mixed emotions and desolate loss, yet it is also a place from which to appreciate the astounding truth that we are all actually here, and that so many have been before us, and so many are yet to come.

Often, once the funeral is over and the flowers have died, we forget that, for the loved ones, the grieving is only just beginning. The smallest of things will remind you of the person who has died, and the minutiae of the day can sometimes bowl us over in its ability to throw our grief back into our re-adjusting faces.

Other people often find it hard to know what to say, and others find it very hard to know how to act. But really, if you’re faced with a grieving friend, then just be human. Be kind, be patient, and be gentle.

After my father died when I was 12, my grandad became, to all intents and purposes, my second father. Subsequently, I have also had to deal with all of the admin of death, and those practicalities are both huge and daunting, but also a strange reminder that life goes on.

The sheer cost of dying is astounding, but seeing as my grandad once told me that he didn’t much care if he was tucked in a bin bag, I was able to feel no guilt at not going over-board on the funeral arrangements. But even a basic death is, in essence, the final RIP-off.

For example, I am now the owner of the grave plot that contains my dad, my grandma, and now Grandad Lush. This was transferred to my name, for which I had to pay the not too pricey, but still cheeky, sum of £30. I also paid to have the headstone taken up before burial, and to have said stone in storage. Today, I received a letter saying that once the headstone is engraved and replaced, the council will charge me £102 simply because the stone has had a bit of extra engraving placed upon it. This seems utterly incomprehensible, and doesn’t include the other £900 for the actual engraving and re-sprucing of the stone. I even coughed up a non-voluntary gratuity for the gravedigger.

But hey, just as Sinatra sang at Grandad’s funeral, that’s life. Or rather, death.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 29th September 2015

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When Mummy Mates Get Lost In The Back-To-Work/Life Balance

I have written before about Mummy Mates, the ones that you make via the playgroups, mums’ groups, and antenatal classes that you attend once you are pregnant or have given birth. The bond that you develop with these women is a different one to any other because, in many ways, you have joined a kind of ‘club’ together.

These are the fellow sleep-deprived souls, who, like you, never believed anyone who tried to tell them that getting up ten times a night to urinate would never, in no small way, prepare them for being in charge of a baby that won’t sleep.

Some of these women are people with whom we are acquaintances at particular times, the pre-school phase for example. However, there will always be others with whom we stay in touch, even after we have moved out of the stay-at-home bubble in which pregnancy and the early years sometimes ensconce us.

It is two years now since I returned to work, and that time has been a mad, and occasionally very stressful, juggling of house, kids, work and social life (that’s the kids’ social lives; mine involves merely the sofa). I had always ‘kept a hand in’, but the instant that my youngest started school I threw myself back into trying to rebuild the career that stopped when I had given birth to her. I intended to do so by dipping a somewhat daunted toe in, but instead I launched myself off at the deep-end by starting up a small business within schools, and then, within 3 months, teaching again myself.

In the time since, I have seen decidedly less of my Mummy Mates than I would like, but due to some much-needed and strict rearrangement of my working hours, I have started this school year with a steely determination to make the most of the afternoons post-school run, as opposed to working during those hours and grumbling at my poor offspring for not understanding that tired refrain of mothers everywhere, ‘Mummy is busy!’.

I am trying extremely hard to keeping a certain amount of the hours between school-run and bedtime free, in order to spend them focused on my children, and I am also trying hard to ensure that we all sit down to eat, together, and discuss how our respective days have been. My husband and I have always made a point of eating together, but the youngest girl was too small & over-tired to stay awake without beating the other senseless with her fork, so we are making the most of the fact that we can now all sit around the table together as a family. (Even if their forks do sometimes need to removed.)

This week, during one of our after-school jaunts, my girls and I caught up with one of my bestest Mummy Mates, Jane. We had both assumed that our children, who have known each other since birth, yet not seen each other for a couple of years, would take time to readjust to one another’s company. Perhaps a touch of shyness might rear its head, or a bit of mummy-clinging?

It would appear not; within seconds of entering the household, the kids were playing as if they’d never been apart, and Jane and I experienced something that I believe never happened when they were smaller – we sat, uninterrupted, and had coffee and a catch-up.

It was a fabulous afternoon and subsequently I’d like to say thank you to the lovely Jane, Jack and Izzie. Jane has always been a source of inspiration, given that she juggles motherhood with working five days a week as a partner in a law firm, and if that’s not impressive, then I am Widow Twanky. (No comments, please.) I am determined this year that there will be a work/life balance in the Lushness Household, and afternoons like these make me realise what you are missing out on with your swiftly-growing babies if you don’t make the concerted effort just to stop once in a while.

The Refugee Crisis. Where’s the Simple Humanity?

Courtesy of The Telegraph www.telegraph.co.uk

Courtesy of The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk

There can’t be many people who are without a view about Syrian refugees, but I would be willing to bet that very few of those people have an accurate view of Syria itself, and the civil war there.

On Facebook at the moment there are myriad wafflings from Britain First. This is the group that posts false ramblings along the lines of ‘Cameron announces he’ll spend our taxes on Burkas for the cabinet to wear in Parliament so that they don’t offend Muslims, whilst he does a wee on a Union Flag and chants passages of the Qur’an’.

And then you realise the most disturbing part: some of your friends actually believe this tosh.

Conversely, it is also a comfort to realise that some folk are well-informed. One image that I spotted was a powerful picture of Syria, bombed to pieces, in an effort to show that the refugees cannot just ‘go back to where they came from’.

However, no sooner did it appear, than somebody posted a counter-photograph that began doing the social media rounds. This person who made this little montage commented on how in WW2 British citizens didn’t give in when London was bombed, but instead they rebuilt and stayed put. Such woeful ignorance of the situation evokes both my pity and frustration, for this is obviously someone who is commenting without having any real knowledge, and is subsequently both dangerous, and making a fool of themselves.

Firstly, the Syrian government is not on the side of Syrian people, whereas I have a sneaking suspicion that Churchill was fairly staunch in his beliefs that he didn’t want to slaughter the Brits and send the army in to shoot us all.

Secondly, if the Nazis had actually invaded British soil, and were running amok shooting and slaughtering families at will, do people honestly believe that we would not have tried to leave the country?? Perhaps some people have a romanticised vision of Blitz spirit and the heroes of war? I am lucky enough (and I mean lucky) to, as yet, have not experienced a war zone, but if I were to, then I think it’s common sense to say that I’d be either soiling my pants or just plain dead. I would not be committing acts of heroism in a fantasy land, dodging bombs; I’d be rigid with fear. And as for the being ‘lucky’, that really is down to location and the luck of the sperm/egg draw – if the social media mongrels had been born in Syria, or their babies were, then their opinions on refugee-status might differ.

And, finally, Syrian trouble began in 2011 when people took to the streets to protest after 15 children were arrested and tortured for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. (Imagine what would happen to the person behind Britain First in a state like that – I’m not entirely sure that ‘freedom of speech’ would prevail, would it?)

These protests were peaceful, calling for the release of the children, but the government responded with fury, and the army opened fire on protesters, killing four. The next day, they shot at mourners at the victims’ funerals.

Does that sound like a move Churchill made? I think not. Does it sound like they have a chance to rebuild their country and defend themselves? Again, I think not.

If you are reading this and have any items for donation then one lovely local, Danielle Travis, would love to hear from you. She is taking a collection to CalAid on 18th October. She can be contacted on d.travis3@outlook.com

Walking with your Kids (Not as torturous as it sounds!)

Courtesy of blogs.telegraph.co.uk

Courtesy of blogs.telegraph.co.uk

This summer, my children have walked for miles. Walking has always been a big part of our lives – we have dogs so it’s a necessity, but also our girls like the great outdoors and getting a bit mucky.

I like the fresh air, the health benefits, and the therapeutic nature of walking, and it seems like good behaviour to model for the kids. In an age where some families drive to the corner shop, it’s nice to remind your children that they do have legs and the ability to function without electricity and gaming.

We often head out with the girls to local woods and country parks, and as my favourite time of the year approaches I get quite excited to see the changing leaves and the winding down of the season towards Autumn. Luckily my husband and I are adept at laughing at ourselves, and live in full recognition of the fact that this is far removed from our idea of ‘fun’ pre-children.

This summer, we decided that we’d take the walking a step further (atrocious pun), and treat ourselves to some ‘kit’, as the kind folk at Mountain Warehouse like to say. We are now the proud owners of various waterproofs and footwear (feel free to join in as we laugh at ourselves), and have gone so far as to arrange childcare in late October so that we may walk a part of the South Downs Way.

India has even learnt to read a map during the holidays, use a compass, and run very fast when the tide comes in quicker than her parents expect on a sojourn in Bosham.

We discovered the old Upper Lake in Staunton Country Park, espied red and white spotted toadstools (to the children’s shrieks of ‘POISON! IT’S POOOISON!’ as if they’d been showered in anthrax), and our 6 and 9 year old girls walked a total of over 14 miles across three days. Not bad for little legs. (In fact, since I sent my copy to the newspaper, my kids completed a 6 mile cross country walk at the weekend – and saw two deer running and leaping a few yards in front of us. The deer bounded across the autumn field, sliding between the golden cubes of hay bales with a grace that inspired awe, as my family and I watched in silent wonder.)

I really hope, as a mummy, that these expeditions and adventures will stay with them as they grow older. That they will look back when they have children of their own, and tell those children about the walks that they went on with their mummy and daddy. That they will remember the glory of nature, the gentle sizzle of the sausages on the camping stove, and also that mummy had told daddy the tide was was coming in soon. (Sorry darling, but I had to have the last word on that one.)

Spontaneity in Relationships. Does it Exist Post-Kids??

Image courtesy of senseimarketing.com

Image courtesy of senseimarketing.com

‘Spontaneity’ is a thing that we all take for granted when we are young and carefree, and, likewise, the thing that we mostly forget once we are embroiled in work, life, and adulthood.

Last week, my husband and I decided to have a date night. We called upon the babysitting services of that family favourite everywhere, namely Grandma, and planned our evening.

When my mum arrived, she enquired as to our plans, and we told her that we were, predictably, off to the cinema. We laughed merrily at the fact that we are so unspontaneous and set off accordingly but, somewhere between the house and Gunwharf, a strange thing happened.

Both myself and my husband had a rogue thought, a little moment of ‘what if’. We looked at each other and suggested, somewhat wildly, that we throw caution to the wind.

To hell with these plans and the set time of the film and a hot dog, we said. Away with this incessant military-style organization and the thought of spending an evening sat listening to actors talk instead of listening to each other. Yes the night-time cinema is dark and devoid of over-excited children, but then I expect Ted Bundy’s cellar was too, and I wouldn’t go much on spending a romantic evening down there either.

Having taken our fate into our own hands we swerved the car recklessly into a different lane and pulled the top down, the hydraulics bouncing like a pair of West Coast gansta lowriders, listening to Dr Dre’s ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang’. In an alternate universe.

Back on earth, we did a mirror, signal, manoeuvre, changed lanes carefully whilst listening to Radio 2, and performed a spot of parallel parking, having decided to go out for a meal and gaze lovingly at each other, instead of at Hollywood’s finest in the dark.

Admittedly, this wouldn’t get us far in the Spontaneity Awards 2015, but we felt pretty pleased with ourselves. We had a lovely evening with delicious food, a lot of laughs, and a fabulous late night wander through the dark – always pleasing because people generally have their lights on but their curtains still open, allowing one to snoop and swoon at the beautiful interiors. (Or is that just us??)

Everyday life isn’t always conducive to spontaneity, but when you get the chance to do something off the cuff, grab it. Our walk on the not-so-wild side may have been tame, but it felt pretty liberating.