Lessons for the Living

Pumpkins, Hocus Pocus, crunching leaves, glorious weather and autumnal food – October has all the markings of the best month of the year. Except, it’s a tough one for me too. The first week of October I dreamt of my mum – we were just having a chat in the kitchen like always and I was telling her about one of the lectures we’d had over a cuppa. Waking up from any dream with my mum in is like being the lost kid in the shop again,  knowing I can’t just pick up the phone or walk into her kitchen and have the chat in real life is, well fucking painful to be honest.

That’s the interesting thing about grief – it doesn’t slowly disappear. It’s a lifelong, ever-changing companion. It lives in the past – in the memories you have of that person, but it also in the future – of all the moments they don’t get to share with you. The grief stays, but your life grows around it. As you fill your life with more experiences and new memories, this doesn’t make your grief for the person you lost less important, it just doesn’t dominate your life in the overwhelming manner of the beginning.

Today marks ‘Dead-Day’ (the self-named day when my mum died 3 years ago). All at once, it feels like a lifetime ago and as if it were yesterday. I could tell you about the moment she died, but that isn’t what ‘life’ is. It is not weighed by the way in which you leave, but by what you leave behind.

So to mark Dead-Day this year, I’ll share some of the many lessons for the living my mum taught me with you;

When you can’t walk, then dance – this is one that my brother talks of and my favourite. As mum’s illness took hold, her body lost it’s ability to do many day-to-day things it used to be able to do. One of the hardest moments was when she was no longer able to walk. It took away her independence and the simplest of tasks became a struggle. Living further away meant my brother and I would come home and sometimes be shocked by the decline in her body. One particular day, as my brother made his way back to our family home, he mentally prepared himself for the possibility of seeing her bedridden. Once he opened the front door however, he was greeted with snorts of laughter and giggles and shouts of “Seven!” in Strictly Come Dancing style. He made his way in to see our brilliant parents, dancing around the kitchen, my mum on my dads feet, twirling about and about, making their way to the table. From then on, rather than walk, my mum (forever held up by my dad) danced her way to where she needed to go until she couldn’t anymore. The life lesson here was as much from my dad as my mum; life is what you make it – so make it joyful, even when it gets tough.

Bend with it: When people talk of cancer patients – they often say things like “she lost her battle with cancer”. I didn’t see my mum ‘fighting’ though – well, at least not in the way people picture a fight. For me, as with many things through life, my mum showed compassion, love and acceptance  – even for her illness. This doesn’t mean to say she no longer wanted to live or find a way to get better – but instead of waking up each day with a rage against cancer, she approached it with peace. Your life is your own – so for others “showing cancer who’s boss” is their way and that’s great. But this is how I saw my mum approach all things in life. It isn’t a battle to get to the end with only one winner. It’s a dance between control and surrender — between pushing and letting go. It’s like a passing river, trying to find the easiest and most natural route, or a tree bending with the wind instead of standing rigid and breaking – there is still power in being gentle, there is still strength in quiet resolve. By taking the part of yourself that is most damaged and embracing it, you transform what has been a hindrance of your life into a teacher for your YOU.

Never Hate – We weren’t actually allowed to use the word ‘hate’ as kids. I used to roll my eyes at this one, but now I use it with every child I have taught. There is already too much hate in the world. You can say you ‘don’t like’ something, but never hate. If you must spread something around let it be love – or at least something with nut butter.

We are nature – Ok ok, so I’m not saying that you need to go hug a tree (which we did…and I still do) but understand that we are not a separate entity from nature – we are it. My earliest memories are being outdoors all the time with my family, cooking meals from scratch with my mum in the kitchen, smelling essential oils and being doused in lavender whenever I got a bite, burn or needed to go to sleep. My mum knew that we are part of the bigger system that is our planet – so treat it well, use herbs to heal, eat the whole foods, swim in the waters, breathe in the air, look to the sunsets. There’s no reason to fight nature – just go with it.

Tell people how you feel – For some reason, especially in this country, saying how we really feel fills people with embarrassment and awkwardness. Even writing this blog post a part of me thought – ‘people are going to think this is way too cheesy/mushy/gushing” – but then why do I care so much?! What is important is the message – as long as it comes from a good place, then it should be shared. One thing I will always be grateful of is knowing how much my mum loved me and her knowing how much I loved her back. You see, there is no way she couldn’t know – we told each other how we felt ALL THE TIME. We had difficult conversations, in floods of tears, embraced each other, she told me how proud she was of me and I told her how much I would miss her and how lucky I felt that I got to have her as my mum. We said ‘I love you’ a million and one times and hugged at every meeting. Some people aren’t so lucky. I’d like to think even if my mum wasn’t ill, we still would’ve been forthcoming with our feelings. But many don’t get the chance to say goodbye like I did. So don’t waste your time dithering in pleasantrys. Tell that person you love them. Tell them what they mean to you. because living with the regret that they might never really know must be heartbreaking.

Love yourself – It sounds easy but this one takes the most discipline. Be aware of the words you tell yourself, your body and mind are always listening. Everything is energy – but the thing that transcends time, grief, possessions, mortgages – the thing that truly lasts, is love. You still feel it – even when that person is no longer there. So give it and feel it for yourself too.

As she always said,

Be gentle with yourself, you are so loved.

x

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