Grateful for breathing space

This Friday evening I was lucky enough to spend a blissful few hours with my friend Olly at her gym. If you’re thinking sweaty sports halls, manky changing rooms and verruca-ridden showers, think again: I’m talking a gym with Molten Brown products in the showers and a full blown spa experience for after your workout (plus the added bonus that you might find yourself bumping into the England rugby team whilst you’re there; alas, no such luck on Friday). 

After a hundred-mile-an-hour rush to get there on time, we arrived at our yoga class with minus five minutes to spare, a banging heart not exactly the most zen way to begin your practise (and bursting through the doors to interrupt the initial meditation not exactly the best way to make new yoga friends either), but despite this, it was only at the end of the class that I realised my mind had been thinking of nothing else but the poses and stretches for the last hour and fifteen minutes: I had managed to completely switch off from the stresses of the day. 

I used to take some kind of yoga class fairly regularly, but over the past two years have become completely out of practise. That feeling of clear headedness, of calm and of satisfying exhaustion having worked so many different muscles – as well as the fact that I’m feeling like I’ve been kicked all over by a horse right now – made me realise that I really do want to (and, for the sake of my poor, underused muscles, need to!) get back into it. 

Despite being really rather awful at a lot of it (honestly, I blame the fact that my arms are about double the length of most normal people’s; coupled with a questionable sense of balance, my Warrior 2 looks rather more ‘Drunk Surfer’), and certainly nowhere near the headstand-ing, touching-your-toes-with-your-chin kind of yogi, one of the things I love most about yoga is that it’s not really about anyone else but yourself, and what your own body can achieve. Unlike other sports, there’s no competition in yoga, and the mental benefits are just as important as the physical ones. Friday’s class reminded me that I need to be kinder to myself, that I need to spend more time on both my physical and mental wellbeing. Life is hard, and it’s very easy to just power on through without giving your wellbeing a second thought, but sometimes a glass of wine just doesn’t cut it in the relaxation stakes (don’t get me wrong, it often does): taking some time to relax, to slow down your heart rate and to clear your head can only be a good thing. Because isn’t our mental health just as important as our physical health? 

Sadly, barely a week goes by where I don’t hear about somebody going through some kind of mental health issue. I was about to write ‘of course I won’t name names’ (and I won’t), but why? If I had a friend who had broken their arm or was suffering from diabetes, I probably wouldn’t think twice about mentioning them, but we live in a world where there is still such a stigma around mental health issues; our society still has a problem if we can’t physically see the bandage or the scar. And this isn’t helped by the offhand way in which we use terminology related to mental health: “I’m so depressed Love Island is ending next week”; “If he doesn’t text me back, I’ll kill myself”. We’re all guilty of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, but a casual use of phrases like these only degrades the seriousness of those people who are genuinely suffering. 

I read an article this week about an employee having taken a ‘mental health day’ off work (and received a hugely positive response from her boss, and seemingly the rest of the world too). This is not a term I had heard before this week, but the more I thought about it, the more utterly logical it sounded. If we can take a day off work because we’re suffering a stomach ache or a migraine, why the hell shouldn’t we be able to take a day off to look after our mental health too? Aren’t these invisible issues just as likely to have a negative impact on our work as the physical ones? I’ve also heard of companies offering ‘duvet days’ to their employees, which probably amount to the same thing. 

I’m well aware that for many of those suffering with their mental health, a few days off work is nowhere near enough, but the concept of a ‘mental health day’ addresses the fact that we are all susceptible to feeling down or anxious or stressed out – and that’s okay. From an employers’ perspective, I can see how introducing such a policy could be a bit of an HR minefield, and easily abused – but everybody knows that happy employees are more engaged and more productive. It just makes sense. Such a policy also serves to show that suffering from a mental health issue or illness doesn’t necessarily have to mean months off work on long term sick leave, and I would imagine that by allowing employees the time and space to breathe when they need to, employers could see a reduction in those who do end up being signed off long-term (I would also imagine that as I am in no way any kind of expert on the matter, and have no statistics to back this supposition up, you can also feel completely free to ignore me). 

Of course everybody is different, and I am in no way trying to belittle those who do require much more time, support or medication. Mental illness comes from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and if the best way to rectify that in order to get yourself out of bed in the morning is to take a tablet each day (just like many who take daily medication for physical conditions), who on earth can argue with that? 

I’m lucky enough to confidently say that I’m not suffering from any mental health problems, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be aware of my mental wellbeing and do my very best to look after it. I’m talking about us being kind to ourselves, about taking the time to make sure we’re in the best possible state of mind to deal with whatever the world throws at us. How you choose to look after yourself doesn’t matter: take a walk, do some exercise, meditate, or even visit a doctor if you need to – this week, just take a moment to sit back and breathe: your body and your mind will thank you for it. 

Grateful for my Aunties

As a child, I always thought it was quite weird having such a small family; I was almost embarrassed about having only 3 cousins when all my friends seemed to have about 57; mysterious family members from up and down the country who sent copious presents at Christmases and birthdays, but didn’t often seem to materialise in person. I now see how lucky I am to have such a small and close-knit family, a family where we know what each other like to eat and where we’re going on holiday, and this weekend – when my Dad’s oldest sister, my Auntie Anne, is in hospital following a lengthy operation – I am particularly grateful for my two aunties. 

My family doesn’t seem to have been blessed with the best of health (we often wonder what we did in a previous life to deserve such trials in this one) but my Auntie Anne and my Auntie Rosie, my Dad’s twin, are both shining examples of strength and determination, of wonderfully strong women who are so full of love for all of those around them that they won’t let anything stop them. 

My first memories of my Auntie Anne are playing with her beautiful dolls house, admiring each delicately wallpapered room, marvelling at all the tiny furniture and intricate details within. This perfect little house mirrors Anne’s own, where you will find not one speck of dust and where every wall and surface is adorned with carefully selected artefacts: my Uncle Keith’s beloved vintage railway signs, beautiful antique china sets, a perfectly restored oak haberdashers box. A visit to Anne and Keith’s home is never anything short of a culinary extravaganza: Anne loves to cook and to host, showers us in the lightest of sponge cakes, the tastiest of meals, and even records the dishes she’s served to different people in a special book, to ensure she doesn’t repeat a menu for the same person. Nobody leaves without a plump foil parcel of goodies and an even plumper belly. 

Despite being very petite, Anne gives the tightest, most powerful hugs; she is so bursting with love for all her family members, and so interested in every aspect of our lives. I absolutely adore receiving a card or letter in the post from her, detailing the adventures herself and Keith have been on, the improvements they’ve made in the garden, or the delicious new discovery they’ve made in M&S food. Anne is an academic, she loves writing, history and literature (but always has time for a good ‘trash mag’ too), and worked so hard to gain her doctorate; I loved being able to talk about my English degree with her. 

When Mum became ill, Anne did as she always does and carried on: bringing her warm, jolly voice, her stories from home and a plethora of presents for Mum: a nail varnish, a shower gel, a beautiful powder blue jumper with sparkly shoulders. We definitely tried to adopt the head-in-sand approach for a lot of the time with Mum’s illness, but on one occasion, as Anne and Keith went to drive me to the station, Anne could see that I was about to crack. She sat in the back of the car with me and held me as I sobbed; telling me how well I was doing and how proud she was of me. I wanted nothing more than to stay in the back of that car all the way home.

Similarly, my Auntie Rosie, who comes from a nursing background, threw herself into helping care for Mum. Despite not being in the best of health herself, she couldn’t have done more to help out, and it is something I will never forget. Rosie was up and down to Mum and Dad’s house almost as often as me; always there with a smile and a colourful outfit (I love how she always carefully picks something jolly to wear when visiting someone who might not be feeling so jolly), with an infinite library of positive thoughts and practical help (regardless of how often we all told her to stop cleaning and sit down!). She was there with us when Mum became really poorly; there to make me a salad that I might feel like eating, to sit in the front room sewing bright and colourful bunting for me to hang in the London flat I had haphazardly moved into; and there when Mum died, to say God Bless and to suggest we all have a cup of tea. We couldn’t have gone through that time without Rosie there. 

Rosie is such a gentle and caring person, is always willing to step up and help others regardless of who they are or how arduous the task in hand. Rosie loves her beautiful cottage, her cats and her garden. She is a wonderfully skilled seamstress, makes adorable children’s clothing, quilts, curtains, even a cycling top for my cousin Bobby (is it finished yet or does it still resemble a cape?!). 

We share a very similar sense of humour, love nothing more than laughing together about the same trashy TV programmes, texting about such insignificant things as Poundland stocking a new type of toilet roll (it was on TV, don’t judge us) or nagging my Dad about something ridiculous. We are both at Dad’s house often, and therefore spend many of our Sundays together whilst Dad volunteers at the hospice; walking around the shops laughing at hideous pieces of furniture, spending hours trying to choose the perfect tupperware lunchbox, preparing delicious lunches and sitting down to watch something silly on TV. 

If anything at all positive came from my Mum’s illness, it’s that it brought our family even closer together. And what I absolutely love more than anything about my aunties is how they thought of, and think of, my Mum as their own sister. I’m just devastated that they had to lose a sister so soon. I’m so grateful to have these two women in my life, to know that I could pick up the phone and talk to them any time, that I could go to them with a problem and they’d do their best to solve it. I’d take the two of them over 57 cousins any day.

Grateful for guilty pleasures

I’m not proud of what I’m about to say, but we’re all friends here and in the spirit of honesty being the best policy… my name’s Clare, and I’m a Love Island addict. There: I’ve said it. I know; it’s tripe, it’s the lowest form of entertainment, it’s a load of twaddle – say what you will about it, I already know. But I’ll still be changing my plans to ensure I’m home in time for 9pm, or staying up way past my bedtime to watch on catch up, god forbid I miss out on a day’s worth of goss from the Island (or even worse, that I find out what’s happened by absentmindedly scrolling through Twitter before I’ve had a chance to watch it). 

So what’s the appeal? The former sociology student in me might say it’s simply interesting to study the behaviours of a group of young singles forced together through a shared love of lip filler and thong bikinis… but let’s be honest, there are probably better ways of researching the human mindset. 

Honestly, its mindless. And in today’s world of seemingly never-ending bad news, why the heck shouldn’t we enjoy watching something that requires as little brain power as possible? Something that reduces the world to a single villa in Mallorca, that ignores the existence of politics or terrorism or human suffering, just momentarily? Ignorance is bliss, right? So let’s pretend to be ignorant for an hour each evening. Let’s pretend that all that really matters is who’s cracking onto who, whether anyone is grafting hard enough, or who’s being the most muggy (muggiest?!) today. 

Of course I’m trying quite hard to justify myself here; I doubt it’s really working. But the people on my screen, with their alternative language, their endless hair extensions (girls) and impossibly tight shorts (boys) are so far removed from my every day life that they are a constant source of fascination to me. And isn’t it just human nature to be nosey?!

I don’t know any of these professional Instagram types; personal trainers with ridiculous muscles, models or dancers permanently posed and selfie-ready. Would we be friends in real life? Probably not. But it’s not hard to get extremely, very seriously, must-text-my-best-friend-immediately-about-this-crucial-development invested in the love lives of people you’ve never met before, when you see them play out in front of you each night. Who didn’t want to go and slap stupid, stupid idiot Jonny upside his head when he dumped the lovely Camilla for the far less lovely Tyla? Who didn’t grin from ear to ear when Marcel asked Gabby to be his girlfriend? Who hasn’t questioned what their type on paper actually is at some point during the last four weeks?! I get it: if you don’t watch the show I probably sound like an absolute crazy person and you’re most likely questioning our entire friendship right now. But if you do watch it: do you hear me?!

Finding out that someone you know is also a secret addict is absolute gold dust. Flood gates well and truly opened; we’re aware that we’re equally as despicable as each other, now onto the important stuff: did Jess and Mike really get together? Can you believe Montana is only 21? Was that girl’s name really Tyne-Lexy? Did you know you can buy their actual water bottles on the Love Island app??!! (Sorry, I’ll stop soon, I promise).

And husbands/boyfriends/partners: I’m onto you too! Don’t tell me you’re not on the edge of your seat about when the next recoupling will happen; don’t pretend you’re sitting there reading something intellectual on your phone whilst your girlfriend watches: I see that one eye on the TV! I KNOW you’re living vicariously through these white-trousered, tattooed Essex boys. And that’s okay! I say enjoy it: whatever your guilty pleasure is, life’s too short to worry about what other people think. Embrace the embarrassment, lap up the entertainment. Normal service will be resumed next week. 

For Robyn Northcott, who’s just my type on paper. 

Grateful for volunteers

This week I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity through work to spend a few hours volunteering. To caveat this post immediately: I am not including myself as a volunteer that I am grateful for! I felt like rather a fraud to be feeling good about giving just a few lone hours to charity, when others commit on a much more permanent basis – especially when our allocated activity was gardening; a field I am, shall we say, less than proficient in – but I was glad to be given the opportunity all the same. 

Our chosen charity was a school for autistic children in North London, and – having got over the disarming sight of my colleagues in casual, non-work clothes – I was grateful to have my mind broadened about the challenges faced by those with autism: an area I previously knew very little about. Only 20% of the pupils use the spoken word to communicate, and many of the children deal with multiple other conditions too. I was quite taken aback by these facts, and humbled that we were able to provide just a little support; I had never appreciated how much harder everyday life can be for these individuals and their families. 

The school is available to children up to 19 years old, and aims to be ‘Ambitious about Autism’, providing each child with every opportunity to ultimately take on some sort of paid or unpaid work, and to live as fulfilling an adult life as possible, despite the additional obstacles they may face. Each child is given the chance to try out various different vocations, one of these being horticulture, and this is where myself and my colleagues put our hours to (hopefully) good use: helping to prepare an area of land for use in gardening lessons.

Several hours of weeding and chopping brambles later, I learnt that my fitness definitely needs some work, but thanks to teamwork and the additional skills of many of my colleagues, we made a noticeable difference to the area. What made me sad is that the school relies on groups like us – starry eyed office workers on an away day from their desk jobs – to complete tasks like this – and I wished that we could have done more. 

It got me thinking about all those wonderful people who give their precious time to charity on a regular basis, and made me think that I really must find a way of giving my time too. How many different charities and organisations up and down the country rely on volunteers to help them operate? In a world where money is always tight, I’m sure there are a great many. But there’s a reason people give their time: helping others feels good. Thinking of others less fortunate than yourself helps put your own life in perspective. And why shouldn’t volunteering be totally selfless?! If it helps others, why the heck shouldn’t you feel good about doing it?! Of the people I know who do volunteer their time for charity, a hundred percent of them seem to get something from it too. 

My father volunteers two days a week at the Marie Curie hospice that cared for my mother; something that I could never do and that I am so proud of him for. Whilst this is definitely a case of ‘giving something back’ in exchange for the fantastic care my family received there, it also provides Dad, who is self-employed, with a structure to his week, a way of socialising with others and feeling like he’s made a difference. In palliative care, a squeeze of the hand, a smile or a joke can make all the difference to someone’s day. My Dad helps an old lady smile, lends somebody a ear if they need to talk, cuts up a gentleman’s food if he isn’t able to eat alone. He officially volunteers as a kitchen assistant, but this role is much, much more. 

A friend from work has volunteered at the Cancer Research MoonWalk for many years, and you only have to look at her face when she talks about it to know how much she takes from the experience. Anne looks forward to the event each year, to seeing her friends and to experiencing the electric atmosphere of solidarity and hope that is apparent throughout the night. I saw just how much of a difference people like Anne make in a Facebook post by a lady who had been helped by Anne when she was feeling like she just couldn’t make it to the finish line. She was so grateful to have had someone throw her arm around her shoulder and tell her she could do it. What a fantastic thing to be part of.

My friend Becci, who recently got married, volunteers at a charity for homeless and vulnerable people in Cardiff. I thought it was absolutely amazing that Becci and Andy chose to involve some of the individuals who receive support from the charity in their wedding, and testament to how passionate Becci is about her volunteering work there. The charity runs a choir that helps to raise funds, and they sung during the signing of the register in church. Hearing these individuals, who had clearly not been dealt the fairest hand in life, belt out ‘Something Inside So Strong’ with such passion and feeling was extremely emotional. 

I know I have lots of other friends who also give their time to charity – people who don’t necessarily talk about it but just make it a part of their every day life – and I have no intention of discrediting the work anybody does by not mentioning them in this post. To anybody who volunteers, whatever you do and however often you do it: thank you. Time is one of the most precious gifts that you can give, and I’m inspired and humbled by all of you. 

Grateful for an escape

After two weeks away on a cruise with my Dad, it’s no surprise that this week I am grateful for having had the opportunity to go on holiday. The cruise was a bit of an extravaganza, a ‘you only live once’ situation, and I’m so glad we took it. To be able to up sticks and leave your life, even just for a week or two, isn’t a luxury that’s afforded to everyone. And coming the day after the terrorist attacks in London Bridge, I was extremely glad to have the opportunity to escape for a while. 

I’m not the most well travelled person in the world, but it got me thinking about some of my favourite holiday memories. 

Neither of my parents liked flying, so as children we holidayed mainly in Devon and on the Isle of Wight – and had some fantastic times. I’m sure it’s just rose-tinted glasses, but it seemed to be much more consistently hot in those days; ice creams rapidly melting into the sand, Mum desperately plastering my fair skinned brother’s protesting face with suncream, long balmy evenings where we were allowed to stay up late because it was simply too hot to sleep. (There were also, of course, plenty of times where in classic British style we would stoically remain on the beach, protected from the force 10 gales by a fortress of wind breakers and parasols).

The Isle of Wight has been a holiday destination for my family for many years (my parents even had their honeymoon there), and the place names roll off my tongue like familiar friends: Ryde, Gurnard, Carisbrooke Castle, Blackgang Chine. We visited again a few years ago, on what would turn out to be Mum’s last holiday; enjoyed the peaceful walk along the seafront between Cowes and Gurnard many times. I’ll forever be grateful to my brother for travelling to meet us as a surprise, waiting for hours in the rain just so that he could be there. That holiday was in no way perfect, but just being there meant the world. 

One of my favourite family holidays was in, conversely, the popular haunt of the over 85s: Eastbourne. Myself and my brother were teenagers and for a reason I can’t recall, Mum and Dad ended up booking the trip very last minute. Consequently, the only accommodation available was the grimiest student digs imaginable – and having never seen a student house before, this was really quite a culture shock. Due to the fact that every surface seemed to be coated in a sticky brown film, and that in most of the rooms the windows had been painted shut, we spent absolutely no time in the house. I remember takeaway pizza on the beach for dinner; walking along the seafront each evening and nosing into the geriatric hotels, laughing at the entertainers with their Casio keyboards; eating breakfast in a streetside cafe each morning, marvelling at the mini pots of jam. We spent so much time together as a family that week, that despite the grim surroundings, we laughed more than ever.

In stark contrast to this, one of my first holidays without Mum and Dad was to the extremely classy and culturally significant destination of Magaluf. Again, this was a culture shock for many different reasons, and I certainly wouldn’t rush back – but I had a brilliant holiday for about £100. Yes, I ate McDonald’s for dinner, baked on sun loungers crammed around a tiny pool each day, binge drank every evening and suffered for it the following morning, and stocked up on dubious Spanish-branded spirits to take home (in the days before a 100ml liquid limit existed on planes) – but I spent the week with three lovely girls (two of whom I barely knew before the holiday), and had a whole lot of laughs. The holiday was also perfect preparation for the three years of binge drinking that would follow (and also gave me a great tan for Freshers Week). 

As I have grown older, my holiday choices have (I think) improved somewhat. One extremely memorable trip was four days in New York with seven girls. Fresh out of a break up, it was the perfect tonic for me: a decadent extravaganza of shopping, cocktails, rooftop bars and very little sleep. The trip showed me how much fun I’d been missing out on, and gave me some of my very best friends. 

The first time I travelled alone was to visit a friend in Canada – she showed me around Toronto, introduced me to her family, took me to a Polish street festival, to Niagara Falls and to Canada’s beautiful wine country, as well as for a quick trip across the border to Buffalo (we made it as far as Target, having been detained at the border for a number of hours thanks to my non-Canadian passport – great fun! Although I’ll never complain about an hour in Target: think Supermarket Sweep on steroids). I loved that trip, loved having the opportunity to see somebody else’s world. 

A very different holiday was a trip with Dad, my brother and my sister-in-law shortly after Mum died. That really was the definition of an escape; we were still so raw, still working out how to deal with things. The beautiful Lake District was the perfect place to do so: I loved the clean air, boat trips on the peaceful water, a calming change of scenery. 

My recent cruise with Dad also allowed plenty of time to appreciate the relaxed pace of being on water. Dad’s first cruise without Mum was always going to be something of a challenge, but I am delighted to say that we both thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Two weeks of sunshine, food and plenty of opportunity to make new friends: I was pleasantly surprised by my first nautical holiday. 

Of course there have been many more trips: Mexico, Croatia, Kent, Yorkshire, Barcelona, Berlin to name just a few. I’m so lucky to have been able to travel just a little bit; to hear different voices, try different foods, see new sights; to escape from the every day and to make memories that will last forever. 


Grateful for my Mum

Dear Mum,

This week would have been your 61st birthday (although you never looked anything like your age), and I can’t believe it marks almost two whole years without you. It seems like such a long time in many ways, and I’m often confused at how Dad, Greg and I have managed to simply live our lives since then; how we’ve just carried on with the day-to-day things, managed to smile, have fun – without you. I don’t really know how. I think of everything in terms of before and after you now.

Dad is doing well, all things considered, and don’t worry – I’m looking after him; making sure he doesn’t go in the garden in his new slippers or out of the house with food down his shirt (you know Dad, it’s sometimes a losing battle in the food-on-clothes department! We’ve always been such a clumsy family haven’t we.). Beth the cat keeps him company; she misses her brother Charlie but I think he just missed you too much in the end. Greg is doing well too; he and Hazel are a proper little family now, with their own house and their dog, Kim – she’s hilarious, you’d love her. Auntie Rosie visits often and we carry on our tradition of loving awful TV; Anne and Keith still keep us entertained with their stories of the super six.

When you died, somebody said to me that eventually the good memories would outweigh the bad ones – and I am finding that to be true, slowly but surely. I surround myself with photos of you before you became ill; photos of the real you. I still dream about you all the time, but now, more often than not, in the dreams you’re healthy again. I still hear your wonderful laugh, the warmth in your voice and how you’d call me ‘darling’ or ‘love’. How I wish I could hear it again now, for real.

I remember billions of wonderful times with you, and I’ll be forever grateful for each and every second we had together. It’s hard to define even a few moments, and I feel like I can never do you justice, because you were always just a constant in my life: there after school or at the end of the phone every single day – always with a warm hug and all the time in the world for your family. Always with a story to tell about one of the girls at work or something that happened at the gym; the only person who I could chat with for hours about completely mundane, irrelevant things (although Dad does a sterling job nowadays!). Dad used to laugh at the way we loved to gossip, how we used to try and make suppositions about everything, to work out what the couple sitting in the corner of the restaurant were talking about, why that woman across the road was looking cross. We were the same; I guess you’d call it nosy!

You were always so thoughtful, always thinking of fun things for us to do, planning days out, finding different meals to cook or buying thoughtful little gifts; Greg and I never wanted for anything. You loved to have a dance around the kitchen, to sing along to the new music Greg would play for you. You were the glue amongst your different friendship groups; always the one to instigate a get-together, jumping at the chance to try somewhere new. Dad still sees the girls now; they were so touched when he asked each of them to choose a piece of your jewellery to keep (don’t worry I had all the Swarovski!). Everybody misses you so much.

As I grew up, we only grew closer. Remember when we tried to wax our legs at home?! I don’t think we even managed one strip each, the pain was so great and we were laughing too much. Shopping was our thing: a proper day out with Costa coffee on arrival, then hours walking around the shops, treating ourselves, convincing each other that every purchase was essential; followed by lunch, more shopping, then home to parade our new wares in front of Dad and Greg. We had some great days out in London, theatre trips, dinners, spa days, so many nights in front of the TV together. That one year we got obsessed with Big Brother and used to watch the catch up at breakfast time over big bowls of Rice Crispies and ice cold milk. And remember when we accidentally knocked the wing mirror off Dad’s car and couldn’t stop laughing?! So much to remember, I’m not sure there’s space for it all in my brain. You were my best friend.

I was overwhelmed by all the cards and messages of support we received when you died; you would have loved all the flowers (except for the lilies of course – you could never stand the smell). One colleague sent me a poem by Bishop Charles Henry Brent that was read at her sister’s funeral, and we chose to read it at yours too (your lovely friend Annette read it):

A ship sails and I stand watching
till she fades on the horizon,
and someone at my side
says, “She is gone”.
Gone where? Gone from my sight,
that is all; she is just as
large as when I saw her…
the diminished size and total
loss of sight is in me, not in her,
and just at the moment
when someone at my side
says “she is gone”, there are others
who are watching her coming,
and other voices take up the glad shout,
“there she comes!” …and that is dying.

I love that poem. I think about you reunited with Grandma and Grandad, Auntie Kath and Uncle Ron, how overjoyed they will have been to see you again (perhaps you even waved to Cilla Black, who died the day after you!). I write about you so much; perhaps it’s a subconscious way of dealing with things. I just want to keep you in the present forever.

“If you know someone who has lost a very important person in their life, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you may make them sad by reminding them that they died – you’re not reminding them, they didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered they lived. And that is a great, great gift.”

I hope it’s wonderful up there Mum; I hope they have the best jacket potatoes and an endless supply of liquorice. I hope they play all your favourite music and that you can have a dance whenever you want to. I hope the sun’s just right for your fair skin, and that you have a lovely bubble bath every evening like you used to. That you can see as many shows as you like and always find the right colour of nail varnish. I hope it’s full of people who love you just as much as we do.

Happy birthday Mum, I’m so grateful for the time we had and I love you and miss you every single day. Love you forever Mum.

All my love,
Clare xxx

Grateful for every minute (because they’re not guaranteed)

It doesn’t really seem right to be grateful for anything on the day after yet another horrific terrorist attack in the UK; the third in three months. I’m not even going to try and write about what happened because I can’t even begin to find the words. 

The planned theme for this post was about how every day I am reminded that life is too short, and that still seems, sadly, rather fitting.

The world that we’re living in can seem like such a monstrous place at times. I completely understand how people can become crippled with fear, terrified to leave their own homes. Living in London, I have definitely felt like that, wondered whether I’m putting myself in unnecessary danger, whether running away to a cottage in the middle of nowhere would be the best plan. 

I don’t subscribe to the belief that our destinies are planned from the second we’re born, that someone up there has already decided whether I’m going to get mown down by a terrorist one day, because that way of thinking brings me absolutely no comfort whatsoever. If you do, and it helps you deal with the world, then that’s great. Whatever gets you through. 

For me, it’s a daily struggle to find the right balance between ‘don’t worry about what you can’t control’ and news reports detailing what to do in a terrorist attack, how best to save your own life. I definitely fall into the worrying camp; I worry about everything, all the time – and I’m sure if I could just believe that there was a bigger plan, that one day this would all make sense, somehow, then it would be easier to deal with. But how can this possibly ever make sense?! 

Trying to find something positive on this day is hard; feeling grateful to be alive when last night seven innocent people lost their lives, and many more were left with life threatening injuries, is about as much as I can muster. Grateful for what though? For it being them, not me?! Of course not. 

But I am grateful for every moment I’m given on this earth – for every smile, every hug, every moment of laughter, happiness, friendship and love – because none of them are guaranteed. A quote I see a lot is that fear doesn’t prevent death, it prevents life; and it’s completely true – but it’s also completely ridiculous to think that fear is something that can simply be turned on or off. The world we live in is an increasingly scary place.

Every time something awful happens, we have to hold on to the outpouring of kindness that follows; it’s not much, it doesn’t negate the devastation and the grief, but it’s what will keep us sane and it’s what will keep us strong. The lines of people wanting to donate blood, those offering a bed for the night or a lift home, those fundraising for the families of victims: its vital that we pay attention to the good. Throwing accusations and generalisations helps nobody; it’s very easy to be a politician from behind the safety of your touch screen – but it will only cause more anger and hatred. Unless it’s your job (and if it is, thank you), don’t give them the dignity of a place in your brain. 

Today I’ll be going on holiday with my Dad, and I’ll try to treasure every moment. I’ll try my best to put the fear to the back of my mind and to be grateful for the here and now.

Sending love to all.