Hello and thank you for calling in...

My name is Helen and I am a Photographer living in England. I started this Blog on the day that my Grandma died, three months after my Father died and several weeks before a third funeral. Initially it was a very personal way to stay connected to the people I'd lost and it helped, it really did. But writing and taking pictures everyday has opened back up a creative side that I had lost during the everyday. A big thank you to my followers, to those who take the time to comment and to new visitors, I hope we will become Blog friends too...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

a chair, a bed and a toilet

I walked into my nans house through the back door from the garden, easier than going in the front door, the usual way we went in when we visited. My nan had started to sort through her belongings six months before she died. She was no longer living there full time as she wasn't really up to being at home on her own anymore. Its an odd thing to have someone who's spent a life looking after other people become dependant on others, weak and frail, old I suppose. I think your grandma and grandad always seem to you to be old and once past a certain age their features don't really change much so it comes as quite a shock when they suddenly age dramatically. On her last Birthday we had met Nan and my other relatives at a 'mid point' in our journeys as we often did. A fine day out. This meeting was different, everyone was tense, everyone was having quiet whispered words with me about 'the situation' I left that day feeling very uneasy, disturbed. The time had come that Nan needed looking after and the dreaded word 'nursing home' was mentioned. I was shocked. For a lady who had devoted so much love and time to all of us its seemed a hideous notion to 'pack her off to a home'

Its a dilemma faced by countless families and having kept Dad at home for perhaps too long before we put him into a nursing home, I know how challenging, exhausting, exasperating it can be too look after someone who is inevitably becoming more and more dependant and helpless. Throw into it that in our experience, with the illness and dependency comes depression, dementia and a demanding nature and you've got a recipe for a not very nice time all round. There are of course lovely moments where you share with the person happiness, nice experiences and love but these do become less and less. I had all that experience in me when I was faced with the prospect that this was happening again in our family to my beloved Nan.

'By The River'

So in readiness for her impending relocation to somewhere else Nan had begun to throw out and give away, pack up and clear out. Going into her house I thought how sad it was that she had had to start this job, surely it would have been kinder that she had died without even a thought of her impending doom, let alone having to start preparing for the inevitable. She was a collector, loved auctions and antiques shops, charity shops and jumble sales and it seemed on that day to me an utter waste to ever buy anything in our lives if it all had to be gut wrenchingly sorted through and got rid of at the end. You may as well just live with a bed, a chair, fridge, cooker and toilet, one set for your whole life. She'd spent her life surrounded by all her treasures, the things that gave her happiness and now we had to decide which bits we wanted to keep and what we were going to be traitors over and chuck in the tip. Horrible.

You feel raw and numb at the same time at those moments, I wondered around her half empty home taking photos of the furniture I talked about earlier, sitting in their places but bare of all the their nic nacs. I wont put any of the photos on here as it doesn't feel right to do so, reminds me of those books of the dead that they used to have in the old days where they took photos of their dead relatives sitting in chairs dressed in their finery, very odd. Someone had wanted me to take a photo of my dad in hospital and I couldn't, not like that, not near death it didn't seem right. I talked it over with my son and he felt the same, dad would have hated that. Dad hated what that illness did to his body so why would he want anyone taking photos of it. Anyway I keep going off tract today, I'm tired and my thoughts race when I'm tired. It can prove very creative sometimes but it must be very infuriating to anyone else!

We packed up everything in the kitchen, it was the hardest job and had been left till last because we all knew how hard it would be. Now even after three weeks I'm still traumatised by doing it. The kitchen is where my nan shone, she was a caterer to people, she loved it, baking being her thing. I bubble wrapped all her lovely cups and saucers, some from when she was first married and I've kept them all. She loved pretty cups and saucers, teapots, tea plates with yummy cakes sitting on them and these are the things I need to remember my Nan with so I brought those home. The most treasured possession I brought home (as well as the Bird Bath of course) was her rolling pin, given to her by her brother as a wedding present and it has made every piece of baking she has ever done. I think for a women the kitchen is 'her' space in the home and it becomes a very personal area. On the window cill was a pottery castle I'd made when I was 11, she kept it all those years, a turret had fallen off but that didn't matter to her she kept it because it reminded her of me. On the fridge were felt magnets I'd helped my babies to make to give to their great Nan for Christmas years ago. On the wall was a wipe board that my children had written messages on to her with the date each time they'd visited and reading that on that day i crumbled, bravery out of the window and I'm crying again now. Its in my garage, wrapped up and will have to stay that way for a while as I can't bare to look at it. These things I know meant more to her than any of the nic nacs that she had collected over the years and they were the hardest to pack away, the final awful admission that she was gone.

The house has gone now, not ours anymore. I tried the phone number and it was cut off, the number she'd had since before I was born. The number with her voice at the end. It all goes in the end, is any of it worth it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

yum yum

My daughter left this perfect photo opportunity for me, made me giggle :)

spring is sprung and all that

My seeds are turning into flowers!

Nothing happened and I was beginning to worry but now their little leaves seem to be pushing through every minute.

I was a little late in planting them but hey, I'll have flowers soon. Its very exciting.

Millie Moo was of course on hand with helpful gardening advice.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

one more game of tennis

A third family member died this morning, unexpectedly (well for me, I'd no idea he was so ill) so shocking. My father's and uncle's best friend since they were little dots, who was family to us all.

Its not my place to go into it too much, other than the way its affected me. He was such a lovely, funny man (was - how strange to be putting that) before he got Alzheimer's and the last time I saw him was at Dads funeral.

oh I feel for his wife and sons so so much, we know exactly what they are going through today and what they will have to go through for the next few days. Another funeral to attend, more grief. Friends tell me it can run like this, lets hope three is enough now, I for one am feeling a little raw.

It will be a large funeral, he was very well liked, as Dad was but he knew many many more people and was involved in many things before he became ill so I would image the church will be full to bursting and its a big church. This time I will be on the other side of the experience, watching, how surreal that the group of us that were so close for so many years have had to go through the same thing, watching the men die, the strong ones who were suppose to look after us all, get sick and die.

We're left with two grieving wives, four shell shocked children, grandchildren - it wasn't supposed to be like this. They were young men, we should still all be playing tennis together, having picnics and rounders games on long sunny afternoons with the new members of the group,the grandchildren. What I wouldn't give for one more game of tennis with my dad and I really didn't like the game!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

a warm welcome

I brought the Bird Bath and Bird Feeders home to put in my garden and remind me. I had given the Bird Bath to Nan for her birthday and she obviously loved it. Until now I had mixed feelings about it.

I met her on her birthday at my Auntie's house and laid the carefully wrapped present (which was bloomin heavy) on my Auntie's pine kitchen table so Nan didn't have to bend down to open it. Nan pulled it towards her to unwrap and the stone gouged a cavernous deep scratch through the wrapping paper into the soft wooden table. My Auntie's face was pure horror and mine pure guilt. It was one of those slow motion moments that cannot be undone and it marred the rest of the day for me and my Auntie too I suspect!

Each time I visited Nan I would revisit the guilt when I looked at the Bird Bath but I somehow knew that it belonged in my garden when she had gone so I brought it home and Millie Moo and I lifted the top of it out of the car (the bottom being a 'man job' for later) and placed it in the position where it would eventually live.

Millie is a timid little girl. I had her as a very tiny kitten, my daughter and I went to fetch her when she was 7 weeks old, much too young for her to be leaving her mummy.

I had been 'broody' for a few weeks, a niggling naggling feeling that wouldn't go away even though I defiantly didn't want anymore pets but my instincts were jangling off the hook, so I looked in the paper.

There it was 'kittens for sale' and I found myself concocting a reason to have one to anyone who would listen, trying to convince myself. But it was already a done deal, Millie's little soul had been calling across the countryside to me from the minute she was born. She knew she was to be ours.

My daughter was still quite small (around 10) and I told her we were going shopping but for something that was very delicate and breakable so she must be careful when we got there. When she was even younger still I had looked into the conservatory to see her gripping tightly onto our hamster, which she had dressed in a Barbie outfit, bouncing the poor thing along the window cill, singing. It was 'going shopping'. I've never moved so fast.

With the hamster safely and unscarredly back in its cage (well physically anyway, do they do hamster counselling?) I have hence forth carried with me a certain nervousness whenever my daughter is around small things.

We pulled into the driveway of a beautiful country house with cats roaming in every possible space and her little face lit up, she was in tiny pink person heaven but she still didn't twig why we were there.

It was thrilling and terrifying all in one go!

Prizing a startled looking moggy out of my daughters arms, squeezed a little too tightly for my liking, we were escorted into the house by the lovely country cat women who came to great us with a "go in very carefully" warning. Yes misses I thought, you've clocked the fear in my eyes and devil behind my daughters, this was going to need heavy restraint procedures.

We were shown into a side room where the contents that came tumbling out of the door were enough to melt even the very hardest of hearts, hundreds (it seemed) tiny little balls of absolute cuteness bouncing towards us on mass, making it look like the floor was moving. Choking back tears at the moment and my daughters beaming face I asked her "which one do you want darling?"

Stupid question, we had absolutely no say in the matter! Utterly mesmerized and overwhelmed, my daughter staggered backwards into a shabby arm chair, and was instantly covered in wriggling balls of fluff. Rendered motionless with delight she was as good as gold and eventually one by one they became bored with their new playmate and scrabbled off to find new adventures. It was time to choose as a tiny little bundle who'd been hiding clawed its way up her jeans and curled up and went to sleep on her lap. The deed was done.

Millie came home and I carried her everywhere with me for 3 days, her tiny little body gently rising and falling as she slept on my chest while I worked on my laptop. We bonded, I was her mummy now, for life.

She helps me clean the house, she helps me put the washing out,
she drives me crazy with her chattering and gives me painful massages when she wakes me up in the mornings. I love her utterly.

So it was completely fitting that it should be Millie who should help put out the Bird Bath in the garden that is hers and mine.

As I said Millie is a timid little girl, afraid of anyone that doesn't belong in her house and most definitely afraid of anything new that wasn't there before. But her reaction to the Bird Bath was beautifully unusual for her. She cuddled it, rubbed around it, played with and baffed it. Millie had never met my Nan but she was here now in my garden and Millie welcomed her with open paws.

Monday, 18 April 2011

then she was gone

Driving up to my grandmas house on the day the auctioneers were coming to move her furniture out was horrendous. Its at the end of a small close in the beautiful village where they film Midsummer Murders.

Whenever I've turned into the road, which I have hundreds of times in my life, it would always be with such a happy expectant feeling of warmth and love. Nan would see us coming up the road through her living room window and appear at the front door with the biggest smile and the warmest welcome, so pleased to see us.

That day the sun was beaming down and everything was as it always had been, curtains still up in the windows, flowers dancing in the front garden, Nans beloved roses smiling their welcome "long time no see" I sat in the car for a while, waiting, paralyzed, feeling like someone had ripped my heart out. My legs wouldn't move but I knew I had to get out and go into the empty house full of her things, her smell. It was awful.

I imagined for a while that nothing had changed,that I was here for another lovely visit, sitting there in a past life waiting for her to come to the door and wave.

Time to be brave. I started with the garden, as I was the first there I could take my time so I walked around the side of the house and into the garden that she'd loved so much.

It was just as she'd left it, the bird bath in the flower bed that she filled up every morning while making her cup of tea, bird feeders hanging from the bird table with the seeds still inside that she'd put there and worst of all her green house, her beloved green house with her finger prints on the white washed glass. It was heartbreaking. She wasn't there and never would be again. She was gone.

Every sense I had was crying wretched tears. feeling the gaping loss of all the lovely stimulus that a visit to my nans would bring The sun was still shining down warm on my skin, bees were buzzing around the blooming magnolia bush and chickens clucking in the garden next door. The flowers smelt heavenly, and even though it was still early spring, looked glorious.

Four senses covered then but a shallow empty experience where once it would have felt the very essence of life.

And taste was utterly deprived, no cup of tea! They love their tea my family (leaves NOT bags) and it would be the first, most important thing to make sure we had a steaming hot cup after our long journey and one of Nans delicious scones of course, freshly baked that morning. Nan loved to bake for her family and we all loved her for it.

I spent a while photographing the sights that nan saw out of her kitchen window everyday. I'm sure it will help to look at them in the future. I wish I had taken more, a picture of her empty whiskey bottle by the bin (a small glass every evening with warm milk to thin the blood) pictures inside the greenhouse of her trowel,watering can and plant pots just as she'd left them, pictures of where the vegetable patch used to be.

She would take me up there and proudly show me curly courgettes and red and green tomatoes which held little interest for me at the time but I wish I'd given her more, for everything she gave to me.

My relatives arrived, it was time to go in.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

and another one

My Millie, Milly Moo, Milly Moosanse, Nuisance Moosance, Moo Balloo

yes Mum, its supposed to be blurred, its artistic !

Meow :) x

a cheery picture to lighten the mood

saw this picture on Facebook,not one of mine.

great idea, made me laugh!

Monday, 4 April 2011

too much emotion and no words

'Busy Bee Day'
I meant to write a few times last week but words escaped me or possibly the subject escaped me. We buried my Nan on Wednesday, well her funeral was Wednesday and Burial of her ashes on Friday. The pain is so.... and there I am again running out of words, so many come to mind but none quite get there because there are no words that are enough to describe this feeling.
Now i know what 'beyond words' really means. Some things can be only be felt and expressed in emotion. Perhaps that's what telepathy is, conveying feelings rather than verbal expression. I've given this a lot of thought before. We all have this ability and to some extent we're able to do this and don't need words. You know when someone loves you, they radiate the feeling and you certainly know when someone is cross with you. Maybe that's why early humans didn't speak, being so in touch with their feelings that the feeling enough radiated its own communication vibrations.

Animals can do this, they are amazing at it!

'Heres To You'

Have you ever been driven crazy by your pet hounding you? its not the following you around or the noise they make, its a distress feeling they give out that gets right into your very nerves, into your blood stream until your so affected by it you have to stop and give them attention. People are scared of being near me this time, not because i'm a gibbering wreck, far from it, i think my brave face is sitting there so convincingly i should take to the stage! But i suspect it's because they are afraid that they will 'feel' my grief and it will be so intense that they are worried they wont be able to cope with it or me.

Its a cavern, a bottomless pit and we all know it once we've visited it. Members of another world who have lost loved ones, standing around the edge of the pit hoping not to fall back in. Its a secret location in the countryside, over the bracken covered hill just behind the wood that others don't know is there but boy we do. Were all milling around getting on with everyday life and every once in a while someone who's newly grieving tries to take us back there to look at the view. We should really pack a picnic and go with them but we make excuses that were busy that day because we're too scared to go there again. I feel sorry for them now, my friends, sorry that i'm reminding them of the pain they felt at the time.

And its not only pain its the disbelief, the shock, the sense that (to be corny) its a dream and i'll wake up and she'll still be here. i'm fighting the temptation to keep ringing her phone number, as though this time i will and she'll answer like she always has and i'll cry tears of joy instead that it was a mistake and she hasn't died at all, it was just a silly trick that someone was playing on me. That i'll hear the joy in her voice at hearing my voice and i'll tell her my stories and make her laugh as i've always done and we'll know without words that we are family and we are loved. Its a number i've been phoning all my life, with the same warm happy ending every time, and now i never will have that again. Bottomless empty pit. They will disconnect the number next week. I will ring it a few more times before they do, even though i know she won't answer and it will ring and ring but i know that somewhere out there in the universe she will hear it and know that i am ringing her and it will make her happy, like it did when she was in this world.

Her furniture is being taken away on Thursday by the auction house. Furniture that she collected that has been there my whole life and with it memories of Christmas and Birthdays, of Sunday dinners, of family. It needs to be done to pay for the funeral but it feels like the height of cruelty to take away and split up the things that have meant a safe place to me since my very first memories. And it feels like we're letting her down. I wish there was a way to keep it all, to put it in a new little house that we could all go to, like a holiday home. Sometimes money can buy you happiness.
All in all as my Auntie says 'its a bit grim'. And grim says it all. No frills and faffing, no pussy footing around the meaning and absolutaly no ray of hope with that word. Grim just about covers it nicely.