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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.

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