Saturday, 8 August 2015

Blue moon at the farm....

 I recently spent a week 'house-sitting' at our family farm, while my Mum, youngest sister & brother-in-law were at Pinehurst in North Carolina with Will, my youngest nephew who was taking part in the US Kids golf final there. It was a brilliant achievement for him to even qualify...he's only just 7...and in the end he finished 32nd out of 131 children from 51 different countries. So proud of him...and he made lots of new friends and had great fun, which is the main thing when you're 7!
 It was also good for them all to have a change of scene after the past few months..and years..of my dad's last illness and recent death. And I got to spend time in this magical place...
 Evenings were my favourite times...work finished, chores done, animals fed....time to rest my arms on this gate and drink in the beauty and the silence...just a few red kites mewing overhead to break the spell...
 This old house holds 35 years of memories for our family...happy and sad....growing up angst, baby joys, new puppies, illness, laughter, dancing, weddings, divorces, emigration and death....it's all here, embedded in the old walls which already hold hundreds of years of other families lives...
 The apples are plentiful this year, already hanging heavy on the trees...
 The sun just glows on the deep green grass....I was standing by the old walnut tree to take this picture. It's where we love to sit on hot days, shaded by the boughs...
 You can just spot Will's shetland pony quietly cropping the grass ..
 ...and here is Jock, who was born here...I was there when he came into the world...
 The dogs, as you can see, were terribly stressed without their owners...!
 Dear Millie and her faithful companion Cora....delightful dogs (I left Alice at home with Paul...five dogs is too many! But I visited them both every day...)
 The driveway is like the road to serenity...when you arrive home at night and close the gate behind you, all is right with the world...
 And my brother-in-law's ancient cat, Moses, is always around somewhere...in warm weather, he loves to soak up the last of the days heat from the tarmac...
 On Friday, the last day of July, I watched as the blue moon rose...
 ...the last blue moon until 2018....
 ...so beautiful, it demanded many photos!
 The other very special thing for me about that week on my own at the farm, was that I wasn't really alone of course....as well as the dogs, the cat, the cattle, ponies and sheep....there was someone very special there with me...
 As I sat in his chair in the evenings, watching the light fade from the sky, looking out onto the views that he loved best of all...
I felt my darling Dad all around me. He was in every room, around every corner....just out of reach. But ever present. Keeping watch over me, and over his beloved home. As he always has...

I hope you are having a fabulous summer...now going fast! Make the most of August...

xx

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Birthday honours...


First of all, I just wanted to thank everybody who read my last post, particularly those who shared it or left comments. It seemed to resonate with many people...I think because it's a very common experience (although it feels so very personal to each one of us) and the more knowledge the better. I hope it helped someone. I found it a very cathartic post to write, anyway.

On to happier things! Our wonderful next door neighbour, Eric, celebrated his 96th birthday earlier this week. We had a small tea party for him, and I baked a cake...

 It was a soft lemon sponge, filled with lemon curd and frosted with white chocolate whipped buttercream. On the top, as you can see, were fresh raspberries and dried raspberry powder...to add a little zing!
 We kept everything simple...tea, cake, strawberries and elderflower cordial....all served in the absolutely magical room that Eric himself designed (he is an architect)....overlooking his serene and very beautiful garden...
 He takes such pride and comfort in it, and has a regular gardener who comes fortnightly to mow and trim to his very exacting specifications! I gave him a little help blowing out the candles...
 ...but he made a pretty good job of it himself!
 Eric is truly one of the dearest and most inspirational people I know. He's very lucky (as he acknowledges) to have kept in good health for all but the past year...he suffered a fall not long before Christmas which has caused and exacerbated other problems. But his personality and spirit are what shine through. He's kind, accepting, funny...he has so many friends from all walks of life and every generation, which is a testament to his lovely nature. I once asked him his secret. He gave me this advice:
Always look forward, never backwards...what's gone is gone.
Keep an open mind. You can learn so much from others, however old you are.
Let it be. Only worry about things you can change - leave everything else alone.

Wise words.
Happy, happy birthday. Proud and honoured to know you, Eric. A true gentleman, in every sense. xx

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Some things I've learned about death...and grief...

 Most of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will know that my darling Dad died...exactly 6 weeks ago today at 4pm. It was, in the end, a very peaceful death...in his sleep, in his own bed, on his beloved farm. We couldn't have asked for more. But since then, I feel I've learnt some valuable lessons which I wanted to share with you here. I was lucky...apart from my grandparents, I haven't lost anyone very close to me until now. Grief is such an individual emotion...each person will feel it very differently. But you may find some comfort, or useful information here...I hope so x
 1. However ill the person is...however much you expect and anticipate their death...you will never be prepared for it. My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer over 18 months ago. He outlived all the likely timelines we were given. At the end, he could barely eat anything at all. And yet, somehow, it all seemed so sudden. He was here...and then not. And never will be again. Shocking. Truly.

2. This is a tough one to talk about, but I think it needs saying. If you are given the opportunity to spend time with the body of your loved one after their death...do fight any first impulse to reject the idea, and really consider it. I confess that I was scared at the prospect. I'd never seen a dead person before. But I followed the advice of my sister, Esther. She's a nurse and has experienced literally hundreds of deaths (although, of course, this one was very different emotionally) She thought I would regret it if I didn't. And I'm so glad that I listened. If you have loved the person deeply in life, there is nothing to be frightened of....that time, which I spent with my Mum and youngest sister too...was incredibly special and valuable. It was peaceful and serene and it was a privilege. That's all I can say.
 3. You don't have to follow tradition, or convention. Of course, some...even most...people find it comforting to be able to leave the funeral and other arrangements in the hand of experts. Where religion is involved, there is usually a clear path to follow. But if this isn't you, or more importantly, the person you have lost..then don't be afraid to do your own thing. For example...we arranged the whole funeral as a family, with minimal input from the funeral director. Dad had no faith, so we had no religious element at all. My sisters and I led the service, choosing pieces of music that we connected with Dad in place of hymns. We each wrote & read a piece about him. One of his dearest friends spoke too...a wonderful, funny, warm & irreverent speech that he would have adored. My mum chose an incredibly beautiful love sonnet by Shakespeare to honour their 53 years of marriage and what he had meant to her. And...because none of us like formal flowers, and Dad adored wild ones and growing vegetables...a lovely, talented friend of mine made the stunning arrangement above...full of his favourite things: globe artichokes, red chilis, aubergines, turnips...wild honeysuckle and buttercups from the farm he adored. Very Dad. Which was the whole point. It all felt so right. So don't be afraid to do your own thing, if it feels like the best thing.
4. Grief is exhausting. And it takes up a lot of time. Time talking to people...explaining what's happened. Making arrangements - to stop things, to cancel things, to put an end to the administration associated with a long-ish life lived fully. Be prepared to go over the details again and again in the first days. However tired I was in the first month, I often either couldn't sleep at all, or woke in the early hours. Coming to terms with the reality...the finality...is really hard work. Don't plan anything important in the first few weeks...you will likely forget arrangements you've made, even if you have written them down. Don't rush anything. There is an impulse sometimes to sort things out, to clear things away. Try and resist. Let things rest, take time, be patient. You may regret it later if you don't...or you may not...but in any case, a few weeks at least won't hurt.

5. You may find yourself spending lots of time with photographs...recordings...videos...anything that records the one you have loved. It's as though I was trying to imprint Dad on my brain...at first, I was terrified that I would forget him. That's a silly thought...how could I possibly? But we all take great comfort from images that bring him back, even if only for a moment. We talk about him constantly. He's present in our lives...as he always has been.

6. Not everyone by any means has the luxury of preparing...however loosely...for the ultimate death of someone close to them. Because it is a luxury. To have that time, to be able to say...or try to say...all the things you need or want to. I am lucky. The last thing I ever said to him was 'I love you, Dad', the day before he died. And he said the same to me. So I have that always, like a hug. But it's made me so aware that not everyone can do this...and it's taught me to tell those I care about how much they mean to me, whenever I especially feel it. Because that's so important....it truly, truly is. Just say it, do it, hug them, mean it. You will never regret it.
7. Take comfort whenever and however you can. Dad adored nature....wild animals, birds....his beloved dog....the flowers and plants that grow in the hedgerows. And now I feel his presence whenever I see a butterfly or moth (which he could always identify)...or see a red kite wheeling high in the sky....or here a swift screaming with joy in the sultry twilight air....these things bring him to me and I treasure them daily.

 I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that he's gone. I still can't get used to talking about him in the past tense. I can't bear the fact that I'll never hear his voice again...or see his smile....or feel his arms around me. My wonderful, remarkable, infuriating, complicated, loving, generous, maverick father. The world is a lesser place without him in it. But I will learn to live without him...because the last lesson I've learnt is that, however much you don't want it to at first, life does go on. Making the very most of it is what I know he would have wanted me to do. And living a full and happy one is the best way I know to honour him and all he meant to me.

xx


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Enchanted April...

 "Oh!" cried Mrs Wilkins....
The sun poured in on her. The sea lay asleep in it, hardly stirring.
 Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different in colour, were asleep too in the light; and underneath her window, at the bottom of the flower-starred grass slope from which the wall off the castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues and violets and rose-colours of the mountains and the sea like a great black sword...
 She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it....
Such beauty; and she alive to feel it...Her face was bathed in light. Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her. A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair.
 How beautiful, how beautiful. Not to have died before this....
 ...to have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this....She stared, her lips parted.
 Happy? Poor, ordinary, everyday word. But what could one say, how could one describe it?
 It was as though she could hardly stay inside herself...
 ...it was as though she were too small to hold so much of joy...
 ..it was as though she were washed through with light."
 These words, paraphrased from Elizabeth von Arnim's wonderful book absolutely sum up my April so far...
 Some of these photos were taken during a recent weekend away in Devon, some at the farm and some around our home...

 ...and garden (the hellebores are one of my absolute favourite flowers...so shy with their bowed heads...so exquisite and muted)

 The snowdrops are long gone now, but they sparkled in the churchyard for a while..
 Camellias and daffodils are fully in bloom...

 And these grape hyacinths were a gift to my Mum at our Easter family lunch on Monday...
Life is so busy at the moment...everything colliding as always....but I'm trying to take the time to really look around and enjoy the beauty around me. It's everywhere.

Mrs Wilkins and I would have been kindred spirits, I think! Dear Lottie.

I hope you are having an enchanted April too....i'll be back soon I promise x