June was always a good month; Uni Boy’s birthday on the 2nd, good weather (usually) and the Whitsun Holidays followed by my sister’s birthday on the 27th and my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding anniversary on the 29th.
We couldn’t see Uni Boy on his birthday this year due to exams and stuff (stuff is usually linked to alcohol and partying -Uni life moves on fast).
The wretched Jubilee fiasco took over the rest of that weekend; bedecked in damp bunting and mawkish sentimentality. As my lovely Dad and I sat in A and E till the early hours of the 4th, we agreed that at least we hadn’t had to watch the Jubilee celebrations on the box.
The nurses disagreed; they were upset because although the wards were allowed to put up Union flags and bunting, A and E was a flag-free zone. We said nothing, just smiled the weary smiles of a man who was dying and a woman who had just found out.
My battles of the next nine days are well-known; together with the germs that invaded us and laid us even lower at a time when we all needed to be resilient. Clearing out a very damp and dusty house when you have asthma and a chest infection is not a good idea and my coughing is still what my Lovely Mum would call ‘productive’. We thought Uni Boy had escaped the germs but he maintains that his cough and snuffles have come from me – not any of the hundreds of people he has come in contact at Uni since. I had no idea my germs were so powerful and far-reaching – but I expect it’s because I’m a Mum.
Whilst my Dad was still in hospital, we’d started getting the more valuable items out of the house in case the word got around and the unsavoury element in the neighbourhood decided to plunder. We discovered that, despite assuring me that he done something about it, my Lovely Mum’s clothes and belongings had lain undisturbed since she died in 2009. Uni Boy and Hub set to and recycled the clothes, putting anything else precious into bags for me to sort later and being very patient when I got distracted by memories.
By the time my Dad died we’d managed to sort out the worst (or best) of it and our house, never tidy at the best of times, was taken over by piles of paperwork, bags of jewellery boxes and the overwhelming smell of damp, dust and old that clung to everything.
My Lovely Dad’s funeral went well; attended by family, friends and his neighbours,the day after my sister’s birthday and the day before the wedding anniversary. Our choice of music – made in the hospital before he died – was considered apt in view of my Dad’s lifelong love of jazz – and hey – it made a change from ‘Angels’ and ‘My Way’.
I sorted though Mum’s jewellery; cleaning it up and buying some little card boxes from eBay to put it all in. There were a couple of pieces that we’d bought for Mum and though not of any particular value, were special to me so I put them to one side. After the funeral, sibs and partners, we all got together in the bar of the hotel where my sibs were staying and I watched whilst my sister and sister-in-law worked their way through an Aladdin’s Cave of jewellery boxes.
Whilst I was rooting around I also found an old brown paper envelope crammed with old school reports, letters, newspaper cuttings and wedding invitations. Our lives in a brown paper envelope. I divided the papers up and put together display books for my brother, my sister and me; some of the papers were so old that they started to disintegrate as I unfolded them.
I gave my brother and sister their display books as we sat in the pub eating and drinking to celebrate my Dad’s life. The pub did us proud and were over-generous with the food. We moved it to a table in the middle of the pub and invited all the regulars to partake in Dad’s memory. Tired but relieved it was all over and although the service made me cry silent manageable tears, I only really got choked when thanking my Dad’s neighbours for coming.
There are things you need to do when people die; you need to look at things you haven’t seen for a long time and mull over the memories they provoke. We couldn’t do that when my Mum died. It was too painful for my Dad; his grief was so profound at first that the last thing any of us wanted to do was to worsen the situation by demanding the right to pick through our mother’s belongings. Belongings that at the time, none of us had any legal right to.
Lovely Mum married for the second time in 1972; at the time her husband – my second Dad – had a brother, sister-in-law, a niece and nephew. They did a bunk to Mallorca, leaving a huge unpaid tax bill and a mess that took my Mum two more years to sort out. Once the tax man had agreed that my Dad wasn’t responsible for his brother’s debts, my Mum set about finding said brother in order to effect some kind of reconciliation. She tracked them down and sent letters, explaining that there was no financial motivation, just a need to get in touch again.
They never responded and Mum found out that they’d moved on to Australia. She tracked them down again – indomitable woman my Mother – but still no response.
My Mum never got around to making a will; before she died I managed to ascertain that she wanted to be burned not buried, wanted a proper wood coffin, not one of those wicker ones with flowers, and after some discussion, she wanted her ashes scattered off the Great Orme’s Head in Llandudno.
On a cold chilly day in December 2009, not long after Mum’s funeral and a very subdued Christmas, Hub and I took my Dad to Crosby to see the men (Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ but known in our family as the Standing Men).
Over a low-key lunch in a local restaurant, I explained as sensitively as I could that if anything happened to him, all my Dad’s estate – and my Mum’s – would go to some people in Australia. Their belongings would belong to people who wouldn’t care about the photographs and school reports, Mum’s special china and the bits and pieces so reminiscent of our lives. We would have no right to them unless my Dad gave us that right.
Despite his grief, he took it all on board and we found him some legal representation. He had a will drawn up, applied for probate for my Mum and also sorted out lasting power of attorney so that we would be able to support him if he ‘lost his marbles’. Shame on the medics who failed to appreciate that power and made him suffer pain unnecessarily.
So instead of our inheritance ending up in the hands of Australian strangers, we were sitting around a table in the Holiday Inn, drinking wine, exchanging memories and unpacking the little boxes of pretty that my Lovely Mum had amassed over the years.
There was very little of any real financial value; but plenty to promote reminiscences and laughter. It felt that like finally, we could start to move on from our Lovely Mum’s death and begin to adjust properly. It was a good evening; untroubled by the fact that most of the hotel staff were totally bladdered and playing silly games in another section of the bar.
The next day started with good news from Uni Boy, who had his first year exam results and phoned from York to say that he had 85% – on line for a first. Sibs and partners met up at the storage unit and redistributed some beer, wine and boxes of the valuable china. Needing more time and space to sort, we all returned to my cluttered house and whilst my brother and Hub hacked down the Hebe and Cotoneaster at the edge of the driveway to make room for my Dad’s car, us ladies stayed inside and looked through more boxes of photos and trinkets.
We celebrated the anniversary by going out for a meal; all of us except Uni Boy, who was busy celebrating his success in York – we went to an Indian restaurant though and he doesn’t like curry anyway. We laughed and talked and remembered and it was a good night.
So the dust has settled now – literally. We removed the last traces of Lovely Mum and Dad’s lives from the house and had it professionally cleaned. It smells of disinfectant now.
I’m back to work on Monday, Hub goes back the day before. We collected a coughing Uni Boy from York yesterday so both my birds are back in the nest. There are still boxes in the storage unit, in the garage, in the living room and every time I think of something I have to ask my Dad about, I bring myself up short and remember that his physical presence has gone, together with that of our last cat, who also leaves shadows around the house. I turn quickly and think I see both of them there.
Life goes on but I’m glad to say – Gudbye t’June, she’s a dark horse, see how she ran. (Cheers Noddy).