Goodbye Mum

A week ago today, I found my Mum’s body in her flat. 

I see her every Tuesday with my daughter, F. We’ve done this routine ever since her brother died last August. Mum saw Eric three times a week and they spoke on the phone every day. Sometimes more than once. So when he suddenly passed away, Mum was devastated.

The grief never subsided. She picked up a bit before Christmas, but then seemed to regress again after the new year. The shitty weather in this country – months of cold, damp, dark, grey days – does not help. She had two spells in the psychiatric ward as she was struggling so much and her psychosis seemed to be causing her ongoing problems. They discharged her three weeks ago, handed her care back over to the normal mental health unit. In my opinion she was worse after this than she was when they admitted her the first time.

I had tried to call Mum on the Monday, but she hadn’t answered the phone. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to face up to it. She wasn’t really well enough to leave the house as she had become physically very weak and had a severe tremor that had worsened over the last 6 weeks, leaving her unsteady on her feet. I told myself she had been readmitted to the hospital and hadn’t yet remembered to call me. However, with hindsight I was just postponing the inevitable.

When we arrived on Tuesday morning, she didn’t answer the buzzer at the communal door. I was about to call her when another resident came out, so he let us in. We went up to her flat and I put my arm out and pushed on her door. It was like part of me knew what to do. The door opened – she had left it on the latch.

I walked in and called her name a few times. It’s a one room flat with a small kitchen and bathroom, so after passing the kitchen and looking in the lounge/bedroom I was about to leave. I thought maybe she was better than I had thought and had walked across the road to the shop to pick up some food. Failing that I thought I’d go back to the car and call the hospital and maybe go and see her there.

I was about to leave. I passed the bathroom and noticed the light was on. The door was almost closed. I called again, “Mum?”

I pushed the door a fraction, not wanting to disturb her if she was on the toilet, or feeling unwell, but also certain that she wasn’t in there because she would have heard me calling. Then I saw her legs in the bath.

As soon as I saw them I knew immediately that she was dead. She would have answered my call. I said “Oh,” out loud, catching my breath.

I had to be sure what had happened. I pushed the door a little further and stepped half into the room, holding F back so she didn’t see anything. The bath is behind the door and I had to lean around it. She was lying in the bath, slightly to one side, her face just under the water. She looked like she was sleeping… except as I tried to look and and not look, my eyes scanning the scene as fast as possible so I didn’t have to see the detail, it was immediately obvious that she had been there for some time.

Getting help

I called the police. They came out really quickly (it felt like forever while we sat in the lounge/bedroom). They were brilliant, cannot fault them at all. More police came, and then CID, and then eventually they decided it wasn’t a crime scene. They called the undertakers and two big men with iron handshakes, dressed immaculately in black suits came to take Mum to the hospital. They left her rings on the side, and she was gone. It took three hours in total.

The police all left, and we were alone. I went into the bathroom and rinsed the bath out as I couldn’t leave what was in there to dry. Then I drove Francesca home. The rest of that day, and the next are a bit of a blur. I collected the boys at the end of school, drove to my brothers but couldn’t find him, so drove to Dads. Then I drove home again. I got the kids into bed and then stripped off, and scrubbed myself down in the shower as all I could smell was Mum’s flat and the strange, sweet, rotting metallic odour from the bathroom. A week later and I still catch it multiple times a day.

I got three hours sleep the first night, between 1:30am and 4:30am. I had to leave all the lights on because I was terrified mum was going to come and get me, all bloated and dripping and angry, for allowing her to die that way. The next day I did everything on autopilot, still in shock and utterly exhausted. I drove down to her flat with the intention of starting the clearing out process (it’s rented and I have four weeks to empty it), but all I did was sit on the bed crying while F watched children’s TV.

I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen.

Piecing it all together

Gradually, I have rebuilt her last few days. I saw her on Tuesday and arranged for a GP to call her about the tremor. On Wednesday she went to the GP to collect a form for a blood test. I spoke to her that evening. On Thursday her friend Ted drove her to the hospital for her blood test. I called her that night. On Friday a man came in the morning and cleared away an old fish tank and a cabinet she no longer wanted from her flat. She also had a meal delivery I had just arranged for her. Then Ted took her out for a coffee. They said goodbye in the afternoon and I spoke to her at 4pm. She sounded sad, hopeless, and angry about her health and NHS waiting times. It was a week before she had another call with the GP and would get her blood test results. We spoke for less than four minutes and despite my attempt to convince her that we were going to get it all sorted and she just needed to wait until next week to get results and we could go from there, she sounded dismissive. I signed inwardly. And I asked her, “What can I do to help Mum?”

“I’m alright,” she said after a long pause. “I’m alright.”

We said goodbye. After that she ate dinner, ran a bath, and never got out of it.

She’d been dead four days when I found her.

Moving on

Life doesn’t stop when someone dies. It carries on with all its noise and mess and laughter and chaos, oblivious to the enormity of your shock and grief. After four days, I slept properly. After five days, my appetite started to return. A week on, and I have already removed two car loads of stuff from her flat and I am feeling better. I have lots to do. Lots to keep me busy. Plus of course the kids – nothing waits.

I don’t know if I will regress, but I already feel like I am healing. It’s like an old wound is finally closing. I have written thousands of words in my journal and lengthy emails to my closest friends. I have realised, with surprise, that I actually lost my Mum when she moved out, back when I was fifteen and my brother was nine. I can still see her walking up the road, brown suitcase in hand, heading to the station. My brother crying so much. She was never the same after she left. We grew apart, I couldn’t find common ground. She behaved in ways I coudn’t understand and no longer seemed like the mother I’d know from days long gone. She had always been distant and unaffectionate, but she was somehow more normal when she was married.

I have grieved the loss of my mother for 28 long years. I have wanted her back, and wished things were different for almost three decades. I could never bridge the gap that her leaving opened between us. She cut off all her hair, moved in with a woman I didn’t much care for, got new animals I hated (a screeching parrot and many dogs that wee’d everywhere in the house). She became something I couldn’t relate to. While I was striving to get my degree and start a career, she seemed to drop out. Then her health deteriorated and the psychosis became a problem. I lost her so long ago. Her death feels like the end of a period of black grief that has overshadowed my entire life, especially in the years since I became a mother myself.

It’s getting late and I need to sleep, so I’ll stop here for now.

Toddlers Are All The Same

toddler

I have come to the conclusion that ALL toddlers behave like little horrors. Not only that, but as soon as toddler-hood has passed, we tend to forget how dreadful it was.

I have hard proof that in actual fact all three of my lovely children have been terrors at the age of two (one of the many advantages of now having all my blog posts in one place).

The most amusing thing about this is that I was under the impression that DS2 (now 6) was a total joy and he never once had a tantrum of any kind, and that even DS1 (now 8) was not as bad as toddler F. Clearly I have forgotten it all.

DS1: All Day Nursery Equals Vengeful Toddler

DS2: Angry 2 Year Old

DD1: The Terrible Twos

At some point with each of them I have been utterly convinced that no other toddler could ever be so trying and that there must be something fundamentally wrong with either my parenting skills, or them, or both.

Nope.

It’s just toddlers.

Decluttering The Stuff Challenge – 100 Items

declutter pile

I’ve joined John and Barb’s challenge over at Decluttering the Stuff to get rid of 100 things by 1st May.

My method of decluttering and minimising items has always been the same: I approach one particular area and go through every item. This has been a different experience for me as I knew there wasn’t an area in the entire house that could give up 100 things, so I had to approach it differently. For the first time, I looked everywhere and gathered as I went, checking in every cupboard and drawer.

Here’s what went:

4 toys/games
6 soft teddies
1 plastic plate
18 items of clothing (daughter)
27 items of clothing (sons)
3 plastic beads
3 bottles of toiletries
2 books
1 toothbrush
6 placemats
2 aprons
1 Tupperware pot
1 ramekin
1 pack of incense sticks
1 bottle opener
1 electricity monitor
1 teatowel
6 bibs
13 bits of paperwork
1 magazine
1 pack of bookrings
1 pack of bulldog clips
1 old pillow

TOTAL: 102 items

I had also stashed away a huge pile of other stuff that I’ve been adding to for the last four months, so I thought today would be a good time to sort that out also:

declutter pile

After recycling the card and plastic, and throwing away a couple of things that couldn’t be recycled, I was left with 3 bags of books, 2 bags of textile recycling and 3 bags of toys/DVDs and other bits for the charity shop. Forgive my dirty floor – we are having the muddiest weather here at the moment:

declutter pile

Great challenge, and it got me to actually get rid of everything instead of setting it aside to get rid of and leaving it for another day.

Is anyone else decluttering or spring cleaning?

Old Blogs Now Online

I think I’ve finally got all my old blogs online here. My first ever blog was under my name and ran from July 2005 to November 2006. I picked up again under a pseudonym in May 2012, and I’ve blogged on and off ever since. I’m still working through the 2012+ posts as they have missing pictures, but generally my entire blogging existence is now here at St Francis Folly.

It’s been really interesting reading over some of the old stuff I posted. I wrote a lot when I first started, and I wrote mainly for family and friends. But here’s the thing – the people that commented on my blog weren’t (for the most part) people that I knew. Even back then I existed in a small circle of bloggers, connecting online.

In fact the main reason I stopped blogging in 2006 was because I had started a new job and at least one of my work colleagues had found it and had started reading it (I guess he googled my name – one of the disadvantages of blogging at yourname.com). He never commented on my posts, but he would talk to me at work about what I was writing. He was a little bit odd, and I didn’t really like how he would come over every time I wrote a post and want to discuss it with me.

That’s the thing with blogs. You either have to have the attitude of not giving a shit about people you know reading it, or you have to blog anonymously. I’ve mentioned before that blogging sometimes feels like a one-way sharing of information. I think that’s why I love to connect with other bloggers because you share in the same way. It’s a friendship through writing.

Other things I noticed from my oldest posts:

    1. I was generally much happier and more enthusiastic. I turned to blogging as a release for difficult emotions from 2013 onwards, but back in 2006 I actually observed that I blogged less when I was unhappy. Is that because of the difference in audience? Writing anonymously allows us to express our deepest thoughts, whereas maybe writing for an audience of friends and family makes talking about emotions harder?
    2. I had no free time. I have mistakenly thought that it was becoming a mum that stole all my time, but when I was working full time I had none either. I was tied to being in a place for 35-40 hours a weeks, doing what other people told me to do. I had to commute. Sometimes also on weekends, and also I did a lot of travel for work. Mentally, I was exhausted at the end of each day. Yes, there were weekend days where I lazed around and did nothing, but they were few and far between.
    3. I took on too many projects. Story of my life!!
    4. I was wittier. Some of my posts were actually funny. These days I am so bloody serious about everything.
    5. I ranted about stuff that annoyed me. Again, I was under this impression that it was having children that made me feel so stressed all the time. Memory failure.
    6. I joined Amazon Associates in 2006, hahaha! I think I have earned about £1.23 in 12 years.

I am feeling really enthusiastic about blogging again now 🙂

Can Tiny Habits Help Me Achieve My Goals?

I’ve done a lot of thinking today about achieving things and the potential power of tiny habits. Can they help me with a personality quirk that has seen so many of my goals incomplete?

tiny habits for successful living

I am great at starting projects. I love new ideas, new plans, and new goals. There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down and planning out how it’s all going to be. And my enthusiasm at the beginning is always enormous. I’m not just going to learn a language, take photos, or get fit, I’m going to become fluent in ten languages, become a famous photographer, appear in the next Olympics!

Inevitably, as time passes, motivation dips. The main reason for this, as far as I can ascertain, is that life gets in the way. If I could lock myself in a room 24/7 and work on a single goal it’d be great, but I can’t. There is parenting to be done, I have to look after the house, deal with insurance and a bajillion other life admin tasks. There is work to worry about. I have other projects (too many), that I haven’t yet finished…

And slowly, the motivation drops off and my project languishes, and I get distracted. Often by a shiny new project.

And letting go of these projects is very hard for me. I like to finish things – I like to get things done. So I will pick up a project sometimes ten years later and then work on it some more before life gets in the way or something else exciting comes along.

The result of this is fairly obvious.

Lots of projects.

Lots and lots of projects.

And I think it is exactly this that has driven my love of minimalism. My brain LONGS to be free of the mental burden of all things that I have set myself to do.

Reducing physical clutter definitely helps with this, but as time has gone on I’ve noticed that digital clutter is  a problem for me also.

As you can imagine, this is not a constructive or particularly efficient way to live a life. We only have a finite amount of time on this earth and I really don’t want to die with a load of stuff half-finished.

It’s important, regarding any change I may make, that I accommodate my personality here. I am not the kind of person who is going to drop projects that I’ve had running in the background for years (like the family photobooks or the half finished novels (yep, plural). I need to get to the end of these. But I have got to change my way of working.

Consistency

Consistency is the key. I’ve known it for a while, but it’s becoming ever more apparent as I get older. I watch how others live their lives and I can see that consistency trumps talent and luck every time. Consistency is what gets results.

And yet, consistency is where I fall down, over and over again.

I work in big chunks, with big breaks in between (sometimes breaks of several years). In the breaks, I end up sliding back downwards. Sometimes, if it seems that I’ve gone too far downhill (business ideas, other mad plans), I will give up completely and write that project off. I don’t like doing this because it makes me feel like I have failed. I do understand the value of failure but it’s still not fun.

My business ideas, my writing, my freelance work, none of it seems to gain the momentum it should do. It’s almost as though as soon as it starts to move forward and look really promising, I step away and let it drop back to zero. Every time I write and get something published, I don’t write for ages. If I run a big race, I stop training completely. I won a dance competition and never danced again (I was 23).

I’m don’t think it’s subconscious self-sabotage, but I can’t be sure of that.

What I do know is that if I had been consistent with any/all of those things, I would certainly be a lot more successful now in any of those areas than I currently am.

The Cure

So what is the solution to a distracted mind? I think partly the problem is that I am genuinely interested in loads of different things. My brain that loves to suck up information and learn new stuff. I reach a basic level of competence in something pretty quickly, and I love it, but then as soon as it comes to moving into mastery of that subject, I get bored. Something else catches my attention.

I can’t remove this desire for learning, and I will always be the kind of person that stands in a bookshop and feels so giddy that she doesn’t know where to start.

But this trait is, to be honest, destroying my ability to really achieve anything remarkable.

Tiny Habits?

I first read about habit-stacking and tiny habits several years back, and of course Leo from Zen Habits attributes habits to all of the amazing life changes he has been able to implement. I am aware of the theory, but it’s only really now sinking in that this might be the way to change everything for the better.

A quick personal illustration of the power of habits:

The other morning I got a cup out of the cupboard to make a cup of tea. I boiled the kettle and then I went to the fridge and got out a small carton of nut milk I had bought. Nut milk isn’t very nice in tea, but I wanted to experiment and see if I could get used to drinking it that way. I put the little nut milk carton next to the mug, filled the mug with boiling water, swished the teabag around, and then, while I was talking to the kids… I went to the fridge, got the cows milk out, poured a bit in my mug, and put it back in the fridge.

Even though the nut milk had been right next to the mug, I’d still gone to the fridge and got the cows milk out and poured it into my tea. Because that’s how I’ve made tea for almost 30 years.

That is the power of habit.

The cows milk was further away, and required more energy to retrieve. But I did it without even thinking about it.

Imagine if I could do that for positive habits like writing and exercising and eating great food?

Getting Started With Tiny Habits

I’m wary of making some big commitment and then failing to follow up. However, I think that habits might be the key.

What if I could set in place a series of mini habits over time that transformed my morning from reactionary chaos in getting the kids to school into a calm, organised start to every day? (Well, let’s be realistic, I can’t control the tantrums and bickering, but I can at least be better prepared than I am – some mornings I don’t even shower or brush my hair before leaving the house with the three of them in tow.)

What if I could build a daily habit of working on things that I never seem to have time for? (Primarily exercise and writing spring to mind.)

Could I restructure my life by repeating small things every day until they become autopilot actions?

I have tried this before, but with hindsight I think my goals were too big. It’s the habit that matters, not the actual output. My first daily goal was writing 250 words. On some days it took forever to dredge those out of my brain and so eventually I stopped. I think a much, much smaller goal (say, 50 words), would have been better.

There is always the option to do more than the goal you set yourself, but that goal is the bottom line. It’s the worst you’re going to achieve in anything you set out to do. And writing 50 words a day is, over the last year,  18,250 words more than I have actually written.

I’m setting up a coach.me account. I used this for writing before, but this time I’m going SMALL.

Super small.

And I am going to PROMISE an update in a months time.

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