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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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funeral

Photos: December 3rd 2014

At the funeral, we had a handful of photos from Mum’s childhood in Northern Ireland, one or two from her time as a police officer in Hong Kong, and one of the four of us, when we (her daughters) were all in primary school. The day after the funeral, we found the mother load.

Hundreds of photos. So many photos we never knew existed.

Mum smiling with her brothers and her sister in Northern Ireland.

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Mum working as a police officer in Hong Kong.

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Mum on her wedding day.

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Mum on her honeymoon.

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Mum as the mother of young children.

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Then something happens. My mother didn’t want to be in any photos anymore. Her marriage broke down. She had to sell the house. We were all very unhappy. It was a very dark time.

I thought that when Mum died, we would find an explanation. Someone would tell us something at the funeral, or we would find a photo that told us why Mum became so isolated, so ill. I would have The Answer, and be able to avoid becoming unhappy like her, imprisoned in my own head, and completely unable to accept help, or ask for it.

I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of wanting to know about the photos; the events, the parties, the people standing with Mum. I want to ask her all about them. But I know that she wouldn’t have been able to show us her photos and tell us about who was there with her. She was closest to us, her daughters, but she was so, so, private She was a mystery wrapped in an enigma tied up with a riddle.

The Funeral: Monday 1st December 2014

Shock: a blanket that protects you from what’s right in front of you that you can’t face.

I woke up early, at 8.am I made a pot of tea, then I put on the bacon. I toasted the bread. 5 people, 10 slices of bread, 1 whole pack of bacon, defrost the other in the microwave. Cook the whole thing; might as well. In for a penny, in for a pound.

We waited for the “limo”, which is what they call the hearse for the living that follows the dead. We got in, shrouded in a nightmare. I said “I wish I’d bought my sick bag”. My sister suggested I change seat. I said “It’s not from the motion”.

The hearse was supposed to stop at a local pub, where the other cars would join the convoy. Why is it going past? Hey, stop! The others need to join.

We drove in semi silence, crying intermittently.

We arrived. The funeral director advised us to stay in the car, as it would be easier to go straight from the car to follow the coffin. I saw my friends hanging around the car park. My uncle commented on my male friend’s luscious locks. My dad offered to carry Mum’s coffin. She was the most independent person I had ever known.

We got out. I avoided eye contact with my friends. We fell in line with the coffin. As we entered the crem, I felt like when you are on a roller coaster, at the zenith, looking down. A great big “Fuck!” escaped from my mouth, blasphemy trying to kill my pain.

Standing at the front, I was rocked in wave after wave of pain. There was my mum, in that wooden box. The vicar spoke beautifully, something about believers getting to live forever. Mum wasn’t big on Christianity but she would have been happy with something so formal. I wished I was religious so that I could believe in paradise and seeing her again.

We stood. People sang. We sat. He spoke. We stood. People sang. We sat. I couldn’t sing because it was taking all my energy to stand at the appropriate times. I followed the words in the order of service instead. I hummed a bit. They said the Lord’s prayer. I looked outside, at the trees, because for me God is in nature. Amen.

The service, beautiful, formal, without a hitch, every second a living torture, ended. We went to the front. I kissed my hand, and touched the side of the coffin. “Goodbye Mum”. It was too much, I left first.

All in a line, thanking the people for coming. Familiar faces, less familiar faces. My friends were at the end. “How are you?” they said. I just cried.

Being Kept Busy: Tuesday 26th November

When someone dies, you are at your least capable, but this is when you have the most shit to do. Here’s all the stuff we needed to do, as Mum died at home.

>Get partners to post funeral clothes.

>Ask family members if they want to be contacted by email or by phone.

>Contact family members.

>Call nurse to verify death. Nurse gives you a certificate.

>Call a funeral home to take the body away and discuss date for ceremony.

>Give GP that cert so they can write another cert.

>Take that cert to the registry office (you only have 5 days to register a death, and you can’t make an appointment until you have the numbers from the GP)

>Decide what to do with body (burial, cremation…scattering? bury the ashes?)

>Choose flowers.

>Choose hymns.

>Choose order of service cards for guests.

>Chat with person who is leading service.

>Choose music.

>Talk to deceased’s solicitor

>Talk to neighbour about getting the house ready for sale.

>Check car insurance: how long is grace period? (I was a named driver on my Mum’s insurance. Turned out I could only drive the car for 7 days after she had died)

>talk to vicar about service

>Research local venues: do they have space? do they offer a buffet?

All this, while your brain feels foggy and you struggle to take a pizza out of the freezer and put it in the oven.

Still, the grief books I’ve been reading say that this time is not the “hardest” as you’re: in shock so it hasn’t hit yet, have a tonne of stuff to do to keep you’re mind off it, and people are still being nice to you.

Sorry Your Mum’s Dead Cards: Monday 24th November, 3 days after

It was the day after Mum’s death, and my sister had suggested we mark the occasion with going out for a meal; we hadn’t been able to go out for the past month as we wanted to spend as much time with Mum as possible.

So out we went; my sister, my boyfriend, and a very close friend of mine who was in town for the night visiting. The food was wonderful and we ate and chatted. I spoke briefly about the stresses of the past two weeks and my shock and disbelief, and enjoyed hearing about things other than that topic, like my friend’s uni course and general gossip. It felt good to talk about things other than Mum’s situation.

When we had finished the meal, my friend said “I’ve got something for you”. She pulled out a card. I opened it.”Look Yoann” I said to my partner. “It’s a sorry-your-mum’s-dead card”.

I’m not sure if I was surprised to receive the card because it’s such a British thing to give cards (and I’ve lived outside of the UK for four years now), or if it was just part of the general shock of the whole ordeal. I was lucky that the first card was from such a close friend, as I think a casual acquaintance might have freaked out at my glib reaction.

My sister printed a note to the neighbours, explaining that Mum had passed away and thanking anyone who had helped her, inviting them to the funeral. The week before the funeral was punctuated by rustles at the door, wordless cards stealthed through the letterbox by people who wanted to pay their condolences but didn’t want to intrude.

“Sorry your mum’s dead card!” I proclaimed when I heard the letter box open. Sometimes they were just publicity leaflets, but it gave me and my sister a chuckle anyway. Our dark sense of humour comes from Mum.

Bilbao-Manchester: Sunday November 9th

The flight was at 21:30, so I decided to stay the night with a friend in Manchester and get the train the next day. Just as I had bought my train ticket, my sister whatsapped me.

>Get a taxi from the airport. I’ll pay.

I called her. She told me that they were putting in the syringe driver that evening (which is like a battery powered morphine drip). She had already told me that that was the final stage in a palliative care patient’s life, when someone can’t swallow all their meds anymore and needs them intravenously.

Throughout the whole trip, all I could think was really stupid things, like why the word “funeral” starts with “fun”. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, or make eye contact, or smile.

I hadn’t paid extra to choose a seat, so I was right at the front, which was annoying because it was cold while the airplane door was open, and being an emergency exit meant I would have to put on my coat and put all my bags up. I don’t really like to put my handbag in the overhead lockers, so I took out my passport and put it in my pocket, just in case. I listened to the stewards chatting quietly to one another calmly, gossiping and sharing jokes, as if it were just a normal evening flight.

As we landed, I realised that being right at the front meant that I could get my bag and be off the plane without waiting for everyone else to finish faffing in the aisles. My belt was undone before everyone else’s, and I was off that plane like a rocket. I saw curious glances from my fellow passengers. All I could think about was the taxi waiting for me, and giving my mum a kiss when I got to her house.

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