• jandan57

Grief, Loss and things that we once knew - an ode to Belvin

Today is the eighth anniversary of my mum's passing. This day comes with much reflections and sadness, but in all honesty many days are like this. The thing with grief is it is always the little things that matter. The sound of a song, a smell, a word, a picture or one of those strange experiences that seem almost spiritual when you feel their presence. There is a lot of learning in death, dying and grief and of all the things that have gone through my mind , it is always the little things that matter, the things that cost nothing, those simple moments in time. It is also the lost stories, the things I wish I could tell her, the things I wish I could show her ,the moments I so wish she was here.

We called mum Belvin, everyone did, it was a silly name my brother made up to annoy her, yet it became a name synonymous with love, laughter and joy, it also could mean you were going to be in big trouble if Belvin found out . At one point my brother called her goat head so I'm glad Belvin stuck.

Belvin was born of old school stoic English stock. Stiff upper lip, no fuss, life is what you make it kind of woman. I believe she developed her inner strength from the nine years she spent in her younger days living in an infirmary in Wales with tuberculosis during the war, separated from her family and home. This is another thing you can learn from the elders, their stories, their history , what makes us all a flow on product of their upbringing. Mum could not stand "sooky" people . This actually makes me smile as I write this, her disdain and that look that we have all endured when we moaned about some slight injury or fall we had, or if we happened to mention we were bored. No time for that nonsense around Belvin, just get on with it .

It would be that stiff upper lip that would later be a challenge as we tried to get her to see Drs when a bruise appeared on her chest. Mum said the cat scratched her, but I'm pretty sure it would have to be a lion attack to cause such a bruise, I finally managed to trick her into the Drs to investigate further. Even so as I sat in the Drs room with her we really didn't think it was anything untoward.

You remember some moments like they are frozen in time and when the diagnosis came back as breast cancer it was quite a shock. We would of expected all these other signs and symptoms, she had mammograms , the usual due diligence but a silly bruise was the one clue. Mum squared her shoulders ready for what was ahead and quite confidently stated she would beat it , nothing to see here. The one part that was causing her tears was telling the rest of the family. Now this was the hard part. We gathered at my sisters for a family tea, you could sense the unease , that sixth sense that something wasn't right , but Mum let everyone know, nothing to see here, she had it all sorted and enjoy dessert.

Family react differently to this type of news, some fall apart, some keep the stiff upper lip going and others just don't speak about it, but this awful fear was in everyones eyes. Mum began treatment and for two years seemed to be getting things under control. There were some horror days but there were also some wonderful days , during this stage we all believed she had won. However cancer is a bastard of a thing and it had started a journey in little hiding places in her body. Things can change quickly and they did. Each infection became a challenge , a battle. Mum dealt with the spectre of possible death in such a practical way, as silly as that sounds a year or so later I would be so grateful she did. Mum got all her funeral and business affairs in place just in case. All her clothes she donated to an op shop whilst she was alive. Mum had all the grandchildren come around and select trinkets and ornaments from her vast collection whilst having a lovely afternoon tea, turning it into a fun cleaning up exercise for the grandkids. All those treasures they had not been allowed to touch were suddenly available to keep , how awesome was that. What they chose was such an interesting observation and a lesson learnt in what we value. They skipped the expensive crystal and china and gathered up a blue haired troll doll or one of those ugly plastic novelty dolls and animals made out of shells from some holiday Mum had been on. They had probably coveted them for years and now they could touch them , have them, keep them. Mum was an amazing grandmother. She spoilt the kids rotten and would feed them up on chip butties, egg sandwiches and her special four teaspoons of milo and milk. Mum taught them to read, bake, dance, sing, knit , argue and laugh.

As mum got sicker I lived with her for the last year or so on and off ,then full-time for the last four months, it became my absolute privilege to care for her. Mum had decided that there were no rules around food, Mum had spent most of her life on a diet but now what was the point ,so she would eat chocolate when she wanted , even for breakfast, KFC Krushers loaded with chocolate topping became a favourite as did pizzas with double anchovies. Mum would tell me stories that I would try desperately to imprint in my mind a few I wrote down. How I wish I had been in writers mode then to capture it all. We would watch hours of reality TV and Mum would always have a cutting critical comment that would have me in stitches, her humour never faded. Mum hung on in that last year to see her beloved Hawks win the flag and the most treasured photo I have is of her so frail yet so happy amongst us all celebrating. The thing I remember about this time , the little things is the laughter, Mums naughtiness and how we would laugh. Don't get me wrong there were many , many hard times as her mind became muddled with meds and she thought we were trying to do her in. The constant fear that I would find her passed in bed haunted me and yet the sweet relief each morning when I would see her face is indescribable - silly isn't it.

So mum finally went into palliative care and what was going to be a day or two ended up being a week. I am grateful as are all my siblings we got to say the important things, but why do we leave it till the end ? One of the last pictures I took was of us holding hands I treasure it and am so glad I took it.

It is strange what we think of our parents. At Mum's funeral we chose the smallish room as we figured Mum really didn't have a huge amount of friends, Mum was always with family. Yet life lesson learnt - what is family ? The room was absolutely jam packed to standing room only, they had to use the back area as well. It was like a living photo reel of times and moments and people. All those kids now adults ,all our old friends who had been at Belvin's for her hangover support growing up, all of those she had embraced into her family, all the friends of friends who had been witness to and a beneficiary of her English warmth and generosity. All those stray's she had gathered along the way who needed a space to stay and be pampered by Belvin . For a woman who had come to Australia a young mother of four with no family or friends her legacy of love, family and friendship was a good life lesson .

You reap what you sew.

So on this day Belvin , the anniversary of your passing I will always remember the little things and the subtle life lessons you left us all in our DNA.

xx treasure those little things


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