It’s my birthday tomorrow. I’m not big on birthdays these days. I’m not ashamed of my age (53 years and 364 day, since you ask) but I don’t really enjoy them as an adult. I was definitely spoilt on my birthday and I’ve never recovered…
I’m sure they weren’t all unadulterated bliss, but my memories of them are idealised, Crawling into my parents’ bed way too early in the morning, presents and cards (the joy of a pound note falling out of the card when you opened it!) and later in the day, the meal of my choice and CAKE!
It was the same cake every year (Caterpillar Cakes hadn’t been invented, kids of today, don’t know they’re born!): mine was chocolate banana cream sponge. My mum would make it from scratch, (ie Mary Berry cake mix), whipped cream and sliced banana. Then the candles, which I’d blow out after the song, of course, and only then, grated chocolate on the top. She couldn’t put the grated chocolate on until after the candle-blowing, for obvious reasons.
When I was a child, I’d be special all day on my birthday. It would feel shiny and I have a memory of my mum looking at me and smiling lovingly and she gave me the spatula to lick as the cake went into the oven. It’s not the same nowadays. I’m supposed to be the grown-up now, so after the morning ‘happy birthday’s and the birthday breakfast that I make myself, everyone does their own thing and I feel a little empty. And a little ashamed. I’m 53, for goodness’ sake, I shouldn’t need this.
And this year it’s that much sadder, because she’s gone. So I thought I’d make myself the cake this time, that’s the adult thing to do, isn’t it? I haven’t had it for years and years (there’s Caterpillar Cake now, for sophisticated ladies like me) but it felt like a nice thing to do.
I just made the cake. Horror of horrors, they don’t do Mary Berry cake mix any more (ridiculous when she’s way more famous now than she was then) so I had to google a recipe and make it from scratch-scratch. Here’s a thing: it was no harder than the mix, really.
I just got it out of the oven. It looks…
…a bit shit. Oh well. Ain’t that the icing on the cake…
Today was supposed to be my final preview of All Change. I would’ve performed it as part of the Camden Fringe, before heading up to the Edinburgh Festival later in the week. As things have turned out, it would have been terribly hard, performing my lovely show about my mum’s survival.
I’ve agreed to do it at the re-arranged Brighton Fringe in October. So I have 12 weeks or so to rewrite, not really believing that it will happen, that I’ll actually perform in a strange room, with chairs spread across the space, nobody sitting too close. I need to plan it, though. I need to rewrite it. To change the ending.
I always knew it was going to happen. I knew she’d die. I even wanted it I wanted the journey to be over, for things to be resolved. She was so ill so often, and she kept coming through it again and again, each time a little weaker.
I mean, I thought I wanted it. I had no idea. I honestly didn’t realise it would hurt this much. Because I thought when it happened, I wouldn’t need to mourn for a small, weakened life.
And I’m not. I’m mourning for a huge, momentous, long life, that was lived to the full and with love and generosity. I’m not really grieving for the tiny (so tiny!) elderly, sweet & smiling lady. I’m grieving for my mum when she was younger: when she washed my hair, made my birthday cakes, gave me 2.5p pocket money, nagged me to tidy my room. The mum I had to reach up to cuddle. Not the one I reached down to hold.
When my dad died, she started her life anew. She ached for him for years, but she didn’t stop living. She started doing things she couldn’t do before, when she was a wife. She found her friends (not theirs), she did voluntary work (she’d always wanted to be a social worker but y’know, she became a wife instead) and became a bereavement counsellor. She saw a TV travel show about Fiji and booked a ticket the next day. She vowed never to marry again, always felt she’d never be able to replace that side of her life. But she found a different kind of happiness. She was amazing. She rewrote her ending.
And she planned that ending meticulously. She sorted the paperwork, labelled every family photo, cleared out cupboards (“you won’t want to be dealing with that when I’ve gone”) and researched every care home in the area, so we wouldn’t be burdened with looking after her.
Dementia gave us many positive things (that’s probably another blog post) – one of them was that she slowly and gradually let us do more. And when it came to it, she didn’t want a care home after all. She wanted to stay at home, to die there.
And so she did.
I need to rewrite my show. I need to plan the ending. And to find the funny. It won’t be the show about my mum’s survival any more. It’ll be about mine.
I’m doing better. Much better. It’s six weeks since my mum died and I’m through that first phase: the one where I wailed and howled and at one point yelled at my sister “I can’t bear it!”
We found her perfume bottles. We smelled one – it smelt like 10 years ago when our mum was going out for the evening. We didn’t like that scent much. Not to either of our tastes. We smelled another; it smelt of our mum going out for the evening when we were teenagers. We laughed and cried a bit and smelled it again.
Then we found another bottle. We each had a sniff. I crumpled. I was straight back to being 4 or 5 and Mummy was going out for the evening with Daddy and there was a babysitter. And like I said, I couldn’t bear it.
My mum’s been very ill for 2 years and I thought I’d done a lot of pre-grieving. I wrote a show about it, didn’t I? I spoke about it, I sang about it, I made it funny. I did the work.
I didn’t expect when she died that I would start grieving all over again for my mum when she was younger. When she had a curly perm and dresses and loads and loads of energy.
When my dad died, I was 14 and I had a pain in my stomach for a few weeks. That often happened when I was stressed. I’d wake up momentarily happy, then remember something terrible had happened. With my mum, it’s been slightly different. I had a heaviness in those muscles at the front of my head, that tense up when you cry. I didn’t wake up happy; I woke up already loaded with grief. I hadn’t expected that. She was 91, I knew it was going to happen, I’d prepared.
I should have known better. No, I really should, because my mum was a bereavement counsellor. She told me about this stuff. Of COURSE I’d grieve. Of COURSE it would be tough. She was a wonderful, loving person and I’d had much longer to love her. She was so much to lose. It was right to howl and wail. And so very healthy.
We had the funeral (5 weeks later, due to C-19) and it was ok. It was even quite healing. I felt able to be strong and calm and it felt like a tribute to her. And then… I was ok. I’m not crying every day now. It’s just sometimes. And it’s not a wail of despair, it’s just sadness for a while. And then I feel better again.
We found her sellotape, with the buttons attached so she could find the ends. So clever. So sensible. Because it’s hard to see the end sometimes.
I’ve come to the end of the first phase. Who knows how much is to come? With my dad it took years, but it still comes back gently from time to time, that loss. I’m sure this will be much the same. But with each stage, I’ll be another step along the road to recovery. To coming to terms with the fact that she’s gone. For the moment, there’s plenty more tape on the roll.
I barely slept last night. I was up til gone 4, thinking, remembering, crying. Just grieving. I am still ‘in mourning’. I find that a comfortable phrase. I am not expected to be functioning (although sometimes I am), I might stop & cry at any moment, I have that tightness in my head ALL.THE.TIME. where the tears are welling up. They may or may not flow now. They will later.
I fell asleep eventually. And then I woke up. And as I lay there with my eyes closed, I remembered being in my parents’ bed on my birthday (every birthday). I’d crawl in, first thing in the morning, and they’d try (bless them) to wake up and deal with my excitement. It started with a cuddle, lying between them, in my mum’s arms, listening to her sloooow, sleepy breathing and trying to match it and slow my breathing down. I couldn’t come close. I was 3, 4, 5, 6… (as of 5am that day) and I was excited! But I’d try and let them doze, really I would.
I got up (this morning) and brushed my hair. 3 weeks ago I brushed my mum’s hair. She loved it, found it comforting.
I went downstairs to the kitchen, remembering my wedding day 25 years ago, when I woke up at my mum’s. We had an agreement that she’d wake me up at 8 with breakfast in bed (croissant + orange juice, our favourite), but I was too excited and I arrived in the kitchen at 5 to 8. She was heating the croissant & pouring the OJ and we laughed that I couldn’t even wait 5 minutes, and we shared the excitement of ‘today is my wedding day!’
My mum had a croissant for breakfast every day (2 on Sundays!) I have a packet of them in my freezer, left over after she died. I had fruit for breakfast this morning.
At 10 this morning, the Sainsbury’s delivery arrived. 4 weeks ago I was including my mum’s groceries with ours, and dropping them round to the doorstep. When I was little we shopped in Waitrose. I’d sit in the trolley wearing shorts and the metal bits would be cold against my legs. Sainsbury’s then (early 70s) was a delicatessen – we’d pop in there for cold meat – I remember looking down at my shiny buckled shoes on the black & white tiled floor.
My kid had an orthodontist’s appointment this morning. When I was little we’d go to Mr Hegarty’s. I had no problems with my teeth and one time was rewarded with a book about a rabbit who loved carrots, which helped him take care of his teeth. I remember sitting in the waiting room, next to my mum, in my shorts and buckled shoes, reading the story together.
Before lunch, we delivered food to the foodbank – the neighbours drop stuff round and we take it over there on Fridays. When I was a teenager, my mum got involved with delivering ‘the European butter mountain’ – excess food that we took to people who didn’t have enough. Later, in the 80s, she delivered meals to people with AIDS. My tiny little mum, disabled with arthritis, climbing stairs when the lifts didn’t work, in high rise blocks in the East End. She couldn’t stand the idea of people being lonely, sick & hungry.
Then we came home and had lunch. We were supposed to be on holiday this week, but for the lockdown. We’d have been having lunch on the beach, cooked on the 2-ringed stove in our rented beach hut. Just as we did when I was a child. The same holidays in the same resort, the same beach huts, the same 2-ringed stove. Not this year, though.
I washed up after lunch. When I was 6, I suddenly realised I could reach the window sill behind the kitchen sink. When I told my mum she said ‘now you’re old enough to wash up!’ I was so honoured. Felt like one of the big ones at last.
As I pass my teenagers’ rooms, I pop in and kiss the tops of their heads, tell them I love them. My mum told me she loved me for the last time 4 weeks ago. I told her I loved her for the last time 3 weeks ago. All those ‘I love you’s’. Every single time.
I sit at my computer writing this, remembering the email I sent when my eldest became a teenager. “Just a quick note to say I’m sorry. I realise what it was like parenting me now!” Her reply? “I love you”.
My house is a mess. There’s clutter everywhere. I need to tidy up. “Do your room! Tidy that mess! Pull the curtains before Daddy gets in from work! We don’t pay to heat the street!”
We’ll make dinner later. No waiting for Crossroads to be over. No watching the end credits going top to bottom, left to right along the screen… “Supper time!” “Coming!” “No, not ‘coming’. Come!!”
We might watch some TV after. Not Dallas, though. With her falling asleep next to me. I’d tease her and she’d say ‘I’m not asleep. I’m just resting the eye you can see. The other one’s open.’ She’d have been my age. She’d have had no sleep the night before. She was grieving for my dad.
We’ll stay up too late because we can’t be bothered to get up from the sofa. That never happened when I was a child. I had to be in bed before The 9 O’Clock News’ and woe betide if I heard the opening music and was still downstairs
We’ll get ready for bed and I’ll crawl in exhausted next to my exhausted husband, who’s coped with my tears all day, after lying beside them all night. We’ll fall asleep, but nobody will sing Golden Slumbers to me. Not like she did every night when I was small. I sang it to her 3 weeks ago. They say hearing is the last sense to go. I wonder if she heard?
I have three strong memories from when I was 2. That’s unusual, I think, but I’m not surprised, as we were a family who cemented our stories by constantly retelling them, and this story was pretty major for me.
When I was 2, I had eye surgery. I remember someone sticking a needle into my bottom (pre-med, I think?), I remember being on the ward, standing at the front and singing to the other children (I know, right? Clearly destined to delight crowds… ahem…) and I remember waking up in my cot first thing in the morning and seeing my mum opening the door and coming into the room with a beaming smile.
She was carrying a basket (it was the ’60s) with a parcel in it, wrapped in red & white striped paper. I thought it was a loaf of bread. This is what Mothers Pride looked like – I freaked out when I found this image just now – it’s EXACTLY as I remember it!
Only it wasn’t bread, it was a present for me. My mum was FURIOUS that she wasn’t allowed to stay in the hospital with me and INSISTED that she be allowed in before 7am so I could see her when I woke up.
Inside the parcel was this elephant. My sister had one just like it and I was so happy with her. I called her Flukey and she remained one of my ‘family’ of cuddly toys throughout my childhood.
I also have my mum’s childhood teddy (a sad looking, hairless bear called Chappie). I went looking for him this week and found Flukey. I thought I would shed all the tears over Chappie, but it’s Flukey who’s caught me. Her ears and trunk are still soft and she fits on my chest and sits quietly while I write (which is good. It would annoy me if she made distracting noises).
She’s bringing me such comfort and helping the tears to flow. She reminds me of a childhood where I was intensely loved and where my earliest memories, which could have been traumatic and upsetting, are filled with her love and her care.
One week on and it hurts so badly. These memories make me want to scream and rant, but will, I know, bring me comfort in the time ahead.
Oh bloody hell, I’ve just realised. She probably was wrapped in bread packaging. My mum hated waste and everything got reused if it could be! If the rest of the world had been so frugal, we wouldn’t be in the environmental mess we’re in. #aheadofhertime
Oh, my friends, I have some news. And I wanted to share it with you in particular, because you’re mostly people who came to see my show All Change, so you’re aware of my lovely relationship with my mum.
I haven’t been able to see my mum at all during lockdown, even though her home is only 4 miles away, because of course at 91, she’s been shielding there with my sister and a wonderful (WONDERFUL!) carer.
But last week things changed and it became clear we were losing her. I was able to spend Tuesday afternoon with her, I read her Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant, and of course, my friends, I sang Danny Boy to her.
She died peacefully and pain free on Thursday morning.
I think that’s all I can manage to say right now, but I will be back blogging more regularly at some point. And I will (WILL) go back to comedy when things become safer.
Stay well, my lovely, and let’s party when all this is over.
Oh, my friends, I have been quiet of late. And I’m sure that’s added an awful lot of stress to your lockdown (wait, what?? No emojis on here??? How am I supposed to… how will they know I…??)
Anyhoo, I’ve been busy for the past 7 weeks. Mighty busy. I can now add Powerpoint, Zoom and Parenting A Non-Binary Teenager to my list of new skills. There are no signs of flattening out my learning curve any time soon.
My antenatal teaching work for the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) has moved online, hence learning Zoom. And after 10 years of starting every course with “this is not a Powerpoint presentation kind of course”, I’ve been throwing them buggers together like a junior account manager preparing for a Monday morning department meeting.
I’ve kept the comedy muscles working with a few comedy songs to cheer up my NCT colleagues and wrote a love song to my sexy new friend too – maybe I’ll upload it with this blog, if I can work out the tech at the end…
I’ve done a few online gigs, which have been very weird, but a lot of fun. And I’ve been writing Coverbs too – they’re proverbs in the age of Covid and they’re pretty fun. I’ve got 176 of them, that I’ve shared on Twitter (@yespaulineeyre) and some exciting plans for them too, over the next few weeks. Watch this space!
Oh yes, and my kid came out as non-binary. Which I think we can all agree is a pretty crap thing to do to a mother who has an hour-long comedy show which will now need a rewrite. Selfish little git.
I was very proud of them, though. They sent us (their dad & me) a WhatsApp message telling us, then went out for a walk, which gave me time to straighten my hair before we sat down for The Big Talk. Because it would be awful if such a significant conversation in their life was marred by the memory of their mum with weird big hair.
I think we can all agree, it’s all about me (smiley emoji. Honestly, can they really not sort out some emojis on here? I’m a woman of the 2020s, you know!)
The video! I did it! Add that to the list of new skills!!
Wash your hands! Don’t go outside! Look at the empty shelves! My friend’s a doctor… Don’t panic buy! Wash for 20 seconds! Young people aren’t taking this seriously! Wear a mask! Wash them for 40 seconds! Sanitise! Don’t buy masks! When this will be over? Get paracetamol! Sing the National Anthem! Give to the foodbank! …a year away from a vaccine… Shop for your neighbours! People are all dickheads! My cousin’s a nurse… Selfish stockpiling bastards! Be kinder! Old people should know better! Your job’s not essential! My next door neighbour’s postman’s son knows someone who snogged a virologist who said…
Can we all… please… just… stop?
How are you doing? Are you bored with all this yet? Are you fed up, with nothing to do? Stuck inside trying to home-school? Or working manically in a completely different way?
I’m at home with twins who don’t have GCSEs after all. Most of our freelance income streams evaporated last week and I picked this month to begin HRT.
But it’s fine! FINE, I TELL YOU!
Sainsbury’s brought our final online delivery at the weekend, but there were no tampons for the sad, menopausal lady. And I neeeeeeeded tampons (see HRT above). So I ran to Waitrose. None there. I went to the corner shop. He had some. And I burst into tears and told that sweet, shy, Turkish man he had no idea how much I loved him for this. And I chucked 2 huge bars of chocolate onto the counter. You know, as a reward for him, for having the Tampons. (Damn, I’m selfless, thinking of his profits in that way!) And he mumbled something about please coming back even when it’s not an emergency. And I cried a bit more.
I went home, found an HRT patch stuck to the side of the bath. The bath looks amazing – none of those dirt lines, the enamel’s looking smooth and new. Can’t get the water as hot as before, though…
My timelines are full of fear and anxiety. Everyone wants to know “yes, but what’s going to happen next?” and we just don’t know. All we can do is take care of ourselves and our loved ones and try not to get too stressed.
But Covid-19 is no laughing matter. (Apart from my fabulous opening line at last night’s gig, obvs!!) My day job is going bonkers – I teach antenatal courses for the NCT and the lovely people at that charity are working tirelessly to find new ways to support parents through the next few weeks/months. None of us know what this will do to our freelance incomes.
I’ve spent today scrubbing down dolls, who will have their nappies changed tomorrow morning by a group of pregnant parents who want to just be enjoying this time, not feeling stressy about whether my teaching resources smell of alcohol… (insert joke here)
I’ve had a lot of gigs cancelled. My more successful comedy friends, who rely solely on this income, are seriously scared for their futures. It’s a hand to mouth existence as it is. It’s so much more complicated than simply telling everyone to self isolate. If nobody participates in the world, a lot of people’s livelihoods will be sorely affected.
But this afternoon I had a mini breakthrough. I stopped and smiled. I cannot control any of this, so I have to let the stress go. And I sang. Because as those of you who’ve seen my show know, singing comes from a different part of the brain than speaking, and singing calms the singer.
I have performed my show All Change three times now and I’m starting to become more comfortable with it. It’s a strange beast, the comedy hour. So different than simply performing a long set. This show has a story and is quite sad at times, and very personal. So it’s an emotional journey and it’s a whole new skill to weave the funny in with the poignant. I am learning to sit in the sad place on stage, which is a whole new skill.
I’ve booked a bezillion new performances and I’m excited to be bringing it to more and more places in the UK. Bristol is next (Thursday 5th March), followed by Southampton and Bath. More details on the ‘All Change’ page of this website.
In other news, I took my tooth out today.
Yep, you heard. My tooth. I have a crown and it’s been loose for a few weeks. The dentist said to wait til it was very loose and then she’d take it out, clean it up and glue it back in. So I’ve been playing with my wobbly tooth like a 6 year old eagerly awaiting the finance fairy. It came out, I’ve popped it back in and tomorrow I’ll get an emergency appointment for that gluing. Life is weird.
Or maybe I’ll pop it under my pillow. You never know.