Bugwoman on Location – Weymouth

Dear Readers, on Tuesday we went to Weymouth for my Mum’s cremation. We are having a bigger gathering in Milborne St Andrew, where Mum and Dad lived, in February. But Mum wanted to be cremated and, unlike in London where crematoria are ten a penny, in Dorset the nearest one was in Weymouth, a place to which none of us have any connection.

Events like this always put our own choices into the spotlight. My plan is to be buried in a cardboard coffin in a woodland somewhere  – I have no worries about insects munching my bones and helping to recycle me. But Mum was never one for creepy crawlies, and she had been graveside on too many cold, rainy days to want to inflict that on us, so cremation it was. She also thought that it was cleaner, somehow, simpler. I think that she missed a trick by not wanting to be fired into the stratosphere in a rocket, like Hunter S Thompson, but there is still something about the thought of her body, which had been the cause latterly of so much pain, being reduced to its simplest elements that I find comforting. I am so glad that we managed to have some of these conversations before Mum died, so that at least some of what she wanted was clear. It’s never too early to have these discussions with those we love. Life is hard enough after you’ve been bereaved without having to second guess what the person who has died would have wanted.

We went for a walk around the town of Weymouth before the service. It is a fine little town, with a working harbour and its own lifeboat. Everywhere, people were going about their business – walking their dogs, mending nets, sitting on benches and gazing out to sea. It’s surprising how often I glimpse Mum in the colour of a stranger’s hair, the way that they walk, a certain tilt of their head. She seems to be everywhere.

The cliffs that make up the Jurassic Coast peered through the early morning mist. Mary Anning found the fossil of an ichthyosaurus not far from here. It is an interesting part of the world. However, all I could think of was those last few weeks with Mum as her life ebbed away, and my mood coloured everything grey. But then I remembered that the day before Mum went into the Nursing Home, an ice-cream van had parked up outside the school opposite their bungalow, and Mum had been able to enjoy one of those Mr Whippy icecreams with a flake in it. I had never noticed an icecream van there before, so it seemed like fate. Mum adored those soft icecream cones, and even without her teeth, she managed to eat it all. There is grace everywhere, but it’s easy to overlook it.

Everything seemed unreal, as if I was in a dream and would soon wake up to find everything as it should be. But as usual, it took nature to bring me back to reality. Perched above a pile of nets was a pair of herring gulls.

They seemed watchful, and I soon realised why. There was a young herring gull picking through the fish scales and guts on the quayside below, and I suspect that he was their chick.

Like all young birds, young gulls seem so witless, so vulnerable.  This one looked around, and emitted the most plaintive, sad little cry, half way between a squeak and a wail.

‘Oh’, I said, ‘he’s crying for his mother’.

And then, I realised what I’d said, and finally I could lean on my husband’s shoulder and cry for mine. At last I could be present with what was going to happen, the end of my mother’s physical presence on this world, and I could start the remembering that would be the work of the rest of my life. My mother is always with me, in the shape of my eyes, the length of my fingers, my skill with roast potatoes and my love of colour. There is a particularity about each person who walks this earth which comes into the sharpest focus in the weeks and months after they’ve died. They are unique, and they will never come again, and that is what is so, so hard.

But there is solace, nonetheless, in the universality of death, at least for me. Someone described the loss of a parent as an initiation, and it feels like walking through fire. I will not be the same on the other side, but maybe I will be more compassionate and perhaps even wiser. Grief is the price that we pay for loving with all our hearts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

13 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – Weymouth

  1. Gail

    I felt I was lost in a thicket. At the beginning, I could see no sky through the tangle, but at times could hear the bird song. Several years later, I am still once in a while snagged by long-reaching thorns; but I am out in the open, I see the skies and life and my mum is part of that and a persistent warmth in my memory.

    Reply
  2. Alyson

    In the few months I’ve been following your blog, there has been such drama and sadness. You have been on one of the most epic journeys we will ever travel in life, but have done so with such strength and love. You are right though, your mum will live on in you, so a wonderful legacy.

    Although not a place closely linked to your family, the pictures of Weymouth look wonderful and even I even warm to the gulls. I know your dad is still in the care home and has been there for around the same duration as my mum has been in her one (how I found your blog). Hope he copes without your mum, but will be very hard for him I know.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Alyson, I’ve been thinking a lot about you and your Mum. Dad’s dementia has progressed rapidly – even before Mum died, he wasn’t sure who she was, and now he seems completely lost in time and space. But in a way I think the dementia protects him – he thinks that he is a young man, still living at home with his Mum, and all the intervening years have been wiped clean. It’s painful for us but not, I think, for him.

      Reply
      1. Alyson

        It is odd isn’t it how the dementia seems to speed up so much more when they enter facilities that are supposed to specialise in the care of people with such conditions. My mum is the same. The first few weeks went well as it was such a massive improvement on being in hospital but there is little stimulation and I am noticing a sharp deterioration. Also hard to have their “care” totally in the hands of strangers who may only work 3 or 4 days a week then change over. I am going to keep a close eye on her as she only has me as her advocate.

        Stay strong.

  3. Bug Woman Post author

    I think it makes all the difference in the world having an advocate – with the best will in the world, homes are often understaffed, and it’s important that they know that someone is looking out for their loved one. It’s important to try to develop contacts with whoever has some power and knowledge too, as I’m sure you are – in Dad’s home, the staff nurses are definitely the people to talk to, along with whoever is meant to be organising activities. Plus, having a uti or a chest infection definitely makes my dad much more confused.

    But it is so, so hard. I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone, but I’m also very glad that we aren’t going through it on our own….

    Reply
  4. Marla

    I just lost my mother and only sister within a year of each other. Your words make a calming and thoughtful way to carry on. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    You write your posts so beautifully that we felt we almost knew your mother. You are so right in that we should always do what that person would have wanted with regards to a funeral, our mother being slightly more religious and our father with his humanist funeral complete with willow casket and a Watford FC theme for his beloved ‘Hornets’. Dementia is very cruel, especially taking away your dad from you, but probably in a strange way probably kinder for him that he hasn’t had to endure the grief of the last few weeks. How lovely the memory of your mum and her Mr. Whippy, it’s things like that that will make you smile in the times to come. Take care.

    Reply
  6. Andrea Stephenson

    A very moving meditation on the things we consider when someone has died and having those conversations about what it is we would want. Nature did very well with the baby gull’s cry in making it so plaintive that the parents couldn’t help but pay attention to it – the cry of baby gulls is a common sound where I live and it always makes me take notice.

    Reply
  7. Veronica Cooke

    How beautifully you’ve written this. I’m so glad you were able to cry for your mum. You will have a lifetime of memories to draw upon to see you through your remaining years.

    I hope the cremation went well. Have you decided what to do with the ashes? When my mum died her ashes stayed in a very posh urn on a table in her living room. My middle brother had always lived at home and this was his choice. Eventually we agreed that we would scatter mum’s ashes around a 300 year old oak tree at the back of the estate where they lived. She loved the tree and was very proud of it. Every visitor was taken to see it.

    We were able to invite a newly discovered brother (mum’s not my dad’s!) born the year before I was born, and unknown to us until 2013; to come along and help us scatter the ashes. It was a lovely occasion.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Veronica, Mum originally wanted to be scattered around the rowan tree in her garden, but then it occurred to her that once she and dad were gone, the house would be sold. At the moment we think we’ll bury the ashes in the local churchyard, with space for Dad later (though not till he’s dead as he pointed out the other day 🙂 ). Several of Mum’s closest friends are buried there too, and it faces the fields. In spring it’s heady with the scent from the lime trees. I think she’ll approve….

      Reply

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