Empty and Full

The living room before

Dear Readers, this week I have been in Dorset, sorting through the remnants of Mum and Dad’s life in Dorset. There are boxes of photographs, most of them unlabelled but many of them lovingly put into albums. There are bank statements back to the 1990’s (Mum was always meticulous about finances). There are more light bulbs than you’d need to light up the Eiffel Tower, and a pile of canvases that Mum bought but wasn’t well enough to paint on. And then there is the wardrobe full of clothes, the ornaments, the pictures on the walls. If it hadn’t been for Mum and Dad’s lovely neighbours who have done a lot of the leg work on the non-personal stuff I swear I would just have sat in the middle of it all and cried. But instead, I discovered that I was a woman on a mission. To start with I lovingly considered every item, but gradually I became more ruthless, and more able to make snap decisions. Once the bungalow is sold we will be well on the way to having the finances to look after Dad without having to worry, so this was a great incentive. In two days we were ready to get the house clearance firm from Julia’s House, the local children’s hospice, in to take away the things that we couldn’t use or give away. The end result was this.

The living room after!

And as I sat in Mum’s reclining chair, waiting for the mobility aids to be collected, I could feel the personality of the place ebbing away and emptying out. Every time that I’ve walked into the living room I’ve had a strong sense of Mum and Dad’s presence, but now the house is starting to feel like a shell, just waiting for someone else to come along and love it. All that’s left now is Mum’s somewhat unusual choice of wall colour (turquoise in the main bedroom, sky blue in the small bedroom and pink in the living room, as you can see). And on Monday, the decorator comes in to give everything a coat of magnolia, so even that will be gone.

It all makes me very philosophical. A lot of Mum’s precious things have gone to people who will appreciate them. Her quilting material has gone to E, the lady who made Mum and Dad’s cake for their sixtieth wedding anniversary party. The neighbours have been given some of the furniture and ornaments. But even so, a lot of the things that Mum loved will be going to strangers via the hospice charity shop and, despite our best intentions, I’m sure some things will end up in landfill. And it will most likely be the same for me. Many of the objects that we love will fall into the hands of people who won’t know what they meant to us, and who won’t care for them as we did. That is, I fear, the fate of objects, so let us  enjoy them while we can. In Mum’s wardrobe there were pretty things that she’d put away for a special occasion that never came. Let’s make our ‘ordinary’ days a special occasion.

Strangely enough, when I went to sit on the seat outside the bungalow I had a very strong sense of Mum and Dad. They would sit there when they felt well enough and watch the neighbours going by and the children going to and from school. The spot is a real sun trap and so they didn’t sit there for long. But it did get me to thinking about those other things that they own and that won’t be ending up on landfill, their plants. The garden has become a symphony in blue, what with the cerinthe and the bluebells and the forget-me-nots and the perennial cornflowers.

The cotoneaster is abuzz with bees.

The ceanothus is just about to burst into bloom.

And when the man came to mow the lawn, Mum would tell him to go round the daisies rather than cut their heads off, and, bless him, he always did.

And so, I wonder what to take, and here I could do with some advice. How can I take a cutting from the cotoneaster and the ceanothus? Is such a thing even possible? I’m thinking it will be easy enough to take a couple of the cerinthes and plant them before they set seed, but I don’t know how to start with the other two plants. I have been noticing how both the cotoneaster and the ceanothus attract a multitude of bees, and it would be great to have them in the sunny front garden, plus every time I looked at them I’d think of Mum and Dad, and of Milborne St Andrew. Plants are something that do live on, and they have a meaning and existence of their own.

While I was in Dorset I had the chance to spend some time with Dad. He seems very calm and collected these days.

‘This isn’t a bad cruise ship at all’, he said when I popped in. ‘We’ve been to France and Germany. I never know where we’re going to next’.

Dad gestures to one of the carers who happens to have a beard.

‘This is the captain’, says Dad. ‘I’d like to introduce you’.

He tells Adrian, who is one of the carers and happens to have a very nautical beard, that I am his daughter, and I am chuffed that he actually remembers who I am. When my brother popped in, Dad told him that his sister June had been in three times, so I didn’t get any credit for my last visit. Not that I’m bothered (much), but still, it’s nice to be recognised, even if only briefly.

Adrian and I shake hands, and I go to get Dad some cake. There is always cake in the care home, and I do believe that Dad is starting to put on a little weight – he lost nearly three stone during the past eighteen months and was looking most unlike himself. He tucks into the cake with some difficulty, what with his fractured wrist from a fall a month ago and his problems with his shoulder, but he enjoys it hugely. Then he falls asleep, and so I slip out and head to my bed and breakfast.

Things have been moving so fast that I’m not sure that my emotions have caught up yet. I do know, though, that the night after the house was cleared, I slept through the night for the first time in almost nine months. It feels as if things are constantly shifting, and tomorrow I might be distraught again, but at the moment I feel as if I’m adapting to this ‘new normal’ state of affairs, both in terms of selling the bungalow, and coming to terms with Dad’s dementia. I no longer expect him to be the Dad that I remember, but in many ways he is more like himself than he’s been for ages – all the anxiety of the past few years seems to have dropped away and he’s back to the placid, stoical man that he was previously. I am starting to become less anxious myself, and to be able to sit with him and just go with the flow. There is still possibility here, still a sense of things to be enjoyed and company to be kept. I find myself becoming more accepting, and full of gratitude that he is still here.

Dad quality checking the gin in the Gordon’s distillery in 1985 (aged 50)


16 thoughts on “Empty and Full

  1. Sarah

    A profound piece. I cleared my parents’ bungalow in 2013 and well remember the emotions. I still have some treasured souvenirs. On the cotoneaster – I saw LOTS of that particular plant all over a nature reserve in the North Downs last week – https://www.surreywildlifetrust.org/nature-reserves/brockham-limeworks – It was all over the chalk downs and I fear must be a major headache for the Surrey Wildlife wardens who are managing the site for rare chalkland flowers and butterflies. But it was a magnet for bees as you say. Every little bit was covered with honey bees and bumble bees.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Sarah, it’s true that it has become invasive in a lot of places – it’s one helluva tough plant. It’s a shame that it becomes such a problem in vulnerable habitats.

  2. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    A very difficult and unenviable task, unfortunately when our father died they only gave us two weeks to clear the house despite having rented it since 1933 when it was built for our grandparents. We always remember clearing things when our mother died eight years previous to that, we don’t think she had a lot growing up and we found countless lovely soaps hidden away in drawers, she always loved nice toiletries, but never got to use them. Local charities benefited our parents furniture which is by far the best option. We wish you well in the process of your house sale and we’re sure someone will love your parents house as much as they did. It’s lovely to think your dad has found some peace and we hope he enjoys many more voyages.

    1. Bug Woman

      Two weeks? How awful….Mum wasn’t even cremated within two weeks. So many people are only motivated by money these days….And yes, on the train down to Dorset so we’ll see where the ship has docked this time 🙂

  3. Rebekah Bristow

    Dear “Bug Woman” you are a loving, caring, kind and supportive daughter. You made your Mum’s life happier and bearable towards the end. I’m sure she treasured every moment she had with you. It takes a very special person to take on that response with love and affection. It’s no easy task, I know because I’m on the same journey with my Mother. Sadly I’m doing as a dutiful responsibility, not out of the love you have for your parents. But reading your blogs especially those that include bits about your Mum and Dad help me to look past my resentment to show kindness towards my 96 year old Mum in her time left with us. Thank you for showing me the way.

    1. Bug Woman

      Dear Rebekah, I wish you all the very best with your journey – these things are so problematic at the best of times, but even more so if our relationship with the person being cared for has been tricky. Look after yourself in all this, and my one piece of advice would be to try to minimise any future regrets where possible….

  4. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    That’s a beautiful statue with the cotoneasters. I hope you’re keeping that to plant yours around. I think it does get easier as things get passed on or kept (if you have the room). We finally brought the last of my dad’s stuff back to Switzerland (as we had the car). This included some old bells, which are played with a small leather hammer. He, or rather his dad, acquired them from the pub that the used to live next door to in Hounslow. When we were children, they would come out every Christmas and we’d do our best to play carols on them. But they have been wrapped up in a box for years. There are 15 altogether, but 2 or 3 of the leather straps have perished. So we’re going to try and get them repaired, or maybe the whole lot renewed, (by the chap up the road who does the straps for the huge cowbells). However, yesterday, I put up 8 of the ‘good’ ones on the outside wall of our chalet. My brother-in-law (after listening to a recording of them) tells me the octave starts with D minor. So I now have the task of finding some music I can (try to) play on them. 🙂

      1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

        They are not really cow bells as such, more handbells without the clappers inside. So you have to strike them with a sort of leather hammer to play them. My sister is here this week and she was playing Doh, a deer, etc on them from the Sound of Music, which seems quite appropriate. 😊

      2. Bug Woman

        I could never get over the size of some of the cowbells that the Swiss cows wear – the ones in Austria are much more modest 🙂

  5. Alyson

    You have my sympathies as its a tough thing to do but better not to have your parents involved as they would be devastated to see you much going to landfill, but like you, I had to do that with so much of my mum’s belongings after the sale of her retirement flat recently. Fortunately, when we cleared her bungalow after my dad died, I managed to hang on to his prized begonia corms and have them in boxes at the moment awaiting planting – I wrote a post about them last year and shared some pictures:
    I really hope you managed to hang onto some of the plants although not always easy. I only managed to salvage some clumps of snowdrops from my late mother-in-law’s house but was pleased to see that this year they had well and truly naturalised which was a treat.
    Love that your dad in enjoying his voyage. My mum too is enjoying her “journey” in the care home and knows nothing of my sleepless nights about the money-side of things!
    A lovely post as ever.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thanks, Alyson – and yes, it would have been much harder if Mum and Dad had been in any condition to see what was happening to the bungalow. I’m just on a train to Dorset now, so it will be interesting to see where Dad’s voyages have taken him this week….


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