Dear Readers, on 31st March it was two years since my lovely Dad died, and it’s already over three years since we lost Mum. When Dad died, I felt as if a whole chapter of my life had ended – it wasn’t just that I’d lost my parents, but that I was no longer going to the nursing home, or going to Milborne St Andrew where they’d lived. But gradually, I realised that if I lost Dorset and all the things it meant to me, it would be a choice, not something that was inevitable. I could either let all those memories, good and bad, fade until they became unreal, or I could continue travelling to the West Country to visit Mum and Dad’s grave, and to spend some time in the area that they loved so much. And so, I decided that although neither Mum or Dad were into grave visiting, I would make the trip to St Andrew’s Church, and would consciously take the time to remember them, and to keep Dorset in my life.
First there’s always the tidying away of the old items – there were some broken ornaments, and the artificial flowers had reached a point where they looked dusty and old. I had brought two scabious, both with lots of buds, and some lavender. I remembered later that Mum wasn’t a big lavender fan, but these are the ones with bunny ears that she always found amusing, so I hope she’ll forgive me.
I was sitting by the grave, remembering, when there was a loud ‘baa-ing’ sound, and I noticed that I was being watched by a ewe and two lambs in the next field. As soon as I looked up they moved away, looking almost sheepish if you’ll forgive the pun. Then three small lambs bounced over to the corner of the field, where the grass is clearly greener.
The local agricultural college, Kingston Maurward, used to have ‘lambing days’, when you could visit and actually see the ewes giving birth to the lambs. I went with Mum and Dad once. I remember how Mum watched a ewe straining until she delivered twin lambs (Dad turned mildly green and had to go outside). When she saw the ewe licking the lambs, and then the lambs’ first wobbly steps, she turned to me and told me that she’d never eat lamb chops again. And so she didn’t. Mum was an inveterate city girl, born and bred in London, and it was as if it had suddenly dawned on her that meat had a cost. A visit to a piggery and a dairy farm and she’d probably have been a vegan.
And so, I felt a kind of joy that there were lambs so close to the grave, even though Mum isn’t here to see them.
And truly, this is a beautiful graveyard. The snowdrops have finished, and the lesser celandine were hiding their faces from the freezing wind, but the primroses are everywhere.
It’s painful coming back, and yet it’s also healing. I sat in the church where we held Dad’s memorial service last year, and had a good cry. There’s something about St Andrews that always makes me feel very held and supported; it was founded nearly a thousand years ago and I wonder if the accumulated weight of all the things that have happened on this spot makes for a deep, baked-in compassion that seeps from the very walls. When I left, I felt lifted up, and I heard the chuckle of jackdaws, which for me is the quintessential sound of the village. Two birds flew across the lane, each holding a twig for their nest, and it makes me think of how new life, death and everything in between is just a tiny part of a much bigger picture.
Every time I come back to Dorset, it reminds me that Mum and Dad really did exist, and that they really did die, and that everything is going on without them. I miss them every single day, and yet my life is happy and full of things that I love. I will never get over their loss, and yet my heart is full. Grief is a complicated animal, for sure.