I thought I was managing pretty well clearing my mother’s house for sale now she has moved into a care home – no tears, no sentimental attachments to ‘stuff’. But when I emptied the Desk, repository of millions of memories, and realised I had no room for it in my home, although my mother wanted me to have it, that felt rather different. It’s a massive old roll top job. I loved the vibration rattle the lid made opening & closing – it never failed in the 60 odd years we used it. There was a secret drawer, although we often forgot how to open it. Cries of delight greeted each time we remembered, even though there was rarely anything in it once opened.
Golf trophies; dominoes, solitaire, lexicon, snakes & ladders, chess board & pieces; old school reports with phrases like “must try harder”, “tennis could be county standard if her footwork improves”, “he is doing his best and must keep up his effort in all subjects”, “mysterious bits of paper with equally mysterious writing; love letters from my father to my mother during WW2; ancient chocolate bars; ten pairs of sunglasses; knitting needles; family photographs dating back to the 19th century. A treasure trove.
Well, it’s going to auction but I’m saving the photograph I took -odd to think we will no longer be saying, on mislaying things, “Have you looked in the Desk?”
I love my family, my friends, my dogs, my books and where I live. This latter, however, doesn’t mean the bricks and mortar of my current living location. It means the swell of the south downs; the grey, blue, green, smooth, wrinkled or furious sea; the memories of my childhood in the streets, on the esplanade, in the shops and pubs; the love of my parents and grandparents expressed in cuddles, stories and time.
Sentimentality is different – I have a sentimental attachment to very little – some of my books; my grandmother’s wedding ring; the silver bracelets once belonging to my brother; a painting my daughter did for me of the Seven Sisters; some of my photographs. That’s it really, there’s a freedom for me in knowing that I’m not sentimental about my flat – I do enjoy the sea view but the place itself is just where I lay my head in reasonable but not luxurious comfort.
I know it’s not the same for my mother and for many more older people now living solo in increasingly cluttered and dilapidated houses with once beautiful, now jungly, gardens. But how I wish it was – if we could only learn not to invest so much of ourselves in bricks and mortar and ‘stuff’, how much easier to recognise when the time comes to be practical and move somewhere smaller, easier and safer. When a house becomes a millstone for the occupant and their family, it creates tensions in the family, makes things hard for everyone. I know there are as many options for living as there are sizes and shapes of families and no one solution works for all, but right now in my own life, I wish the solutions could be practical and not for sentimental reasons.
We are lucky to have choices. As write, I feel self indulgent and think of those living on the streets, and dying on those streets; of those in refugee camps; those in makeshift shelters; in cramped one room accommodation; in damp flats with peeling wallpaper; those affected by floods. Then I think of those with second homes; with mansions; with castles; with empty properties earning money for their owners through no effort of theirs and wonder again at how skewed our society is.
I haven’t felt like writing for a while; my writing brain seems to have atrophied. Why? I think my mourning for Peter, although not worn externally, has had a truly deep effect on me. This effect first showed in spending money more than usual – and I am a fairly thrifty person that dislikes all advertisements and avoids buying unnecessary stuff. But Peter was the opposite; was I being him?
Then there is the actual physical pain that strikes somewhere around my solar plexus every so often when something said or done or seen reminds me of Peter and the loss of Peter. I almost welcomed me these occasions because somehow it seems wrong to just carry on as usual.
I think it will be a long while before we can tell each other Peter stories, say “what would Peter think” or “Peter would like this” as we do about my father (who died in 1980) quite comfortably.
Its been a tough six months for other, more prosaic, but demanding reasons. So that’s probably why I feel so drained, yet along with that is the excited anticipation of the birth of my second granddaughter next month.
Life – it’s such a cliche…
It’s a week since my brother died. I feel as if a piece of my heart has been torn out. This last week has been full of arrangements and sorrow. Next week is the funeral – it’s billed as a celebration of his life but he was just 61, too young, too much living to do. My mother at 89 says she should have gone first – it’s hard to disagree with her. Poignantly, my younger daughter is expecting her first baby next January, a year after the diagnosis was made of the virulent and untreatable cancer that took my brother’s life away from us. On the day he died she felt the baby kick for the first time. I’m a cynical old thing but that was a precious coincidence for me. I have been so touched by the kindness of friends, I wasn’t sure about facebooking this but it turned out to be the right thing to put the picture and the words up that reflected my mood. So many comments from lovely friends.
I’ve planned my talk and poems for next Tuesday; I’m going to be a pall bearer. What else can I do to salve this ache? Time will soften it, memories will heal – but not yet, and so my tears fall…
This could be me
When I saw this photo on twitter, physical memories threatened to overwhelm me of the trips to Grays Inn Road with my mother that seemed to take up our whole lives in the years before I began school. Scratchy train seats; station smells; the cold green stuff I was sure was icecream that was pumped into my ears to make hearing aid moulds; the tears I wept copiously when instructed to LISTEN when I could not make my ears do it. But afterwards, my mother always took me first to feed the feathery, nibbly, jostly pigeons in Trafalgar Square, then to the cartoon cinema on Victoria station on our way home.
What are non-Deaf people?
These unfortunate people can only use their ears, often instead of their eyes, to pick up many different signals from around them and decode them.
Many of these signals, called “sounds” or “noises”, are of no consequence, including many of the ones made by their mouths and throats. These are called “voice” or “words” or “talking” and are used to convey messages to each other. Different tones may be used to add meaning to these messages but often the meanings are lost because non-deaf people are busy deciding what words will come out of their mouths before the non-Deaf talking to them have finished conveying their message.
Other sounds are used to warn non-Deaf people of things that are happening, because they don’t pay enough attention to what is going on around them and don’t use enough visual signals like flashing lights or vibrating alarms.
Most non-Deaf people don’t understand sign language and it’s very sad for them because they miss out on so much of the beauty of sign language and Deaf culture. It is very important for people born non-Deaf to be diagnosed early and learn to sign as soon as possible so they can understand Deaf people. Once they can sign, they can go to a school with Deaf people and other people who can sign and may even manage to learn at the same pace and perhaps get some kind of gainful employment once they leave school.
Another option, which can make learning sign easier by removing the conflicting effects of sound, is to remove the hearing nerves altogether. This is major surgery but the effects can be miraculous and allow non-Deaf people access to all the benefits those born Deaf have.
Last night, I contributed a couple of comments to a long string of posts on a social media platform for deaf people and – yet again – felt sad at the apparent antagonism of those who prefer to use English (whether spoken, lipread or read) against British Sign Language. There seems to be a perception that the needs of BSL users currently trumps those of people who use English. I don’t think there is any evidence for this, personally. Provision of captions & induction loops, etc far outstrips provision of BSL on screen & in public spaces. Deaf people who are bilingual or have English as their first language (as I do) have many more options when communicating than those who use BSL alone, even with the frustration and exhaustion that communication with unaware people can bring. One of those advantages is being able to share their views in text on social media. I find it distressing to read extreme views that show little acceptance of both the differences and similarities in the barriers we all face. Poor access to language & education for those who were born deaf or became deaf before speaking does not result in lack of intelligence but in lack of the knowledge we all need to function in society. Not having BSL as an option for communication does not result in being somehow not really deaf or in not having communication problems. When face to face, most of us get by as best we can without overtly insulting each other, but the anonymity of social media gives licence to make provocative & antagonistic statements. This is nothing new, of course, we are all familiar with trolling behaviour on all platforms, but it would be good if it was not between those who share many common difficulties.