I almost fell off my chair when the Duchess of York’s office emailed to say she would be reading Ivy and the Rock on her YouTube channel. It was a surreal moment for many reasons, not least because we happened to be staying in London right around the corner from Buckingham Palace at the time (alright, I know she doesn’t actually live there, but still).
It was a glorious secret I managed to keep from just about everyone apart from my husband for the next five days, and one which allowed me a little wry smile to myself as we walked down the Mall, past the Palace and through Hyde Park back to the train station the following day.
The Duchess (well her office, I suppose) has been very complimentary about the story of Ivy and it’s given me a massive boost when it comes to helping Big Issues For Little People continue to grow.
Before then it had been a funny (not ha ha) few months, where the predictable post book launch slump had left me with a hefty dose of fatigue when it came to promoting Ivy, and thinking about how to get her next story off the ground.
It was also the run up to me entering a new decade, which this time round somehow felt more monumental than the three times I’d done it before. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why I suppose and, no, it wasn’t half as bad as I thought it was going to be in the end and, yes, I was absolutely spoiled rotten (see aforementioned trip to the big smoke). And then, The Duchess of York read the book I WROTE on the internet to thousands of people.
So, in short, I’ve had worse birthdays – even if it does mean I’m officially in my 40s now.
I realise I’ve been quiet on here for a while. My heart has maybe been quietened a bit too – not for good, just for now.
I’ve allowed myself to be sad, given myself space and permission not to be voicing my experiences, but simply to experience them instead. It’s been a busy six months without Mum, but it’s only now I’m trying to get used to what that really means.
After losing my Dad, a part of me naively thought I knew what to expect this time around, how to handle it. But I realise now that every time we experience the death of someone close, it will be different to anything we have experienced before.
I understand that grief doesn’t always take you the way you thought it would, because the relationships and the people we are mourning are unique, just as we are and our children too. So for the first time since she left us, just as Ivy does in my book, I’ve been really thinking about what the crater Mum left behind means to me.
This is the poem that came out.
Pieces of You
I put your smile in a plastic bag today, with the crinkles at the corners of your eyes and some of your scarves too.
We sorted through the times we kitchen danced and kept one or two of the best ones, along with a couple of your favourite CDs.
The black bags in the hallway have got all the times you sang my children to sleep and some of the bedtime books you liked to read in them too.
Your home cooking and the meals we shared are in boxes on the draining board, along with your recipe books and 40 years or more of family Christmas dinners.
We found every single one of the Coronation Street episodes that you watched lying underneath your bed, next to the missing remote control.
I’ve kept your favourite lipstick to use until it is gone, and so we had to let your loving kisses go too.
A lady in the village took your linen blouses and expensive shirts for her charity container, and the warmth of your embrace went with them.
A man bought your car for his wife and it wasn’t until he drove it away that I realised, all the times you came when we needed you were still hiding in the boot.
Your wellies are still by the door, but they don’t want to fit anyone else’s feet. The fire is in, but the house is cold. The grass is growing, the roots are not.
The marks that you made have been covered in gloss. The windows have been wiped clean, your fingerprints are gone.
The way that you laughed and the love that you gave. All packed up or thrown away.
We have no choice but to let them go.
Pieces of you.
It is finally March, almost spring, and my life is one giant daffodil right now. The more I discover, the more there is to love. There’s the obvious ones of course (being Welsh and all that) on the St David’s Day outfits, and the giant foam ones on the heads of home-grown rugby fans nationwide.
There’s the roadside ones and the supermarket ones, the window-sill ones and the wild Sunday walk ones. Even my kids can’t escape the glory of those luminescent, banana-coloured beauties swaying in the sunny breeze – which are ‘just so beautiful Mummy’, according to my five-year-old on our recent weekend stroll.
Teary eyed, I swallowed a golf ball and strode on, endlessly thankful that the optimism and promise of new life the spring brings each year remains intact for another generation. This year, of all years, I needed to feel it too – the greys beginning to green, the mercury ever so slowly beginning to rise, the promise of less night and more day.
Because this month, on March 23rd, it will be a whole year since our first lockdown and ‘new life’ phrases, which have so quickly become commonplace, were introduced. 12 months since alien routines we have swiftly became well accustomed to were first brought in.
Self-isolation. Quarantining. Socially distancing. Shielding.
A whole year of missed diagnoses, of medical treatments being waylaid and delayed, of suicides, of ventilators and of PPE. A year of grieving husbands and wives, of children big and small losing parents, of mourners unable to properly mourn. A year where the dying died alone.
And at the end of it all, thank God, came the inevitability of spring and its many, many daffodils. Kerbside, hillside and tillside, try as I might, I cannot escape their optimism or, indeed, their significance.
Through my little obsession with these yellow beauties I have discovered that a modern-day philosopher once said ‘you normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point in daffodils’, which is just bob on the money for spring 2021 isn’t it? And, of course, we already know Wordsworth found that lying on his couch in pensive mood was best remedied by picturing ‘ten thousand’ of them swaying in the breeze.
And the daffodil is also the symbol of Marie Curie, which I have been in conversation with too recently, and which is asking the UK population to commemorate March 23rd as a National Day of Reflection in recognition of the hundreds of thousands who have lost their lives during the pandemic, and all the families who have been bereaved as a result.
The UK end of life charity is calling on everyone to mark the day by reflecting on our collective loss as a nation, supporting those who have been bereaved and, crucially, in hoping for a brighter future.
So I’ll be putting the daffs out again then, of course, for my Mum, for our Ouma, and for the millions of other people who have had to say goodbye to someone they love in the most difficult of circumstances this past year.
This year – this endless, seismic, life-changing year of ‘on and off’ life in lockdown we have all had to, and continue to, endure.
For those who didn’t make it the full 12 months, and whose lives weren’t properly celebrated as a result, certainly the collective recognition of this nation is the least they deserve.