Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Angels and Roses

Thank you for the warmth and support in your comments on my last post. I find it very therapeutic to write out my feelings here and send them out into the world.  As strange as it sounds, I often forget that people read them. Seeing your words of support and feeling the kindness in them has really touched my heart. Thank you.

This is a painting of an angel I did a couple of years ago.  I remember showing it to Mum and her loving it.
I have believed in angels ever since I was a little girl. 

On 25th April it was the 6 month anniversary of my Mum dying, and recently I've been experiencing a subtle but powerful shift.
Almost every month of the past 6 months has contained a significant date that has scratched at the raw wound that has wanted to heal.
The first Guy Fawkes' Night, the first Christmas and New Year, Mum's 70th birthday, Mothers' Day, Easter.
Each one an accentuation of her absence. But strangely enough, those significant dates have not been the times that have hurt the most.
A little while ago, I returned once again to the hospital where Mum spent her last weeks, for one of my regular appointments there. Seeing the windows to the room where she stayed, I noticed they were open. Another family inside, possibly experiencing something similar to us.
I spent a few moments looking up at those windows, remembering all four of us inside. At the time, trying so hard to know and understand how best to love and support Mum, and how best to be able to let her go.
I find being back at the hospital very painful.

I think grieving is possibly a process of meeting the self. Something I've spent a long time and considerable effort avoiding doing.
If we can stay with ourselves in our darkest times, not abandon ourselves when we are at our most messy, broken and fearful, and not strain to run from our sadness, we get to hit rock bottom and realise it's actually a very solid place to be.
I'm having a deep change of heart.
Building a new way of living that incorporates the grief of losing my mum, a current long-term illness, and a very black and white statistical analysis from the hospital of the possibilities of my developing cancer.
JK Rowling said "Rock bottom is the strong foundation on which I built my life."
I think grief is an opportunity to hit rock bottom, meet ourselves and realise that actually we keep good company.

We are lovable even in our messiness, hurt and feelings of brokenness. I think life is about deeply experiencing all the emotions and feelings, not just the ones we judge as "good". And if we can do that we can find a space of self-acceptance that can't be very easily shaken or disturbed. Our foundation in life becomes much more solid because we become acquainted with our shadows and realise they were only that, shadows. Not anything to be afraid of.
Life sometimes brings pain and struggle, not to make us suffer, but in order, I think, that we become better acquainted with who we really are and to give us an opportunity to meet ourselves when we are cracked wide open and all the masks have fallen away.
So, Spring is here, and I am bobbing along on rock bottom, deeply glad of the solid foundation it gives, and meeting myself face-on.
I've decided that I like who I'm meeting.

Sending you love, wherever you are.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Some Thoughts

I'm aware that writing about grief isn't going to bring floods of new blog readers to my blog, and I've thought about whether writing about such personal loss is "too much information" to be sharing on a blog where I usually write about art, creativity and my attempts to draw a cat that looks like a cat. It's a heavy emotional topic and one that most people, myself included, shy away from.

But, not writing about it feels more difficult than writing about it. Somehow, the grief I'm experiencing is demanding a voice, not to stay stuck in it, but actually in order to be able to move through it.  As strange as that sounds.

If this is difficult to read, I understand. It's human nature to want to relieve another person's distress and hurt. But grief can't be fixed, and moving through it is a very lonely experience. Moving through it without being able to express what it feels like is lonelier still.

So, I find myself compelled to share about it here, even though it's such a private thing.

Grief isn't linear. It isn't something that can be controlled. It isn't clear and concise.  And, above all else, it isn't in any way, shape or form, simple.

My experience of this grief is different to any other I have experienced.  I have experienced loss and grief before.  I am divorced, I have lost other deeply loved relatives to illness.  I know how I experienced those great losses and how I moved through them, until I reached the edges and was able to pull myself into a new "normal".

But this is different.

I find myself thinking of friends I love very much who have lost their mums too, and I realise how little I understood of the devastation they were going through when their losses occurred.  It wasn't out of callousness or lack of care on my part, but simply a total inexperience of it that meant my understanding was limited.

This grief feels vast, and deep, and so far, even four months after the death of my mum, I have still not found the edges of it.  I stretch out thinking that perhaps if I reach far enough, I will find a place internally where it ends, but so far, that's not happened.

And then I read this quote by Eckhart Tolle, and I found myself writing it out in my art journal and surrounding it with pink roses (mine and my mum's favourite flowers)...

Grief is the process of trying to accept the unacceptable.  The process of trying to make peace with the absence of my mum.

"For me it was like losing a planetary presence: Just empty space instead of all that gravity." 

And so four months after my mum's death, I find myself fighting a painful battle of trying to accept something I find unacceptable: Living in the world without my mum in it with me. 

Grief isn't an event. It isn't a choice either.  I know my mum isn't here any more.  I understand fully what happened to her. I'm not wallowing in sadness for the sake of it, or refusing to pull up my boot straps and carry on.  I know life goes on.  I want it to and I want to be a part of it.  But right now, my heart is healing and trying to find a way to accept the painful truth it holds, that there are two parts to my life.  My life with mum as an integral part of it, interwoven into the fabric of my days, where she was physically present in the landscape of it all.  And the other part, where she's gone, and there is the total absence of all of her.

I feel such deep loss and sadness that Mum's no longer with me physically, talking to me, being irritated by me, touching me, disapproving of something I've not done or done, loving me regardless, smiling at me, laughing with me at something rude I've said, hugging me and holding me tight when the world feels frightening. 

Grief is the process of trying to accept that this is the second half of my life, the half without Mum, and it's a strange and complex journey.

I've been giving myself a hard time for finding this journey so difficult, for not doing it differently although I'm not sure what that "different" would look like, telling myself "it's been four months, Em, come on, Love, get better at doing this." And then I realise, it's been four months, sixteen weeks.  Not very long at all, and I am doing just fine where I am.

I know this will change, I know it will get easier, I know I won't always feel this way, but for now, it's where I am and I want to at least try and explain why I'm not smiling as much as I used to (just for now), and why my postman looks terrified when I open the door to collect the mail and he catches sight of my thatched barnet.

With love to you in your grief, if you are grieving, whoever you are and wherever you are.


Monday, 2 March 2015

More Cat Art

Do you remember the cat pencil drawing I did a few weeks ago?

You can read more about it HERE

I wanted to see if I could turn it into a "character cat" whereby it had all it's defining features but was more quirky.

So I sat down today to have a go.

This is how it started out. 

Ears. Eyes. Strange "snowman" type body.

Then I got lost in it and just let it appear on the page.

This is how he ended up.

I love his bright eyes and little pink nose.

I'm going to try and draw Betty in this style and see if I can capture her expression.  Her being black might be somewhat of a problem (she could end up looking like a bin bag with eyes) but I'd like to try. I'll let you see the results as soon as I've drawn her.

How are you?  Have you completed any creative projects lately?  I seem to be seeing cats everywhere at the moment and am loving all the cat inspiration!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Cat Art

I had a realisation at the end of last week.

I love drawing and painting, and I want to draw and paint more.

You might think that's fairly obvious, but to my poor grief addled head, not so much.

I draw and paint as and when I can when energy allows. And that isn't very often. The mixed-media ladies that I paint take a long time to do. Layered up over time. I realised that I wanted to be able to draw most days, quick sketches, small studies, in order to get better at drawing and to draw more easily without draining my energy.

But most importantly, so that I can feel happy.

Drawing makes me happy, and all things considered over the past few months, I feel like I need some of the happy.

So I ordered myself a moleskine artists sketch journal that I can keep in my pocket, and some coloured pencils. This morning, I woke up and said to myself, Betty and Eric and Ernie (yes, I talk to my cats) "Let the happy begin!"

Dad had saved an insert from a magazine for me ("I saw this and knew you'd love it!"), all about how to draw cats using the grid technique. (my dad knows me very well). It explained how to draw a grid onto a piece of tracing paper and then put it over a photo. Then draw a grid of the same size on your paper and copy, grid square by grid square, the photo onto your paper.

This is the first stage.  You can see the grid, and the drawing I've copied from a photo of a cat.

Using this technique helped me draw the prespective of the cats features fairly accurately. After erasing the grid squares, I was left with my outline.  Bring on the coloured pencils!

The process wasn't always easy with a Betty in the house, but we negotiated a settlement pleasing to both of us (food related on both sides) and things were able to move along.

Here's my finished moggy. 

I thoroughly enjoyed drawing her and am definitely going to be using the grid technique again.

I felt happy while I was drawing.  A little bit of nourishment to heal the heart. I'm going to try and draw more often. Building up a small moleskine journal of sketch pages to help my heart heal. It's what Mum would have wanted.

Have you tried the grid-drawing technique? Did you like it?

Monday, 12 January 2015

Hello 2015

So the anger has gone.

As the clock ticked down to midnight on New Year's Eve, in the happy company of my close friends, and while eating gorgeous food, I felt myself being enveloped in a blanket of sadness. It wrapped around me in a silent attack.  Out of the blue, totally unexpectedly, it slid out from behind the chair I was lounging in and covered me with it's heaviness.

I thought I was dealing with my mum's death fairly well.  We had got through her funeral, had survived the run up to Christmas, had managed to laugh and smile on Christmas day, and had navigated all the happy, family-based traditions that go along with the "holiday season" with minimal damage to body and mind. The anger I'd been feeling about it all was starting to mellow.

And then the countdown to New Year's Eve happened on the TV.

I could see the clock.  Hear the numbers getting smaller, 10... 9... 8...

And all I could think was "NOOOOOOOOOOO!"

I felt pulled towards a new year, away from 2014. How could this be a new year already?  Mum was a part of everything up until October 25th 2014.  If I stepped over into 2015, I was moving away from 2014. The place, in my heart, where my mum was still.

And for the past few days, that deep, lonely sadness has held me tight.

I'm not comfortable with certain emotions.  I find anger extremely uncomfortable and will try and smile my way out of it, sometimes through gritted teeth. I have the bruxism and gum shield to prove it.

I find sadness intolerable, and will do everything (bar stand-up comedy or watching Lenny Henry) to feel something different.

But over the past eleven days there has been nothing to do but feel the sadness. Because I've physically and emotionally not been able to do anything else.

I've lived with M.E for twelve years and understand more than your average person about exhaustion.

I live with constant exhaustion. It never leaves me. But I have learned how best to flow with it. How to minimise the chances of it crippling every minute of every day. When it hits extremely hard, and it hits hard and often, I have to lie down. Often for days at a time. My body isn't able to move or function and I have to wait it out until the extreme exhaustion lifts and releases me. Sleep is all I can do. And often times I'm not able to even do that.

In the past, I've been told by certain doctors who don't understand M.E. that I've been depressed and not physically ill and I've struggled to explain that it isn't my heart or mind that's exhausted, it's my body.

These past eleven days have shown me very clearly the difference between depression and physical exhaustion.

I have felt a weariness with life that just wouldn't leave me. A loneliness and isolation that has whistled around me like a storm wind, emphasising all the empty spaces. A sense of feeling heart-broken, broken-hearted, unable to feel any love, joy or peacefulness.  I have felt broken in two, wounded, bruised, and hurting. With no desire to love life. Too full of darkness to be able to see anything more than the heavy moment I'm living in.

I have felt utterly vulnerable. Red raw. Unable to stop the pain.

For someone who usually sees the world through not just rose-tinted but full-on hot pink glasses, this has been somewhat troubling.

As well as a tad effing frightening.

A friend called me on Saturday and asked "Have you painted any of this?"


I haven't known how to paint this out.  It has felt too painful to get too close to my heart, the place where I paint from.

But, I listened to my kind friend's words and took out my art journal and pens and I painted what came out onto the page.

It is OK to feel sad.  It's OK to grieve.  I have given myself permission to let the tears fall. To emotionally curl up and lick my wounds. To hibernate for a while until I'm ready to uncurl and carry on.

I know that if I allow myself to feel this sadness, I will move through it to the other side. 

If you're grieving a loss too, I send you huge love through the internet ether. 

Wishing you a beautiful 2015.

P.S. I've just noticed that my signature has disappeared at the bottom of  my blog posts and has been replaced with a scary looking grey circle/dash combo.  I will sort this as soon as I figure out what the dickens has happened and in the meantime send apologies! Em x


Monday, 8 December 2014

And Breathe

How are you doing?  I hope you've still got all your limbs intact during this run-up to Christmas?

After witnessing my first ever British Black Friday, (via online videos, I stayed indoors that Friday with a crash helmet on and wrapped in foam, you know, just in case) I am only partly jesting. 

So this is the first Christmas without Mum. 

Back at the beginning of 2014, that wasn't a sentence I thought I'd be writing any time soon.  But if this year has shown me anything, it's that life can turn on a sixpence and big things can change faster than you can say "What the feck just happened?".

It's four months since we got Mum's diagnosis, and two months since she died.  

Navigating the run-up to Christmas has been a new experience. Strangely I've felt closer to Mum. She loved making Christmas flower arrangements, swags of foliage wrapped in ribbon around the banisters and fireplace.  Having Christmas decorations everywhere has reminded me of all my childhood Christmases where Mum made me believe in magic. Sweet, warm memories of my Mum loving us. Laughing. Hugging. Putting my sister and I to bed on Christmas Eve with kisses and pillow cases hooked on the wooden knobs of the chest of drawers.

It's a kind of madness this grieving thing isn't it?

An intensity of emotions that I have felt could possibly somehow break me. 

The depth of my rage and anger has been the most overwhelming aspect of this grief for my Mum.

Rage at how much Cancer hurt her.  Rage at my powerlessness to do anything about that.  Fury at the unfairness of what my mum experienced.  Fury at myself for not knowing how to help Mum.  Anger at Life/God/The Universe for handing this to Mum. 

And relentless anger at my mum for leaving me.

I know.  I feel bad even writing it out and admitting it.

I know logically that my mum didn't want to go anywhere, and had no control over the cancer she was battling.  But in the days leading up to her death and in the days and weeks immediately afterwards, I have been heart-breakingly, eye-poppingly, teeth-clenchingly livid that she could leave me in the world without her.

And I have had to forgive myself over and over again for feeling that way.  

It's grief.  It does strange things to you.

Grief is changing me, and I've had to make some conscious decisions about what I want those changes to be. More brittle, closed, hardened, cynical? Or, open-hearted, softened, more sensitive and flexible, bending into life's challenges?

I think hard things can make us softer and stronger at the same time.  And I think that is beautiful.

I can feel angry, bitter, and resentful, knowing it isn't a permanent state of being to feel those things. I can give myself a break and understand that even though I'm feeling painful things, everything is OK.  I'm OK. They're feelings, not the truth about me.

I can trust and know that I am bigger than anything I feel, no matter how painful it is.  I can understand that no feeling, no matter how overwhelming, will break me.  And I can allow myself to feel all my feelings, knowing that in feeling them, I allow them to flow through me and subsequently pass.  If I block them, or judge myself for feeling them, I somehow stay stuck in them.

So, I'm not judging myself for my anger at Life right now.  I'm allowing myself to feel it, trusting that I won't always feel this way.

I know too that by choosing to look for the beautiful, the small sweet things of life, while I'm feeling this anger, I stay focussed on what is the real bedrock of my life.

I can feel livid, angry, resentful and furious at Life for the loss of Mum, and still believe in the beauty and magic of life while I'm letting go of these feelings.

And I do. I believe that Life is working for us not against us.  I believe in the tender joy of life, even in the midst of loss and sadness and deep, deep grief. 

It's a strange line to tread.  A wonky, contradictory balancing act.  And, for me, it's these uncomfortable contradictions that grief brings, that makes grief so tricky to experience. 

Here's Elspeth.  A painting I finished just a few days before we got the news that Mum had cancer again. She tells me to  "Look for the Extraodinary and the Fantastic".  

It's very important that we do.

    Sending you (and the people you love) huge love for Christmas and 2015.

Thank you for all your love, support and friendship through 2014.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Beauty of Small Things


How are you?  I hope life has been treating you kindly and you're enjoying the sweet things of winter.

Back in July, in the midst of summer, I made a commitment to tell you my truth.  (You can read more about that here.)

So, I'm going to launch right on in...

At the beginning of 2012, completely out of the blue, my beautiful mum was diagnosed with cancer. She was given treatment for it and we were told later that year, that the treatment had been successful.

As you will know if you've been reading my blog for a while, in the summer of 2013, my beautiful sister was diagnosed with cancer. You can read more about that here and here.

Just as life was starting to settle into a gentler flow of warm summery days, after my sister's chemotherapy had finished, my mum was diagnosed with cancer again this August.

My beautiful mum died in October, just over a month ago, ten weeks after her diagnosis in August.

My mum and I were very close.

For the past few months since my mum's diagnosis and her subsequent death, I have been feeling immense grief.

The past couple of years have been an intense journey for my dad, my sister and I. A journey where we have become much more intimately acquainted with cancer and the effects it has on individuals and families. It has been and continues to be extremely challenging.

Grief is a strange thing.  Not one emotion but a combination of many different emotions.  Each taking their turn to be felt.

I have been left with choices about what I do with what has happened.  And I find myself stepping tentatively along a path where the world looks and feels different and strange, and "normal" isn't normal any more.

There are some things that I am learning as I go along.  Things that matter and have become the bedrock on which I am building a new normal in a world without my mum, a world which contains cancer, and loss and messiness, alongside beauty, huge love and immense kindness.

I'd like to share with you those things that The Universe is teaching me. That I'm doing my best to learn.

Lessons From The Universe

1. Emma, above and beyond all other things, it's important to look for the beauty in small things.

When life hurts, and you feel like your heart is breaking, it's important to bring things down to their smallest common denominator.  Look for the beauty in small, simple things. A warm blanket that you can snuggle in, a soft pillow where you can lay your head for a while and rest, a cat to hold while you listen to it purring, a hot bath to ease your tired, stressed muscles.  Grief causes tension and it's important to be especially kind to yourself as you're feeling it.

2. Emma, let yourself be loved by the people in your life who want to love and help you.

Letting someone help you is giving that person an opportunity to show you how much they love you, and even though it can be monumentally difficult to do, be courageous enough to really let people love you.  It's easy to dismiss an offer of help for fear of putting someone out, to deflect a compliment, to reply with "I'm fine" when people ask you how you're doing. Don't.  Tell the truth about how you're feeling, what you need and what you don't need.  Allow the people who love you to show you their love with their actions.  Let people help you.

3. Don't judge what you're feeling or how you're expressing what you're feeling.  

People deal with loss and grief differently.  Some people cry a lot.  Some people don't.  Some people feel angry and frustrated.  Other people feel confused and isolated.

Emma, it's OK to feel what you feel and to let yourself feel it without judging yourself.  Allow yourself to feel what you feel.

4. Stay in the moment.

It's normal to feel overwhelmed when you experience a loss like this. To feel disorientated and confused. Try not to project  into the future and grow frightened of what's around the next corner.  Live in the present moment, which is ultimately all anyone ever has, and make that moment matter by doing the "next right thing".

Even if doing the next right thing is climbing into bed, pulling the duvet over your tired head and sleeping.

All you have to do, Emma, is listen to your heart and gut, and you will know what you need to do in this moment to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself.

All of those small moments of being kind to yourself and following your heart will add up to hours, then a day, then days, then weeks, of doing all the things you need to do to take care of yourself, and move through this grief.

All you need to do is listen, in this moment, to what you need to do next, and then gently do it, without pushing yourself, or judging yourself.

Always remembering that, sometimes, the next right thing to do is "nothing".

5. Trust that you will not always feel like this.

Emma, when you're in the midst of feeling such immense sadness and loss, it can feel all-consuming.  The world can feel a little bit broken and life can feel as if it's lost it's sparkle.

Trust me when I tell you that you won't always feel like this.  Your heart will heal and you will laugh huge great belly laughs again.  Sooner than you think.

6. Life is made up of contrasts.

You appreciate warmth, Emma, because you have experienced cold. You soar with joy because you've had times where you've been metaphorically face down in the mud. You are experiencing huge grief at the moment, and there will be a time where you feel huge happiness and connection, and will appreciate it with a new intensity, because you have felt the depth of grief you are feeling now. Life is full of contrasts, and part of living life to the full is experiencing all of those contrasts.

7. You are not broken.

Losing your mum hurts deeply, but you are not broken. If you can allow yourself to feel the full weight of your grief with your heart wide open, you will know what it means to be present.

As Leonard Cohen said "There's a crack, a crack in everything, it's how the light gets in."

8. You're doing better than you think.

Emma, you're doing brilliantly. Be gentle with yourself.  You are enough.

So, these are the things I'm learning. That the Universe is teaching me.

I know none of us get through life without experiencing huge grief and loss.  If you are experiencing great loss right now, I'm sending you huge love.

Bonkers Betty is doing everything she can to make sure I know I'm loved (including sitting on my shoulder and shouting in my ear.  For a small cat, she can make a lot of noise.)

The painting "Embrace the Beauty of Small Things" is one I did a while ago and didn't get round to posting.  I'll put it in the "Free Glitter" section for you.  A small gift from me to you, with love.

P.S. We raised £535 for Cancer Research UK.  The winners of the prize draw were Rashell, Liza and Annie, who have all been notified that they were the winners.  Thank you so  much for all your support.  It has an added importance and poignancy for me now.  Em x

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