Today would have been Mum's 71st birthday, so it seems the perfect day to start writing here again after taking such a long break.
On Wednesday it will be 16 months since Mum died. Even as I type that out I find it hard to understand how simultaneously quickly and slowly those 16 months have passed. I feel as if I am finally waking up from a deep, heavy, nightmarish sleep, blinking and stretching into Springtime.
Grief is a very strange thing. It feels as if I am finally reaching beyond it. Coming out of the "grief trenches". It's lovely to be able to have finally found the edges of it.
I haven't wanted to write about it all here. The process of feeling the many contradictions and paradoxes within grief has felt raw, violent and savage in a way I haven't known how to use words to express.
I am usually very comfortable with words, with writing out how something has felt to me, of being able to express my understanding of it. But this experience of losing my Mum has challenged that understanding of myself as I've felt utterly unable to join words together in a way that gives the emotional and physical experience of the grief any truth or depth.
When I lived in Japan, I lived alongside earthquakes. They happened frequently, without warning, and I experienced very clearly the process of realising I was not in control of very much at all in life. When the earth moves (and not in a good way) the sense of powerlessness and vulnerability is acute.
And that has been my experience of this grief. Not depression, sadness, or wretched crying (although I have felt those things), but much more powerfully, a devastating meeting of my own vulnerability and powerlessness to control life.
I couldn't change what happened to Mum. I couldn't remove her suffering. I couldn't protect her from the illness. I couldn't take away her pain. I couldn't change anything about what she experienced.
All we could do was witness what she was going through and love her, so that she wasn't alone within it.
The most difficult aspect of grief, for me, has been the deep and thudding understanding of how vulnerable we are. How soft and gentle our hearts are, how easily wounded we can be, how at any moment an illness, accident, or event can lead to a devastating consequence. How powerless we are in the face of things out of our control. How savage loss is a part of life.
And how to reconcile that understanding with how to move forward knowing it.
How to not be afraid of life and everything it brings.
We are all made of approximately 40% stardust. The average human male is made up of 60% water. There is a fragility to how we're made..
So the question has been for me, "How do I move forward after seeing and experiencing so closely how brutal life can be?"
And the answer I came to this week is "tenderness".
I thought it was about Love, giving love, receiving love. Which it is. But, for me this week, I've realised it's about something inherent within love.
It's about the expression of love through tenderness.
The kindness, gentleness and sensitivity to pain that defines tenderness.
Our hearts are tender. Our dreams are tender. Our muscles get tender.
We need tenderness; us vulnerable, joy-filled, often weary, sometimes broken-hearted, humans.
We are often given tenderness as children. Kisses when we fall, cuddles when we hurt, nose nuzzles, ear tickles, the moments when we are wrapped gently in fluffy towels after baths. Gentle moments of deep kindness. Often from our mums.
As adults that tenderness can subside. We are busy. We push ourselves hard. We strive. We want to thrive. We can feel tired, impatient, grumpy. So can the people around us.
Tenderness can be absent for a long time without us even knowing it. We can especially lack the ability to be tender with ourselves.
I have decided I want a life filled with small moments of tenderness. Gentleness, kindness and a sensitivity towards pain. My own and other people's. I don't want to be blind to my vulnerabilities or those of others.
I don't want to hurt myself or other people through lacking tenderness.
Loss, grief and hurt are part of living. I don't want to be hardened by those things. I want to be tender to them.
It isn't weakness to be tender. I think it's a strength to understand our vulnerabilities and to live life fully aware of them, loving them and being kind to those parts of ourselves that need gentleness. I think it's only when we can meet our tender spots and love them (even if it makes us supremely uncomfortable) that we can do the same for others.
There is deep beauty in the fact that we are so vulnerable, and that we know it, and keep going anyway.
Happy birthday, Mum. I love you.
With huge love for you and your tenderness, wherever you are.
P.S. This is my latest painting. Mixed-media on watercolour paper. Inspired by the artwork of Tamara LaPorte. Click here to go to her website. Take a peek, it's beautiful.