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Summer Soul Searching

Hello again.  How are you?

I want to have something beautiful, witty and wise to write here, for you.  A message full of optimism and hope, and sometimes I think I might just manage it. But possibly not today...

I'm not maudlin, you understand, I'm just feeling weary of grieving.  And it's not something I can turn off.

I can't snap out of it. Or wilfully distract myself from it.

I feel like I'm in an enormous IKEA, and I'm committed to following the floor plan through all the departments (of Grief). There's no short-cut I can take through Bedrooms (Crying), Kitchens (Deep Rattling Aloneness) and Storage (Heavy Weariness), that will whip me out into the Supermarket Area of Goodies (Smiley and Not Flinching with Every Quick Movement Any More).

I don't want to sound upset or angry.  I don't want to come over as bitter, or God forbid, self-pitying, but I'm definitely in the region of possibly knocking on those doors. If not knocking, then somewhere close to ringing the bell and then legging it.

Grieving is exhausting.

Time doesn't heal.

Healing doesn't automatically happen because time has passed.

Healing is an active process of having the ability to face all the darkest, murkiest, loneliest corners of the self. Without doing an about-face 180' turn and bolting, (hair on fire), screaming to the heavens for a bottle of gin bigger than your head, with the words "What the eff was that?  I don't want to look at that pile of c**p ever again and no one can make me!"

Every day waking up to the most painful parts of the self and not muttering "The horror! The horror!". Instead, facing those dark, scary feelings, looking into them, seeing them, acknowledging the hurt they bring, expressing that pain and then, subsequently being able to let the pain go, piece by small piece.

It takes some stamina to stay with yourself when what you're looking at and feeling is lots and lots of murky loss.

Pass the gin.

In the past when I've grieved, I've reached a point where I've needed to numb out for a time, and have tried to use food, drink, friends and family as massive distractions when I couldn't face feeling my own hurt.

Now that I'm older and not much wiser, I've decided that's not something I want to do to myself.

Not least because, what I've discovered while grieving the death of my mum, is that the grief that hasn't been actively healed in years gone by comes back to haunt you when a big loss happens.  It really does.

Like rowdy friends at a party, and demanding an audience for their bad jokes.

I'm grieving for all of my losses this time around.  Not just the massive loss of my mum, which is huge in and of itself, but many of those smaller losses I numbed out and distanced myself from through the years.

Each one seems to be popping up, asking to be felt and released.  Not unlike "Whack-a-Mole" the fairground game where you have to wallop that annoying little fella on the head as he peeks up out of one hole after another. Only I haven't got a plastic mallet and there's no mole to beat the c**p out of.

It's been 9 months since my Mum died. And I'm tired.

Distracting myself from my pain doesn't work now I'm older.  I know the gin is just going to leave me feeling more awful the morning after.  Eating a pile of food is only going to make me feel sick, and looking for myself in somebody else is going to leave me lonelier than I was before.

And none of this is because I don't deeply miss my mum or love her any less.  It's because I love her so deeply that the grief is so intense and unrelenting.

So, I'm facing myself and my hurt, and I feel like I want to say, firmly and quite clearly.  "Yup.  I get it.  I need to look at it all.  But, I'm done.  I've had enough of lifting up rocks and looking at the shadowy stuff underneath.  I'd like some sun, some sand, a bit of a shindig and some massive honking great belly laughs, if it's all the same to you, Universe. And while you're at it, could you mix me a cocktail with all the trimmings and more paper umbrellas than you can waggle a stick at?"

How do you balance feeling your grief with having some lightness in life? I don't easily seem able to at the moment, and I'm tired of feeling all the sadness. I haven't yet fully found a way to balance the sadness with something gentler. Hot baths, hugs, and snoozing are my go-to heart-lifters at the moment. Oh, and good, ripe mangoes. That's not a euphemism.

I miss the fun of life. Grieving and healing loss are hard ruddy work and I feel very disconnected from the Emma who cries laughing.

I need a holiday from my grief and haven't yet found a way of having a holiday from myself. I feel very guilty, writing that out loud.  As if it somehow dishonours my mum. But it's my truth at the moment and I know my mum would understand.

So, I'm plodding on with the journey through all IKEA departments, taking a nap, or a TV break along the way, in the hope that if I stay my course, I'll soon find myself laughing more and enjoying a hot dog bigger than an inflatable, after navigating some of the dark corners of bedding.

How do you give yourself a break from feeling your grief?  How do you find the fun and laughter in life while you're grieving?

Sending you huge love wherever you are.


P.S. This is a recent painting of mine, inspired by the artwork or Tamara LaPorte, and the quote by Henri Matisse.

P.P.S. Netflix is proving itself worth every penny for giving me a break. I am giving it an absolute bashing by currently watching a plethora of dramas, as well as learning more than I hope I will ever need to know about life in a women's prison. Orange definitely is the new black.

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.
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.
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 believe 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.

Some Thoughts

I'm aware that writing about grief may not 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 deeply personal topic.

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.

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, four months after the death of my mum, I haven't 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, listening to me, being irritated by me, telling me she's proud of 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 confused about how to do this grief journey. Tempted to give myself a hard time for finding it so difficult, 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.  Hardly any time 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.


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 quirkier.

So I sat down today to try it.

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 (being black, she may look like a bin bag with eyes, but that's a risk I'm prepared to take). 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.

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. 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.

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?

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 understand I need to feel all the feelings, but I find some more uncomfortable to feel than others.  I find anger powerful and sometimes unsettling and in the past have tried to push beyond it, sometimes through gritted teeth.

I find sadness heavy, and have been known to consider trying almost anything (bar stand-up comedy or watching Lenny Henry) to move through it..

But over the past eleven days there has been nothing to do but feel it all. 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.

But I have learned how best to flow with it. How to minimise the chances of it crippling every minute of every day.

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 feels 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.

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