2012 has been a strange and curious year so far. In the very first three months, I experienced what could surely be considered every emotion under the sun, and intensely so. Shock, worry, stress, uncertainty, grief, joy, hope, death, loss, love... I felt it all. It was a roller coaster ride from which there was no way off. I had no choice but to hold on tightly to my conviction that I would make it to the end in one piece. Sometimes though I had my doubts, I did wonder how I would come through it all. I am still wondering but with less apprehension then three months ago when it seemed as though a huge part of my life had come to an end and all I felt was a massive void.
Towards the end of January, after having just returned from the UK for the Christmas break, I received the dreaded phone call I knew would come one day to tell me that my grandmother, who had raised me as her daughter since I was a baby, had fallen gravely ill. The prognosis was not good and she wasn't expected to live through the night. There is something dreadful about taking a long distance flight in these emergency situations, wondering if upon landing you've made it in time. I could hardly look at my uncle's face as he stood waiting for me in the Arrivals lounge the very next day. I knew his expression would tell it all with one swift glance and I didn't want to know. It was alright for the moment but that was only to be the start of it. My mum was an extraordinary woman who turned out to have more strength in her then we could ever have imagined (which was already a great deal). She would confound the doctors' expectations who, on a weekly basis, would suggest that the end was close, we should prepare ourselves but who were proven wrong to the very last week of her life.
Winter months turned to Spring, a period of time (ten weeks in all) that exist in my memory as daily visits to St Helier Hospital, where my mum lay stricken and silent with the effects of her debilitating stroke. My sister and I formed a mantra of sorts to help navigate our way through the quagmire of emotion and stress we both felt. We'd say it to one another frequently throughout the day and with some urgency near the end when it was clear she was going downhill and we had to make the painful decision to withdraw the feeding tube keeping her alive in a nether land state of non-existence. It was simply this - 'step by step'. And by sticking to this philosophy, we found that we could gradually move forward and take in what was so impossible to bear.
But the experience of journeying with my mum to the end of her life has left me changed as I'm sure it has for all my family. Images float unabated each day of a moment in time at the hospital, some beautiful like the extraordinary times my mum would seemingly come back into consciousness and realize her family were with her. She'd smile then, blow us kisses and roll her eyes in the way that was uniquely mum as if to say, look at this ridiculous situation I've found myself in. We'd laugh with tears in our eyes, finding hope and a belief that mum was still with us after all, just waiting for the day when she'd be unlocked from her damaged body. Others are more haunting such as any moment of her last days when her features shrunk and her face became that of someone else entirely; or the silent tears she let flow as her youngest grandchildren said their final farewells a few days before she died. They are as vivid to me now as if it were yesterday. I don't mind... I am grateful that I could be there, feel the close connection with my family and experience as intensely as I did. I want to remember those precious days truthfully despite the pain that accompanies many of these memories.
|The Last day|
I took to taking a few photographs every now and again as I sat in her room or wandered down the hospital corridors to get yet another cup of coffee and panini from Costa Coffee. I felt I needed to capture those fleeting moments of the way the light fell or a feeling felt. I snapped away on my iPhone, so this intense and surreal time could be frozen in time and stored for prosperity. I photographed in my mum's house too, my childhood home where a wealth of memories and experience are stored with in the walls. I was losing this too.
|Final Morning at Sprucedale|
|Leaving Sprucedale Gardens|
Lately I've found myself thinking about George Harrison's well known lyric, 'All Things Must Pass'. The simplicity and the profound truth of these words seem particularly relevant to me this year. I am beginning to accept the loss of my mum and have a glimmer of understanding of how change, even unexpected and shocking change that feels like your world has been turned upside down, can be an impetus for moving forward. I have come to see that life in every facet is progression, it is never static and so it is in death too, cliched as this statement is...'There is no growth without change'. There is some comfort in this. Although it doesn't make the feeling of loss diminish completely, it does urge me to be open to new possibilities, think more creatively, to open my eyes more fully, listen more closely, be mindful of my past whilst thinking forward into the future and engage with the experience of living intensely.
All images © Claire Gilliam