Life has seemed turbulent lately. Many of you will know that 2016 was a phenomenally tough year for me, for so many reasons. 2017 started with moving house, so more upheaval. By February I was planning everything I needed to do to get back to my usual crafting and studying activities. And then the big one hit … my mum was very suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumour.
It was soon clear that this was not going to be a long illness. There was no prospect of treatment, other than palliative care. For one who likes to navigate by festivals, I find it extraordinary to think that mum was diagnosed on Shrove Tuesday, died on Passion Sunday, and the last time I spent with her on Earth was on Mothering Sunday (which, coincidentally, was also my birthday). We will gather to celebrate her life during Holy Week. By the time Maundy Thursday dawns, the end of life rituals will be done. The grieving will continue, and will mellow over time.
It’s hard to know what I could say about my mum that would do her justice. She was my my first and most important teacher. She’s the one who taught me to knit, who brought the enduring love of yarn and the simple pleasure of handwork into my life. She’s mentioned in the first paragraph I ever wrote on this site, and how could it have been otherwise? It couldn’t. So profound is her spirit within me that she is here in every word. She was the recipient of my first every story skeins: Sunset Forest and A Quarter of Sherbet. Clearly, her influence stretches far beyond me and my little niche of creativity, but I start there because it’s what I come here to write about.
It was my mum who bought me the Hook to Heal book for my last birthday. I have made so much of the healing power of crafting over this short and difficult journey. I have stitched, and hooked, and sewn by her bed. I could be with her, in ways we had been together hundreds of times before. We didn’t need to talk if there was nothing to say or mum needed a rest. But we had easy companionship and the joy of watching a creation take shape. She asked my daughter to make her a bag to hold her prayer stones. We stitched it together on the journey to see mum. I finished my Elise shawl when mum was ill. I had worked on it beside her, and shown her the beautiful colours in the yarn, and the patterns I was creating. I’ll wear it to her funeral next week.
Before mum’s diagnosis I had started Scheepjes’ Hygge crochet along. I treated myself to the kit as a post-moving house present to myself. I didn’t know it would take on a much greater significance. I stitched so much of that piece by her bedside. Although I worked on other projects too, Hygge was immediately special. It was calming and beautiful, and really engaged my mum who admired it and insisted on showing it off to staff and patients alike!
When her prognosis came through I knew she would not see it completed. And I knew it was by now far too special to be anything other than a tribute piece to her. When she died, as I was stitching week 7, I embroidered her initials and dates into the piece.
Mum touched so many people’s lives in so many different ways. I could not possibly list them all here. But I think the common theme through her life is a true understanding of what it means to serve people, and a clarity about why our service to others is important; about why people – and how we treat them – are important. The way she lived taught me formative lessons about living the life you want in the way you want: enjoying and embracing the things that are important to you, under the guidance of a strong and generous moral centre.
My mum went to University in Hull and used to tell me about the librarian: Philip Larkin. When I came to study for my GCSEs, one of his poems was in our anthology. I’ve always liked the last line, and though I am taking it out of context, I’d still like to think about it here. Larkin talks of his Schoolmaster, who “Dissolved. (Like sugar in a cup of tea.)” Now, my mum was far too much of a strong woman to dissolve in life. She wasn’t one to stay in the background. But when I think of her influence I see that although she is no longer here, everything she’s done for the last nearly-70 years leaves the world a sweeter place. Although we have a journey of grief to navigate, eventually those rough granules will dissolve too, and what we’ll be left with are the sweet memories, and the knowledge that we have been the luckiest of families, to have such a person in our lives.
Goodbye mum. Love you always. xxx