Tag Archives: Death

‘Saving Grace’ Part 1 by Holly Gibson (FreeSpace #2)

13 Nov

Benzaken_Carole-Dianas_Funeral_7

Saving Grace – Part 1

by Holly Gibson

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After the funeral we all went back to Auntie Doreen’s. Granddad had lived there for as long as I could remember and Doreen had prepared a nice spread, all laid out on her best crockery. Uncle Ted sat at the end of the table next to the sausage rolls, popping them into his mouth one after another and washing them down with Granddad’s best malt whiskey.

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Auntie Gladys – Granddad’s sister – had been allowed out of the home for the afternoon. Her nurse was busy talking to Sam – they went to the same gym apparently, while Gladys sat staring into space.

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“How are you, Gladys?” I tried. No reply. “It’s me, Grace – Audrey and Eric’s girl, you remember?”

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Nothing.

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She looked right through me, then a tear rolled down her cheek. I touched her hand lightly; the skin was almost see-through and felt delicate enough to disintegrate under my touch but she clutched my hand tightly – tighter than I expected from this frail old woman and then she spoke, so softly that I could barely hear her.

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“No.”

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It seemed like she wanted to say more but couldn’t get enough breath. She slumped back into the chair, knocking the tea cup and saucer from the arm. They crashed to the floor and summoned the attention of everyone in the room and of Doreen especially.

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“What happened, what have you said?” Doreen asked. “Gladys, it’s alright,” she said, patting Gladys’s arm, and then back to me, “don’t you upset her anymore.”

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“I didn’t say anything,” I protested, “she doesn’t even know who I am.”

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“Of course she does, we all do.” Doreen said looking up at me as she knelt on the floor picking up pieces of broken china. She gave me ‘the look’, the same as Mum’s. I’d seen it many times and I’d seen it flash between the two of them before as well.

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I don’t know why Doreen had insisted Gladys come, fair enough it was her brother’s funeral but they never saw each other and I’m sure she had no idea what was going on. They’d dressed her up in her nicest frock, a string of pearls and shocking pink lipstick which I’m not convinced was actually hers – it looked a lot like the lipstick chatting up Sam in the kitchen. Gladys just sat there, staring at the fireplace.

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Mum was in the garden talking to people I didn’t recognise. She was crying again. It was always the same; you’d think she was the only one affected by anything with the way she carried on.

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When I was nine I got really sick, I was in hospital for months. Mum and Dad practically lived there. Then the doctors said I needed a transplant. Mum cried every time she looked at me, I heard my Dad talking to one of the nurses, said she was crying all the time at home too. She was so dramatic. Mum and Dad were tested, but they didn’t match. The doctors said it was unlikely that more distant relatives would match but everyone wanted to try, even Granddad. Mum was having none of it, they hadn’t spoken for years and she wasn’t happy about him helping me out. Her pride was more important than me. She’d rather me die than put aside their differences. But obviously it didn’t come to that. Sam was a match and although Auntie Doreen wasn’t too happy about it he insisted he wanted to be the one to ‘save me’ as he put it, which was a big ask considering he was only ten at the time.

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I was clearly in Doreen’s way and I didn’t want to make small talk in the garden so I wandered round the house for a bit and went to sit in Granddad’s room. It smelt funny. Like him. Old Spice and tobacco. His room was small and cluttered, there were boxes crammed under his single bed and on top of his wardrobe. I pulled a few out and opened them up. Most of the boxes were full of old photographs and letters. I found one where the writing on the back wasn’t too faded and I could make out the names Joe, George and Harry and in the corner the date – 1942. Joe was my Granddad; the photo showed him and what I guessed was his friends. It looked like they were abroad somewhere. They all looked really young. Inside his wardrobe, amongst his musty old suits, I found a shoebox which contained a small leather photo album.

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At the side of the bed were his reading glasses, a book he hadn’t finished and his comb. I remembered the first time we’d come to visit. I’d been out of hospital for a while, Sam was as well as he’d ever been but he’d only had a few needles stuck in him anyway. My hair had grown back and I had more energy. Auntie Doreen had invited us over to celebrate Sam’s birthday. Sam and I had talked on the telephone a lot after the hospital and I missed him so I was glad to be going to visit. We had KFC, it was the first time I’d had it, and then Mum sat in the kitchen with Doreen while Dad and Ted went to the pub. Me and Sam were playing hide and seek. I counted to twenty and started looking for him – it was unfair really considering I’d never been to the house before and he knew all the best hiding places. I looked behind the curtains in the lounge, under the dining table, inside the pantry and the cupboard under the stairs. He was well hidden. I crept upstairs, listening for his giggle but all I could hear was a muffled cough. The door at the top of the stairs was slightly ajar. I poked my head round and saw my Granddad sat in his chair watching the horse racing. He looked happy to see me. Said I looked well. Said he had a gift for me. I looked for Sam, he wasn’t in there.

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I sat on the bed next to my Granddad; he took the comb from his top pocket and started to comb my hair. I hated it. My hair was down to my shoulders already and was always full of knots. Mum would hold the top of my hair when she brushed them out but Granddad just slid the comb straight down, pulling and dragging at the knots while I wailed and laughed. Mum must’ve heard me as she ran up the stairs, shouting and swearing over her shoulder at Doreen who was lingering on the bottom step.

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“You bloody liar.”

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Doreen said nothing but Mum carried on.

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“You promised.”

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She rushed in, grabbed me and carried me down the stairs.

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“It didn’t really hurt,” I said, but she didn’t listen.

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Doreen was still at the foot of the stairs with Sam hiding behind her. That was the first time I saw ‘the look’ and it was the most intense I’ve ever seen. Doreen looked away first. Mum didn’t say another word, she just got our stuff and we went to the car. We had to pick Dad up from the pub, Ted stayed on though.

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We didn’t see Granddad again after that, as a family anyway. We never really saw any of them. Mum was the black sheep I suppose. She left home at 16 and then I was born, she kept me secret from them for a few years from what I’ve been told. Sam knows more than me. Sam and I wrote to each other for a couple of years after that, Mum didn’t like me phoning the house and although we didn’t live that far away from each other we weren’t at the same school so I never saw him. Then when I was fourteen I bumped into him at the bus station in town, he was with some mates and I’d been shopping with my friend Lucy. I wasn’t sure if it was him at first, he’d gotten fat but he recognised me, shouted me over and told all his friends how he’d saved my life. It was funny to see him again, remembering how lame our letters were. He gave me his phone number in case Mum didn’t have it anymore and we arranged to meet the next Saturday.

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I saw a lot of Sam that summer; we’d hang around town with his mates or go to the pictures. I always told Mum I was going out with Lucy, she’d usually come along so I wasn’t lying. We went to his house a few times too, the first time because Auntie Doreen and Uncle Ted were on a daytrip. It was weird being back in that house, nothing had changed, not even the wallpaper. We watched a video and Sam made some cocktails from his dad’s drinks cabinet – they tasted horrible. I didn’t go up to Granddad’s room that day but the next time I did.

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http://hollygibson.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/mshollygibson

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You can read Part 2, the conclusion of ‘Saving Grace’, in Holly’s last FreeSpace* on Monday 9th December.

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*FreeSpace offers 3 post slots on ArtiPeeps to any creative or group. They can be taken in a cluster or over a period of months for showcasing, projects or self expression.

Yellow Wallpaper

22 Oct

I was going to write a blog this week about creativity and losing it. I’m not going to do this now. I’ve changed my mind  because two things happened last week: 1. a particular book dropped by accident out of my bookcase and landed, slap, in my lap; slap in my lap The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman dropped (the most important book in the world to me, as you’ll come to understand);  and secondly,  the WordPress daily post challenge to write about a colour came my way.  The two came together: the yellowed, sleeveless stained book and the challenge of colour:  a curious coming together  that pointed me to a story I could tell. A story to be told to you now, right here about a woman called Edwina:

NOW.

Yellow is the colour of the intellect

In 1994, I was a mature undergraduate student in Cambridge. I loved my studies. My mind, having lain dormant for a long while (even though I’d always written, created) had, as yet, not found its true medium. A teacher pointed me towards plays and POW, I found my medium. Having found what I was good at my mind went wild. Every book  I could find I consumed, every play I could write, I wrote. I created, created created!  It was an amazing fizzy, fizzying experience. Amidst all of this came Edwina. She was a part-time lecturer. She was a willow-the-wisp: stick thin, with psychedelic orange hair-straggly, covering her face, slightly inappropriate for her age, and skewed glasses, always wonky. She taught me Modernism, and I loved it. Right up my street. 100%.

Every break time we would debate. She would unwrap her wholemeal sandwiches from a mound of tin foil and we would talk. It was amazing. She would inspire me, point me in all sorts of extraordinary directions intellectually and creatively,  and off I would whoosh and create, create, create. A bond grew. Intellectual and personal. A friendship blossomed. Something I trusted. This went on for a number of  years.

At the time I had started my own little theatre company and we were about to put on our first performance. We were all set to come on, and Edwina and her husband had said they would be there (‘they wouldn’t miss it for the world’). I’d peeked out from  behind the staging and they weren’t there. No Edwina. Then Chris burst through the door and said, -Edwina’s dead. Edwina died yesterday-, and all our hearts dropped.

No Edwina. Really? Really. No Edwina any more.  And we hugged and cried, and moved on. The show (surely, mustn’t it, must it not go on? ).

The performance was a great success (great big slaps on the back all round), but our hearts were heavy.

It turned out that Edwina had had raging, terminal cancer for a long while. She had taught right the way through it all- her myriad of treatments-the lot. This explained- the thinness, the paling  of her skin sometimes, the slight jade behind her sparkle-dash eyes.

It was about a week later, just before her funeral that we found out about the real circumstances surrounding her death. It was in the tabloids. Cancer had not actually killed her. Edwina and her husband had set fire to their house, a fire in every hearth, and let the flames take them. The bailiff’s were set to come to reclaim their house (they were in debt up to the hilt). The couple were proud, and had not told anyone the financial strife they were under. What was the point of going on: Edwina was dying and the debt was pressing?

Splayed, tick-tack tackily to the world.

Down. No way out, except to light the match. No way out.

She was found lying on her bed, and he was found beside her on the floor. The smoke got to them first.

And death can make us selfish. Death and dealing with death can flame the ego. What was I going to do without her now? Who was I going to go to when I had a fabulous idea, or found a great article? Who would be my springboard? And more importantly what would I do without my friend: just remember that beautiful Summer’s day when she came to visit and we sat under the arch of sweet-peas and ate cucumber sandwiches? Is that all I’d have: hazing memories? It didn’t seem enough. I needed something more. Some sort of closure, ritual, emotional connection so I could say goodbye (funeral’s, strangely, are sometimes not the right places for closure). So my mother and I decided to go on a pilgrimage. A walk to their burnt house.

Edwina and her husband lived in a pretty little village just outside of Cambridge,UK. Off the beaten track, with a long winding road to follow to get to it. After a bit of toil we found it, and the car’s wheels scritch-scrunched on the gravel as we drew up to the house. Half the thatch was burned and all the windows blown. And to the left was what appeared to be a burned mound of their books. The firemen must have just chucked them out. I don’t know. Just a mound of ash. That’s what it look liked. We got out of the car and just stood for awhile. You could feel the weight of the matter. It was in the dead air around us. The air was pressing, weighty. Them.

I walked to where the mound was. Just to see what had been destroyed, and about half a metre from the charred remains I found a book that was relatively unscathed: a yellowed, sleeveless stained book, with her handwriting on it. Left.  Out. For.  Me. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  The only thing left unscathed and I had found it. The book was a gift for her husband from 1981. A love token. You can see her writing on the page in the photo above.

I took this book home with me. I kept it out for a long while because it kept me connected, and it made me think how amazing and coincidental life is. What were the chances, really, in life, that I should stumble upon this right now when I needed it?  It was curious. What were the chances of me having had such a woman in my life?

This was over 15 years ago, and as the years have gone by and I’ve moved from house-to-house I have periodically stumbled upon the book , and remembered. Edwina is actually somebody I think about most days. She’s always with me because she rests in my creativity. She’s never far away. So it was curious this week when the book literally fell into my lap again. Not only was the title yellow, the pages were yellow, musty, stained. The WordPress Colour and the Book. Too much of a coincidence….

I suppose more importantly (?), other than just charting this rather unusual and dramatic story, what I’m trying to say, is that these sorts of occurrences, these comings together, actually happen a lot, if we pay attention to them and look out for them, and we can use them to take our creativity in different directions. If we dare. These combinations can be stimulating, and make us change tack, direct our creativity in a different way, and that always is a good thing. Isn’t it? But we have to be awake to them. We have to be AWAKE.

Maybe there was somebody like that for you in your life? If there was it would be great to know who and what they meant to you……..

Edwina meant the world to me, and here’s the poem I wrote 15 years ago to mark her death:

 

N.B. (The Yellow Wallpaper is a 19th century book about female repression and illness charting the decline of  one particular woman as indicated by her increasingly disturbing relationship with the wallpaper in her room)

ARTIPEEPS NEWS

  • New Page: FineFocus which focuses on specific techniques, genres, forms and processes in art/writing/creativity. At the moment we have two videos by a young artist CeleneArtiste up which show a new technique of hers. Do get in touch if you’d like to contribute to this.
  • Our First Guest Blogger , James MacKenzie was a great success, and I think brought a  new dynamic to ArtiPeeps. James is now our official ‘ArtiPeep’ English Art ‘Correspondent’ so you’ll be seeing more of his blogs on ArtiPeeps as the months go by. We’ll be having another guest blogger in November, Alastair Cook,  A Film Maker…
  • Also from  Wednesday 7th November we’re adding  a regular Wednesday fortnightly flash fiction element to the blog…..
  • And from today for a month you’ll find our  first ‘Visitor Peep’ in residence on the Visitor Peep Page. Another new poet, Susan O’Reilly, having written for only a year, who will be sharing her work with us. She’s keen to have any constructive criticism…

There’s lots going on!

Stages Of Grief

22 Jun

Just a quick one here, after our conversation during our  Wednesday session…just in case your interested, Elaine…

Here are the stages of grief….Some say there are 5 stages, some 7…The first 5 being:

  • denial,
  • anger,
  • bargaining,
  • depression,
  • The Upward Turn.

Click this link for more Info: Stages of Grief

Stages 6 & 7 being:

6. Reconstruction and Working Through

7. Hope and Acceptance

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