Turning into Your Parents

We all turn into our parents eventually, it’s said, and we don’t even know it’s happening.  A  friend of mine is barely middle-aged, yet he thinks pop music is too loud and car-washing is a great way to spend Sundays.

Well, that’s never going to be the case with me. Anyway this weekend I have no time to think about such things. I’m having another big session sorting through my late mother’s effects.  cat playing the cello

Memories come rushing back as I look through her watercolours. She was an artist whose signature works were scenes of whimsical cats. Obviously I’m keeping all of those as well as the photo albums, but the rest of her things are frankly dire.

Take for instance the collection of plastic garden chairs. Mum didn’t have a garden. They were her armchairs. At the desk there’s a diner-style chair from the 1950s which was probably usable before rust set in. In the airing cupboard I find a stack of tablecloths and other gorgeous linens, some of it unstained. And the lovely china pieces she talked about turn out to be actually in pieces, held together by Araldite and optimism.

At this point I need to break for a snack. In the kitchen there’s about a year’s supply of porridge oats. Funny I used to hate the stuff. Today it fills the gap perfectly.

It takes me a while to locate the blue and white porcelain plates my Mum always told me were so valuable. I handle the first one with care, as you do when it’s a rare artefact from the Yuan dynasty. My fingers tremble as I trace the intricate design. I turn the plate over. A little golden sticker says ‘Made in Japan’.

I sigh. I need to go to the shops for more bin liners. The weather’s turned chilly, so I pop on an overcoat of Mum’s. Normally I wouldn’t be seen dead in any of her old threads, but this coat is cosy.

When I get back from the shop, I tackle the rest of the clothes. The belts are fit only for the skip, and there are five identical pairs of shoes which I won’t even bother trying. There are however three handbags worth keeping, and a watch that looks better than mine.Tissot watch

I set it to the right time and put it on my wrist. Surprisingly it is just the right size.

In the same box there are earrings with little lions on them. Though they’re not at all my thing, they’re cute and I’m a Leo. Better hang onto them.

The trousers and skirts are another story. My mother was never tall, and then she developed what Roald Dahl called ‘the dreaded shrinks’, known to doctors as advanced osteoporosis. All her trousers had had to be shortened repeatedly. Looking at them now, it’s clear they’d be no use to anyone, unless maybe they’re after Bermuda shorts.

A cardigan catches my eye. It’s not at all bad if you overlook the frayed cuffs and a couple of missing buttons. Hell, I can fix that. The cardi is merino wool and a lovely yellow colour.

I put it on, and get a shock when I look in the mirror.

Next I come across a battered little suitcase. It would be so useful.  Trouble is, the cat likes it too. 

Cat in suitcase

Now the tartan shopping trolley in the corner beckons. Just the thing! Why give myself backache lugging stuff back from the supermarket every week when I could use a little trolley?

Now stop it, I tell myself sternly. I’m not nearly ready for that yet. Give it a while longer.  Say another couple of weeks?

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10 Ingredients for a Perfect Funeral

I don’t like funerals.  They mean the loss of family, friends, or patients, none of which I welcome.  But sometimes a send-off works out really well.  Here’s how we did it.

1. Great weather helps.  Rain is all very well for cemeteries in TV thrillers, but in real life you don’t want frizzy hair, steamed-up glasses, or trench foot while standing at the graveside.  Result # 1: the weather turned out to be amazingly sunny for the end of winter.

2. Black is drearily Victorian, and charcoal is frankly a cop-out. When in black, I look so bad I may as well be dead already, so I was only too pleased to comply with my mother’s wishes: wear bright colours.

3. A good turn-out.  Funerals are frankly dismal when it’s just five people rattling around a crematorium.  I’m so pleased I went through her entire address book.

address book

4. The major coup?  Getting a good spot in the cemetery.  Not just near the parking and the tap, but a prime plot right next to Granny’s grave!  I was bursting to share the news with my mother, who was sure to be as excited as me. Unfortunately it was a little late for that.

5. A smidgeon of ceremony.  In this case, two bearded priests with what looked like saucepans on their heads, plus a bit of incense, a lot of chanting, and the sign of the cross made from right to left.  It was all Greek to me. Still, that’s what you get in a Greek Orthodox church.icon

6. An uplifting venue.  Outside, it looked a nuclear bunker.  Inside, the walls were covered in icons.

7. A personal touch, in this case The Grandmother Tree, a moving poem written and recited by one of her grandsons.

8. A hint of altruism.  What’s the point of a mountain of blooms or the word MUM spelled out in white chrysanths?  Whether it’s in a newspaper announcement or an email to friends, it’s getting more common to ask for charitable donations in lieu of flowers.

9. Peace.  Memorable punch-ups sometimes break out at weddings, but funerals should be more decorous.  I’m especially grateful to my husband and ex-husband who hadn’t met until the day itself, and were both charm personified.

10. Light refreshments at home afterwards, surrounded by all the things that illustrated my mother’s life: the books she had written, photos of her grandsons, and above all her exuberant paintings of cats and dogs, hanging in haphazard fashion on the walls of the flat where nothing matched.  She had meant to rehang some paintings and replace others, but no lifetime, however long, is enough to finish everything.

cats-rue-des-chats (1)

Rue des Chats

A funeral shouldn’t be an occasion of pain and regret.   It should reflect the person’s life.  I feel fortunate that my mother’s death came at the end of nearly 90 years lived well, and creatively.  How much harder it is for those who lose someone suddenly, prematurely, or violently.