mum's willow pattern

Mum, funeral, lockdown: Interview January 2021

Mum passed away on 10 October, 2020.

At the time I dealt with it very well.

We all threw ourselves into the wake and the funeral. Everything was socially distanced  and nobody got Covid as a result. 

We were extremely lucky with the timing of the funeral because the  following week they reduced the numbers allowed  into the chapel to 25. 

When we had the funeral for mum up to 80 people were allowed in.

Mum never wanted a big funeral.  She was very adamant that she wanted a very humble exit and the house to be private.

She got what she wanted. 

The funeral passed off very peacefully.

There was no big, fancy dinner for the family or anything like that. The family all came down to  my mum’s big farmhouse and we made dinner for about 20 odd people.

We stayed together as long as we could, as a celebration of ‘her’. 

Mum survived Covid.

She was 95 at that time and a very resilient  lady. Then she got shingles… and then another chest infection.

From March we weren’t allowed into the nursing home – because nobody was allowed in – so I would write her a two-page letter every week. 

It was late August before they started to let visitors back into the nursing home – around the same time that I turned 60.

I didn’t really relish the idea of turning 60, but it’s happened:  I’m 60! 

So many  feelings…. another chapter… another era… what  will this mean for me?  I wasn’t happy, and I’m still getting used to it.

But I now have the free travel pass.

So two or three times a week I travelled on the train to see mum.  I had my headphones on, and my book, and it was just an escape from the routine. And I absolutely loved it.

Over the years my mum and I developed a great relationship. 

When she was still living at home we all took it in turns to visit her at the weekend. I know she always loved it when I arrived.

Even though I was working full time and had two children to manage when I arrived home I was  flat to the mat from the minute I arrived to the second I left on Sunday  night.

We were with mum for three days prior to her death and didn’t leave her side.

She couldn’t speak but she knew we were there.  

Stained glass window - photos of mum

Only two people were allowed in at a time to see mum.

If we had all been allowed into her bedroom she would have known she was going to die – so at least she wasn’t crowded and hearing whispers. 

We had videos taken with her. Some  people might not like looking at the videos, but I find them quite comforting.

It reminds me  that we were with her. 

Before this happened you always knew your mum was there, and she was still the matriarch of the family – but not any more.

Our generation has now moved into that role.  

You have to be the ‘responsible person’. 

dining area with curtains after mum died

In March, when Covid came along – I hate to say it – it was almost like a welcome relief. 

I had two part time jobs and one of them was quite stressful.

It was a lot of work.

The programme was growing and growing and I was trying to manage it by myself  as a coordinator for 20 hours a  week.  It was just impossible to do. 

Around the 14/15 March I had a holiday booked to go to Vienna along with three friends. In Vienna things were starting to close down.

There were no museums open and there was no point in going.

We lost our money on the flight  but thankfully we  booked our accommodation to cancel without a penalty.

upstairs landing

At the start lockdown was a bit of a novelty.

Looking back, I was quite enjoying the whole thing. 

It was spring… the flowers were coming up… the garden was lovely and I was pottering about in it.

Then my older daughter was furloughed so she decided to come home from London and that was brilliant. I had both her and my younger daughter at home. 

It was busy.

We were making lovely food. I was baking a lot and I did a lot of yoga with my eldest daughter. It was something I had never done before and she really put me through my paces.

I was starting to feel that I was getting quite fit and so it never affected me negatively.  

bedroom in muted colours after mum died

My ex-husband and I had bought a house together and there was a lot of work to be done on it. So, although the work came to a standstill,  I still managed to get over there and  strip the wallpaper and things like that.

Eventually the builders were  allowed to come back and things got finished off. 

My younger daughter moved into the house at the end of May and then my elder daughter decided to move back to London –  because at the beginning of June they were starting to bring a couple of people back in again. 

So, for the first time in my life I was home alone.

modern kitchen/dining

I didn’t think anything of it.

Summer was here so I busied myself with the garden and I had projects in the house.

I painted the ceiling in the living room/kitchen space and the downstairs bathroom. I did bits of plaster work and spent the time getting this house in order. 

Then I hurt my finger quite badly – just lifting a heavy pot in the garden. I had the finger in a splint for 6 weeks.

In August that came off but the finger didn’t move and I  got very down about it. I eventually got a referral and had hand therapy for about eight sessions and that has helped a lot.  

But, in the cold I struggle because there is scar tissue and arthritis has set in.  

Christmas? I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I had no motivation and put the tree up simply  because my younger daughter would say: You have to get the tree up!

December came and… to be honest I went downhill quite badly.

It was the perfect storm for me.

For the first time in my life I was on my own.

With no transition from work I had no job and I felt I had no purpose. And also, now I had no mum to focus on… and no visits

With Covid and the dark nights you can’t go anywhere…You can’t meet people, so you feel like a caged animal.

It all came out on New Year’s Eve and I broke down badly

My daughter and her boyfriend were very good.

 I just opened up  to them and said: I feel worthless,  I have no confidence, no  self-esteem. And I feel I have nothing to offer any more.

Who’s  going to want anyone at the age of 60 to do a job? That’s how I was feeling. 

I have been rock bottom… but the good news is I have managed to pull myself out of it. It was OK once I cried – so it must have been all the pent-up exhaustion and emotion.

A friend was telling me about other people she knows who feel the same; you never feel as bad then. 

Throughout Covid I put down on paper what I am doing. Every day I set myself two tasks to achieve: one has to be creative and one just… something.

That has really helped me to focus.  

For example, I got down the keyboard from the roofspace. I learned chords – and even though I hadn’t done anything like that before, it gave me something to do.

Every day  I would spend half an hour on the keyboard, then  write in the journal, and another time clean out a cupboard or bake a cake.

I have taken up knitting  as well.

It helps me to exercise my finger to help break through the scar tissue. I just took a notion that I wanted to knit. 

Hallway with stairs and pictures

I bought his house in 2009.

It was a falling-down house and had three bedrooms, a small scullery, two living room space and a cloak room.

I basically pushed it backwards, upwards and sidewards and created the back open living room space so it was all in one.

I added the utility room, and a bathroom downstairs. It probably took a year or so before it was ready.  

It now has 4 bedrooms and an ensuite to one of the bedrooms. 

bedroom with red cushions  after mum died

I love this house, I love it!

I am feeling positive and looking round me and thinking isn’t it great to have this open space – and no-one looking in on me.

Last week…. I didn’t love the house. But that was because of what was in my head. My head today is in a very different space.

This summer I don’t plan to do as much as I did in the garden last year.

Back then we all had the time and loved it.  

I had plans to make this into a really, really nice garden  and tried three different landscape gardeners, but they are only interested if there’s thousands of pounds involved. 

living room with window

A beautiful home is important to me.

I can’t cope if a house gets muddled and packed with stuff.

It messes my head.

If my house and surroundings aren’t tidy my head is in a mess and I find it very difficult to cope. 

I love subdued colours… but I love pictures to lift it. Everything here is quite subdued and that helps me relax.  

And I like order.

I can’t cope unless I have order – although I am not OCD about it.

When I go to bed at night I tidy it up a bit so it’s half reasonable for the morning.

The house is a project and I’m delighted to have it. It’s worse looking around and thinking… I’ve nothing to do.

I feel I am in control again. 

I value space and light.  100% they are top of my list.

Other things you can  sort out or change but you can’t really change the amount of space and light.  

I wouldn’t change what I have – and I’m never going to  move from this house. This is me – definitely.  

I don’t even think  it’s too big for me – I love it! 

 embroidered fireguard by mum

Mum was absolutely fantastic at embroidery and knitting and working with textiles.

She was brilliant!

She embroidered a beautiful willow-pattern fireguard  which was mounted into a circular maple stand. 

 It was never actually used as a fireguard because it was just too good.  So, I got that and a dinner service  that she got for a wedding present.

I also have another little tea service which  I’m absolutely thrilled about. 

I inherited mum’s wedding ring.

That was a big thing for me. 

Nobody really wanted to take anything, because we felt we were being  like vultures. But, it fitted my middle finger perfectly and I just said, I would really love mum’s wedding ring and that’s all I want. 

living area with sofas

When all this is over I look forward to the pleasure of bringing friends back into the house. 

And I’d love to go away for a holiday –  a city break type holiday.

And also…doing a course or a night class… something that means that you are with other people. 

My two daughters have been trying to get me to get a dog. But, I’m not ready yet to commit to a dog – yet.

These are strange times and what if I go back to work?

My daughter suggested  dog-walking. It would give me a purpose. It would get me out – doing my 10,000 steps.  All of that. 

creative area in home

Just before Christmas I signed up to volunteer at an after-school club for children who need a little more support.

I only had two sessions before it all shut down, but  I loved it.

You can’t allow that terrible feeling to stay with you. I know now that when you are so far down there’s only one way –  and that’s up.

You have to make the changes. Nobody can do it for you. You have to make those decisions and be proactive.

All Photos By Respondent

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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