I so wish this was scratch-and-sniff and I could fully share these beautiful sweetpeas wth you all! They have such a powerful scent, my husband’s allergies won’t allow him to be in the same room. But every year he grows me a pot full because they are my favourite flowers and they bloom in July, which is doubly significant as it is my birthday month and also the anniversary of the death of my younger brother, Dave, age 22, who also loved sweetpeas.
I have struggled for some time to find a way to mention him. We as a family find it difficult to talk about him, even after all these years. His death was so violent, so sudden and so incomprehensible. Far fom home. It is still too raw.
This month is so difficult because he died the day after Mum’s birthday, 5 days before my birthday and 7 days before my son’s second birthday, and in between all those dates we had to cope with a post-mortem, an inquest and a funeral. In fact, I learned of his death as I was getting my toddler son ready to attend his friend’s birthday party. I hid my tears as I operated the music for Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs. Since then, we have added three more July birthdays, so this month is bitter sweet.
One of my other brothers and I have spoken about him in recent times, we have different perspectives as I was away from home in the latter years and there are huge gaps in my memories. However, Judith at Nature Knows Best published a post today that happened to be about grief and the colour of one’s kitchen (yes, really, pop over and read it), and it struck a chord – in particular because we are currently choosing the colour of our kitchen! I commented on her post and it seemed to open a way for me to publish my own post on this topic.
Dave was an artist, poet, lyricist, bongo player; he loved animals, nature programmes and being outside; he hated being cooped up. He worked intermittently, finding it difficult to fit in and adhere to another’s routine. He worked for the park’s department so he could be outside.
When we were young, people thought we were twins, there were only 13 months between us. We both looked like our dad: mousey hair, skinny, short-sighted. He was not in robust health through his short life. I remember him having Scarlet Fever and breathing problems. But he was so strong, he could easily beat me at arm wrestling and I still remember the Chinese burns!
Dave was a bit of a cuckoo and there are few photos of him past a certain age as he rarely seemed to be present for family photos. He was always off doing his own thing. The one below was given to me by my best friend, Denny, with whom he wrote many songs and whose guitar he decorated. Denny still uses it. It is well-worn now!
I cut some sweetpeas every year and bring them into the house for him. They are fragile, colourful and last only a short time, but they have a strong impact while they bloom and few are unaffected by their appearance.
This morning, my husband is as happy as Larry. His old friend is back and he is beaming from ear to ear. After a difficult 6 months during which his friend has been away having some extensive work done, the smile is back on his face and he is looking forward to having new adventures together now the old dear is looking and moving like new. The old friend? His Morris Minor, of course!
It is his pride and joy. It is just back from the workshop and after spending a long time taking photos from every angle, he went off to sweep the garage before putting it to bed! My daughter remarked, ‘He’ll be wanting a blanket for it next!’ They have spent many hours together, stopped by the side of the road changing spark plugs or coils, come pouring rain, blizzards or sun.
For my husband, having the Morris Minor back has relieved a little of the stress of not being able to get back on his bike while recovering from an accident.
Finding what lights up your happiness gene is so important to your health. We all need something that is ours, that we schedule time for, that we can lose ourself in and that just for a while helps us distance ourselves from the the stresses of work and family problems, from the pain of illness or disability, from the worries of the world in general.
For me, it’s making cards or colouring whilst listening to music or an audiobook, or even just watching the birds in the garden on a sunny or snowy day.
My son loves going cycling for miles, in any weather, testing himself on the steepest of hills, he also loves creating a mess in the kitchen 😉, while my daughter loses herself in large sewing and knitting projects or walking the hills with her labrador pup.
What is your passion? What lifts your spirit, re-energises you or helps you regain perspective when it all gets a bit too much?
A long time ago, in the dark depths of serious health problems, I didn’t know how to lift myself from the mental mire of trying to cope with it all without any outlet.
Two things happened.
A little girl came into our lives and I discovered ‘Simple Abundance’ by Sarah Ban Breathnach, a book that is now dog-eared from over-use.
The little girl had 2 loves in her life, Barbie and The Spice Girls (‘but not Victoria!’). So we created a scrapbook of pictures that we cut out and glued of everything to do with these topics: photos, clothes, shoes, concerts, anything. I loved it. Those moments were precious. I still have the scrapbook.
It had been so long since I had done anything remotely creative or crafty.
My son and daughter were the artists in the family, and although I had spent a lot of time with them on various art or craft projects when young, I never felt able to do so once they reached teenage years a) because I was rubbish by comparison b) I didn’t want it to look like I was trying to compete or detract from their efforts. I would spend a lot of time selecting and buying art materials for them, wishing I could buy some for myself, but not believing I had the right or the ability.
Then I read ‘Simple Abundance.’ (Don’t let the subtitle put you off). Among the many encouragements and suggestions for women to express themselves creatively – to go on ‘creative excursions’ – was starting an Illustrated Discovery Journal.
The idea is to buy an artist’s sketch book with a hard cover in a design that appealed and collect images, samples, articles, poems, travel pictures, anything that resonates with you, and gradually it would build up into something that would show you where your interests lie, what makes you happy, what makes your heart sing, and show you the direction you would like to take in terms of hobbies or career.
These two events showed me how much I liked using scissors and glue, colour and card. Coincidentally, this little girl gave me a large box of assorted pens – gel pens, metallic pens – for my birthday. I realised there was no reason on this earth why I shouldn’t or couldn’t begin using them.
I didn’t have to create a masterpiece. I didn’t have to do fine art. I could just mess about and see what happened. I could just do it for it’s own sake.
And so I did.
Now all my family and close friends receive hand-made cards at Christmas and birthdays whenever possible.
They are very kind in their comments. I know my efforts are very hit and miss, but people seem to like that I took the time and created a one-off card especially for them.
There are lots of adult colouring books around now. They are often described as Mindfulness colouring books. They help you focus on something creative that you can lose yourself in, that relaxes your brain and eases tensions in your body.
Psychotherapists don’t usually like them being described as therapy, since the patterns and pictures are already formed – although some do have partial drawings that allow you to complete them as you wish – but they do allow that they can be therapeutic, which is different.
Or perhaps getting your hands dirty is more your thing, stripping down bikes or engines, or whittling bits of wood from fallen trees. My neighbour is keen on wood-turning.
Fortunately for me, my daughter-in-law likes tinkering around with blogs and websites!
But you don’t even actually have to do anything. You can simply meditate. Observe. My son-in-law, for example, loves observing clouds and weather patterns.
This time of year when there isn’t a lot of warmth or sun is an excellent time to discover the happiness inside you. Give it a go and see what you like, what makes you feel proud, what lights a spark. Try singing, it doesn’t have to be anything formal. Or pick up that book you’ve always meant to read.
No-one else needs to know what you’re doing until you feel ready. But never feel you don’t deserve to try, or to spend time on yourself. Everyone needs to replenish their caring tanks, relax the overworked parts of their brain, stretch out the kinks in their muscles or just enjoy the feeling of complete abandon, of laughing out loud.
After all, if all of you is used up on everything and everyone else, there will be nothing left. And you deserve to be cared for, too.