I’m sitting on our new American recliner sofa playing Candy Crush with my 5th cup of coffee of the day (I have been taking coffee almost intravenously for the last few days) when an email flashes up on my iPad. It’s from Dad: pictures of the green burial site they have found for mum in the wood. He wants to know if its okay.
He describes it .
easy to find as it is right at the junction of two internal tracks but well away from the road and beautifully quiet. It is snugly up against its own tree, a little chestnut.
It also gets its own patch of sun, unlike those deeper into the wood.
It sounds perfect. I FaceTime him. The screen clears showing him at a wooden table with a beamed ceiling above him. He’s out in a cafe. My dad loves cafes. He shows me the view out of the window. Marshes and sky stretch into the distance: Snape Maltings – the famous Suffolk Concert Hall.
I remember so many trips here with mum and dad. One of the best when my daughter’s primary school was chosen to join in a Suffolk Wide Musical Celebration here. They got to perform on this world class concert stage. The school’s theme was World War Two and my daughter was dressed in a oversized brown wollen cardigan (mum and I found in a charity shop) with a gas mask case over her shoulder. She sang beautifully. Mum and Dad’s eyes were rich with pride.
One of the delights of living near my parents, when the kids were small, was that they were able to come and see all those childhood kids performances. My daughter as Mary in the Nativity or bringing tears to the eyes as the Little Match Girl. My son, with his crown slipping off his head, but saying his lines loud and clear or sitting intensely playing the piano. Normally with my mum in the front row recording it all with her iPad. ‘It’s distracting’ my son complained after one piano performance- ‘Gran keeps smiling at me!’
My dad’s voice brings me back to the present. They have gone to Snape to see a carver about a sign for mum’s grave. He had thought a butterfly but after my last blog post ‘maybe a toad?!’. I laugh. ‘perhaps both’ I say.
Reflecting afterwards I think it should actually be a Magnolia to represent growth in education, the flowers of Halesworth in Bloom, and their house (Magnolia House) all of which she loved so much.
I feel better after I talk to him. Delighted that even so far away I can join in the decisions over her death.
It is also good to make the death more real.
Back here, so far away across the Atlantic, I am having to battle unbelievably hard to accept that mum has died. There is no sign of it here. No one absent at breakfast. No empty chair. No missing tooth brush in the bathroom. How do you visualise an absence that isn’t there? This must affect all expats who lose a loved one so far away.
Over the Atlantic, in Austin Texas, life seems unruffled I am lulled into a false sense of denial. Surely we will still do Christmas in Suffolk as planned? When she comes to Austin I will be able to show her Lady Bird Johnson’s Wildflower Garden. She will be as pleased as me to hear that my daughter’s school has dropped class rank (a US system where every child in a year is ranked against each other).
But we won’t go to Suffolk for Christmas. She will never see Lady Bird Johnson’s garden and never know that we were successful in our battle (that she supported unreservedly) to end class rank. Each of those realisations, as it comes out of the blue, hits me like an avalanche. I feel I am drowning, suffocating as I fight the tears.
But now I have a picture of a glade in a wood. It is beautiful and quietly comforting and I hold onto it like a lifeboat in the storm.