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I was expecting it to be complex. I’d talked about it at some length, both to my family and close friends. But that was before. And though I know you can’t be prepared as such, if I’m honest, I thought I would understand myself better. Except I don’t.

I’m talking about grief following my mother’s death.

I always thought that I was ‘good’ at death, ‘good’ at working through emotions. I expected something more dynamic I guess. Instead I’m experiencing deadening, a lack of emotion, a blankness that I find difficult to recognise.

After the first frantic whirl of Morna’s dying, the arrangements and organisation, the ‘holding-myself-together’, I waited for the loosening of my emotions. It didn’t come.

I thought I’d slowly, but surely, come to terms with her death; it wasn’t as if it was out of the blue. I had a notion that my memory would focus on certain things throughout my life-long relationship with her that would either make me howl with tears, cry with laughter, or make me angry.

I believed that I would feel her presence, be aware of her in my thoughts and dreams, that she would come to me somehow. But none of that happened. Instead I find I’m not allowed look at her death. My mind has put up a dividing screen, the kind they have on TV shows. When I attempt to look, the screen appears…one that’s clever enough to increase in size if I try to peer over it or around it.

I’m a person who usually needs grounding. I could very easily disappear into space if I wasn’t careful, hence my very earthy occupation of farming – nothing more grounding than stock and mud! Though recently even this has changed and I feel as if I’m descending down, down; down deep into the earth. I can’t tell you how strange this feels. I need air? I need lightness? Me, who in normal circumstances is ready to float away like thistledown?

They say that when your mother dies she gives you her mantle. She gives you everything, both positive and negative. It’s up to you to process this. I guess there’s truth in the old adage ‘she’s turned into her mother’.

My mother had a slight psychosis which was latterly overlaid by her dementia. During the last twenty odd years, through her own conflict her body became contorted and bent. Now I feel her twisted shoulder, the strange bone ache; I experience her confusion of her mind. I watch as I flounder for a word, confuse a date, become muddled. I watch myself watching myself and I feel the fear that maybe I am becoming her.

My family, I’m pretty sure, don’t see it, in fact a puzzled Robert said to me after reading this “But you coped so well, brilliantly. You’ve prepared yourself. Come to terms with it over several years. I really can’t see it. You’re waiting for something that isn’t going to happen. She’s dead and that’s it.”

And perhaps in a way he’s right. I am waiting for my more typical expressions of grief. Maybe they will never happen. Maybe these unfamiliar emotions will be the only ones I experience. But I hope, somewhere along this unknown path I meet with her and, if only for an instant, I’m able to touch our closeness again – mother and daughter.

early purple orchid

early purple orchid

My mother died this morning.

As normal I took the dogs for a walk this afternoon. We went down across Marymead, through the fields bordering the river and forest, past the two deer wallows, up and across to Bill’s chicken coop where I spent a moment chatting chicken-speak to the hens before crossing the small bridge into the pheasant cover, across a little stream into the smallest cultivated mowy mead (meadow) you can imagine. Almost across the meadow, it only takes a second or so, my head was full with thoughts of hens; wondering if I should get some more, what type I’d choose, going to have a look at a friend’s friend’s, or if I’d rather have ducks and geese…or maybe all three come to that, when I had an overwhelming desire to turn around…and there rushing full pelt towards me, her eyes shining bursts of pure joy, a grin to bust all grins, her tail going nineteen-to-the-dozen, and her whole body radiating unadulterated delight and excitement, was Jilly.

“Lilla? Lilla!” A whoosh of tingling pricklings rushed through my body one way whilst pure happiness flooded the other. Just before she could fling herself at me and explode with enthusiastic delight she evaporated…poof, just like that as fast as she’d appeared.
“Lilla, oh Lilla, Lilla.” I whispered. “Was that really you? Stay. Don’t go. Not just yet.”

And then immense, bottomless, black empty grief drenched and saturated every cell of my being. Hot tears welled up and cascaded down my face. I was looking through a dark watery lake. I felt the two hard panting bodies of Skye and Ness pressed close against my legs. I turned to go, not seeing, not caring, only aware of consuming sorrow and anguish.

Just as rapidly as the grief came it went leaving me exhausted, empty and shell-like-fragile to walk home. That’s when it came to me in a flash…it’s the exact day, the exact hour, the exact minute, possibly even the exact second, that Jilly had her fatal accident – six months on.

Locks Park Farm

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I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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