Children have an amazing ability to escape into the present moment, far more easily than we adults do. Since my mother died, the children have spent plenty of time lost in sorrow and reminiscence, and enough time crying. Yet in just a few minutes, they can switch from being immersed in heartfelt sadness over a dream they had of her, to flying down the hill on a go cart, laughing hysterically. I encourage them to play, and to enjoy life as much as possible, telling them that nothing would make my mother happier, than to see them happy.
The kids have also taken practical steps to remember their beloved grandmother. They have devoted a section of our polytunnel to planting flowers from seed, so that they will have a ready supply of fresh flowers to bring to her grave. They have chosen her favourite flowers, in her colours, and they tend them carefully each day.
The first family occasion since my mother’s death came just a fortnight after the funeral. It was my daughter’s tenth birthday. The night before, the almost-birthday girl, my son and I were looking through old photos of her past birthdays. We contemplated beautiful images of her on the day she was born, and of happy birthdays spent on Sherkin Island, the Isle of Wight, Dublin and here at our old farmhouse, when she was just a little toddler.
It gave me deep joy to look back at the happy life we have had together. Then, a picture appeared on the screen which instantly devastated us all. It was of my smiling mother sitting next to my daughter as she blew out her candles on her birthday cake, just last year. It seemed like yesterday. This image hit us like a train, and made us realise afresh her absence, and the void in our lives left by infinitely warm and loving presence.
There were tears, which moved more sorrow though our freshly wounded hearts. We embraced each other. I told the children how their grandmother would have wanted them to be especially happy on their birthdays. They decided to try to have a happy day, as that would be the best way to remember their nana. I said it would be fine to be sad too, and that if they felt sad at any point they could always come to us.
In the event, the big day went brilliantly. The birthday girl leapt out of bed early to find her presents beautifully wrapped on the dining room table. These provided much early morning entertainment. A special birthday breakfast followed, with a hot chocolate and marshmallows for elevenses, followed by a birthday lunch. In true lockdown style, all her friends from near and far had recorded little videos wishing her a happy birthday, which had been edited into a lovely video, which overjoyed her. These virtual messages provided much delight to a girl who was now missing out on her second birthday party in a row, thanks to the pandemic.
Her brothers and sisters filled in admirably for a proper birthday crowd, making easily as much noise – and mess – as a party of 20 might. The party got into full swing in the afternoon, once the kids’ scholastic duties were done. Much fun was had with games in the garden, before a birthday dinner and, of course, a large birthday cake, which contained a secret cavity filled with sweets! A sugar spike and e-numbers duly caused play to continue with increased hyperactivity long into the evening. By this point the packaging took its traditionally central role in play, as the boxes her presents came in were converted into a very complex and well made ‘yellow submarine’. This provided hours of fun before, at long last, exhausted and happy children were herded towards bed.
Before long, we heard sobbing from upstairs. Once all the birthday excitement had died down, the profound sadness of our recent loss had hit the poor birthday girl. She came downstairs and we comforted her for an hour, before she finally fell asleep, remembering the warm love of her grandmother.