Saturday, 14 May 2016

14 years on........

14 years ago I lost my mum.
Not for a few seconds in a crowd, but forever to that evil disease cancer. She went from well to gone in 3 months, giving neither her or us anything like enough time or warning to allow us to do anything during those weeks but live day to day, taking things as they came, shock by shock. In early May they gave her 12 weeks, but she was gone in less than 4.
The minute we knew the cancer was terminal we organised a trip to RHS Chelsea. She had always wanted to go, and somehow never had, and we were all determined that we would get her there, so we bought tickets for the Thursday and began to plan. And there was a lot of planning as we had no clue what her health would be like. We spoke to the ticket people and explained that there could be wheelchairs needed, and we knew not what else, and they calmly told us whatever was needed would be provided, presumably hearing my voice wobble continuously as I spoke.
It's funny what you do when someone is dying. It's like having a tiny baby and all thought of anything other than that person is almost gone. We lived our lives dashing up and down the A1, often for just a few hours and I remember one evening her becoming so excited as the Chelsea trailers began on the BBC. It was almost too much not to tell her but we didn't as the disappointment had she been too ill would have been dreadful. I remember leaving to do the 3 hour journey home thinking that at the very least we were going to get her there......

And then on May 16th it all went wrong. She suddenly became critically unwell, morphine began to be given and when, at 5 o'clock on that sunny afternoon I heard the phone ring, a voice of doom told me what it was. I remember Andy going to answer it saying it'll be a cold caller, and following him into the room seconds later to see him ashen, crying and just saying how terribly sorry he was. And that was it. She had gone. Aged 61 and with so much left to do.
It's funny how the world doesn't stop when somebody dies. It feels like it should. Like you should have the option to get off for a bit too. Looking back today I remember so much of the minutiae of the next few days and yet nothing. Nothing until finding out that the funeral would be the following Thursday. The day we were meant to be taking her to Chelsea. 
Fast forward a couple of years and the nursery I was working for decided to have a stand in the Floral Marquee, and we were all put on a rota to attend. I had never been up to this point but instead had watched plants I'd had a hand in growing from the comfort of the sofa after the run up which often saw crazy 18 hour days and the regular Chelsea Dance of moving plants about to ensure they were at their best on judging day so part of me was very excited as I desperately wanted to see the plants we'd grown in situ, but part of me was distraught. Going without Mum seemed the most disloyal thing I could do. 
I remember going to my then boss and saying all this, thinking he would think I was mad. He was determined I would go but changed the rota around so it wasn't the Thursday, but the Saturday and saying he was determined I would both go, enjoy it and come back with something. Which I did as Claire Austin who was next to us gave me a stunning Iris, which had become a huge clump in our last garden and I reckon could well be getting ready to flower right now. People were immensely kind and I remember my colleagues who obviously all knew how hard it was and yet were saying nothing, being extremely kind that day.
But Chelsea is upon us again. Social media is full of gardens being put in, the Floral Marquee going up and being populated by those amazing nurseries, with their sparkling array of stunning plants and flowers. With designers and landscapers starting to tell their narratives. And here that means an overwhelming sense of sadness has begun. Every year it is the hardest time, and every year I just want to pick up the phone and tell her my little part. But I can't. 
So every year since then I have been. I have gone to stand on nurseries stands and talk plants to lovely folk all day, or I have gone with my blogger/social media hat on, or a couple of times both. And I have taken photos, drunk in the gardens and the plants, met with other folk I know, but always with the thought that somehow I'm carrying her with me, enjoying it for us both. I have stood on Main Street gardens at 7am with the sun on my face knowing how proud she would be, and last year I stood in the pouring rain sobbing at the beauty that was Dan Pearson's garden knowing that she would have adored it. And also knowing there would be plans for unfeasibly large rocks balancing precariously once she got home.
But this year I won't be there. Refused a press pass and tickets all sold out, as the opening date gets closer, the stark reality is for the first time in 12 years I won't be walking around the site, feeling that she's with me. I won't be wandering what she might have thought of the detailing or the new nursery, or the ridiculously over priced fish and chips. 
Which all feels like the end of an era. It is only this minute, writing this, that I realise just how sad this is making me feel. Approaching the anniversary each year has been tempered by the  knowledge that the passion we both shared for plants, gardens and how they work both as structures and designs but also for people was about to have its moment and that I'd be there, almost reporting back, was somehow comforting. But weirdly that comfort blanket is gone and the pain feels far more raw, the anniversary far more challenging. 
Now some will say I'm after sympathy and a ticket but that couldn't be further from the truth. My diary for that week is chock full, my schedule madness, and I hadn't even really planned to write this. But sometimes we must go with the words that come. And sometimes the writing of the words is cathartic in itself. I feel calmer than when I began. 

I'm not sure how to end. I always try to have a positive end but the next few days I fear will be hard, stretching me and seeing me fight the overwhelming urge to hide and not give into the black dog who is always skulking about, waiting for a moment of weakness to pounce. But I will say this. 
Hold your loved ones tight, forget your differences and protect each other with fierce determination. 
Let them know you love them. 
Make sure you say everything you need to say. 


  1. Wise advice and something we should all think about more often. I hope that you find other beauty in nature over the next few weeks which your mum would have enjoyed and you can feel she is with you again. All the best, Nic

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Your story is spookily similar to mine. My mum wasn't even given a time. She was told it was terminal on the Wednesday, and died at home, surrounded by flowers and family, on the Saturday. Too cruel. My dad is still suffering and angry, two years down the line. On Tuesday, I will put flowers on her grave, put together by the lady who did her coffin spray, which was stunningly beautiful. I know it will be gorgeous. I hope you get through this period as easily and pain-free as possible. Xx

  4. In tears, feeling and sharing your pain. Take care, Sara x

  5. Your words, once again, have moved deeply. So sorry that you lost your mother so quickly, although at least she had her family there and knew how much you care. Lost my father last summer, suddenly, so grief still very present. Your advice is very wise.. As none of us can know what each day will bring, we must treasure our loved ones, and say all we have to say...Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts and feelings. I imagine they will resonate with many, as in this life, none of us (or our loved ones) get out alive...but we can savour those who mean the most to us, whilst they're here... xx

  6. Youre amazing <3 your mum must be so proud xxx