Grief, and the importance of writing stuff down

Just over two weeks ago, I lost my mum. It was a massive shock and at the moment it feels like I’ll never quite get over this. I know that time is a healer but at the moment it feels pretty tough, especially for my dad who has been by her side for the past 44 years. Luckily, I live close enough to dad to be staying with him a few times a week whilst we sort everything out, and this is the most time I’ve spent in my parent’s house since I moved out about 8 years ago. What I’ve noticed in this time is how important stationery was for mum. In the past when people asked me “why stationery?” I’ve always been a bit unsure, but now I totally see… Mum had different notebooks for everything, memo pads everywhere and several pen pots around the house, mostly full of pencils picked up from the galleries which she spent so much of her time in (as a side note, I discovered in her belongings that Dulwich Picture Gallery have their own branded Koh-I-Noor magic pencils – who knew?). So now next time someone asks me “Why Stationery?” I can answer “because of my mum”.

A few days after mum died, I noticed a folder next to her armchair and had a look inside. It turns out that mum had been keeping a page-per-year diary. I mean, she hadn’t been keeping it her whole life but I reckon she’d got it in the late 80s/early 90s and gone back and filled in everything she could remember from her life, including lots of notes in different pens, so I could see where she’d remembered a certain detail and gone back to fill it in.  I can’t tell you how much comfort I got from reading this. There was plenty of stuff in there that I did know, obviously, but there was also so much that I didn’t know, especially from her younger years. Like… That she met The Beatles! That her and my dad were signed up to an adoption agency when they got pregnant with my brother. That she spent some of her childhood in Great Ormond Street hospital. That my parents went travelling around Europe for 2 summers in the 70s… I could carry on and on but I’ll keep some stuff for myself…

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I think we’re probably all a bit guilty of forgetting that our parents had lives before we came along, and reading this made me realise just how alike mum and I are! But actually, that she had a much more interesting life than I do…

Anyway, I suppose what I’m really trying to say (in a slightly inarticulate way) is WRITE STUFF DOWN. Reading mum’s life, in her words and her handwriting, made me feel so much closer to her and has answered so many questions that I might have had later in life and I’m so so grateful to her for that.

Comments

Dear Tessa, I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my dad two weeks ago and it was very unexpected although he was 84. We are many miles apart, I live in California and they live in Germany. I went for my dad’s memorial and helped my mom with some paperwork. I also found written notes of my dad’s. He had opted out of receiving bank statements and made his little notes on every expense and credit in a small notebook with comments. It was a pleasure to read his handwriting. There were a few letters he had written to my mom, all starting with ‘Dear Sweety’ , anyway. I just wanted to agree with you that writing things down is important and I have been trying to capture and record my thoughts on a daily basis.

Posted 8 months ago by Susanne Reply

My deepest condolences, Tessa. I agree with your message about writing things down. I have this (irrational) fear that I will start forgetting things soon even if I’m only in my mid-30s, and I need to write things down to help me remember. I took a look at my journals from only last year, and it’s amazing just how many small things I’ve already forgotten! Nothing can quite replace writing things down personally, and it makes for great heirlooms.

Posted 8 months ago by Patricia Reply

Tessa, so sorry to read your post – my usual excitement at your email popping into my inbox was replaced by sadness when I read the content. Nothing can make these periods in our lives easier but things do get better after time. Lovely to read of your mum’s notes and the shared love of stationery. Some comfort to know you’re carrying the torch.

Posted 8 months ago by Andy Youings Reply

My deepest condolences in your loss and appreciate the strength it takes to share with is what you have.

Posted 8 months ago by Shubhranshu Reply

I’m so sorry for your loss. After my Poppa died, I found a couple postcards he’d written to me from trips he and my Gramma went on when I was a kid. He’d write one for every grandchild. I have one taped to my computer at work and one propped up on a bookshelf at home. Seeing my name in his handwriting is so comforting! You’re so right. Thanks so much for sharing this! I hope you can feel peace alongside the grief. Best wishes to you.

Posted 8 months ago by meg lindsay Reply

Sending you love and my sincerest sympathies. May writing things down help you remember the good times and help ease your grief and sorrow.

Posted 8 months ago by Ana Reply

There are no words but for what it’s worth, I’m sending you a hug x

Posted 8 months ago by Priya Sahrma Reply

Sorry to hear of your loss, how lovely to have her words and memories. My dad died 5 years ago and I still have his drawings, paintings and photographs (his medium developed throughout his life). I am immensely proud to look through them and know I have a little piece of him. My little girl took some of his work into school for “show and tell” last week.

Posted 8 months ago by Helena Reply

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