Updated: Jan 12
A week before Christmas - Millie the cat took on invisibility.
I read 'took on invisibility' in a 'death announcement,' years ago and thought I'd tuck that away to be used at a later date.
At around the same time that Millie left, I made a card to send to a family member and her boyfriend who had lost someone very close. I began by writing the card with earnest, I'm so sad to hear, sorry for your loss kind of approach before stopping abruptly without any idea of what to say next that didn't sound cliche.
In an attempt to be more than a just a thinking of you card (for the minute it took me to write it), I turned to the oracle (google) for advice.
'How to write a condolence card.'
'What to say to someone who has lost someone they love?'
Normally, it would hit the spot pretty quickly, it certainly did for:
"Who was the actor who.... "
"Ideas for newsletter headings."
"What time is it?"
"Where am I?" which incidentally had 1,220,000 searches in 2020.
But 'how to write a condolence card' was one of the saddest google searches I've ever participated in, on so many levels. The answers lacked not only originality but any kind of humaneness.
The spotlight was therefore cast back on me and I had no choice but to go it alone.
I didn't know the person who had passed away, so I began by finding out her name and learning something about her life.
Using this information, I was able to create sentences such as:
"I learnt that....."
"Although I never met [name], I was touched by how she ..."
"I didn't know [name], but I know you and I think she would be very proud of you because..."
Once I had some prompts (created from giving it some thought for myself) I found I was able to extend some genuine empathy for the people the card was intended for.
A card is never going to take the grief away, change the situation or even begin to make it better. But I decided if I was going to go to the effort of making and sending one, it had to be as beautiful and thoughtful as I could make it, to respect the feelings of the recipients.
My feelings were then turned inwards as to how I wanted to remember Millie and what to do with her ashes. I felt deeply to go and buy a plant and as it was just before Christmas, found a little tiny Christmas Tree. Not being a fan of Christmas, I was as surprised as anyone to be drawn to such a tree.
I wasn't quite ready to pop her ashes in with the tree, so I took it on a little adventure first.
I was rather thankful for an overcast day, which resulted in me being alone on the beach with my Christmas Tree.
By the time we had coffee together, I was used to the odd looks from people nearby.
When I was 20 I lived in Jamaica for almost a year. It was there I learnt about Nine-Nights, where it was the tradition to celebrate the person who had died for nine days and nights. Families and friends would play dominos, sing, cry, drink, eat and tell stories about the loved one. It was radically different to the experience around death I'd had when I grew up in Manchester.
All of this reflection made me realise, I needed to grieve in my own way on my own terms. And on New Years Eve in the middle of cleaning my home, I felt the need to pop Millie's ashes in with the Christmas Tree.
I just plonked everything I needed (including pink champagne) down in amongst everything that was going on in the studio. Just like Millie used to do,
I can take the tree and put it in all her favourite spots around the garden.
I was telling my daughters friends about Millie and how one morning (after she'd gone), I was woken up with the sensation of a cat pawing my nose, just like she used to.
Ben (who it transpires is afraid of cats) gasped and said, "OH MY GOD, I didn't think there was anything more terrifying than a cat! But a ghost cat is a whole other level!"
So it's been a funny old few weeks, mixed with sadness, laughter, gratitude, too much wine, sunshine, rain, in other words, life has just ticked on over as it doesn't stop for anything. And it certainly doesn't stop for grief. And in a way, that's reassuring in itself.