In a new house there are few memories. A fresh chapter in our family history has begun, and any memories this house holds are not ours. Someone else's stories murmur within these walls, celebrations, sorrows, quarrels, moments of love, all there, but not ours.
Ours are elsewhere, in the woods, running and whispering through the trees in a scarlet coat; in an orchard on Dartmoor, bouncing on the trampoline and making daisy chains under the apple trees; skipping by the river Dart, under the shade of the big old horse chestnuts. We have so many memories, but because we have moved, they have stepped back a layer into our family history. They are no longer current, no longer fresh, it seems as though they are no longer alive.
What do you do when someone you love dies? What do you do? Do you try to forget they ever existed to blunt the sharp edge of raw unfettered grief? Do you plunge into an abyss of nostalgia and weeping for the past, and barely acknowledge the present; or do you struggle on with your life, punctuated by the agonising balm of triggered memories?
The agonising balm...ferreting in an old coat pocket of Lily's and turning out ten pussy willows, a Fry's orange chocolate wrapper, a rainbow string, a crumpled bit of tissue. 'Her fingers last touched these things! Where did she get that chocolate from? Weren't those the pussy willows she collected on our last mother's day walk along the tidal road, when she picked the pampas grass and wanted to make it into angel wings?'
Yes really, angel wings.. like she knew.
It's not only tangible Lily objects which act as triggers. Some little girls of about seven have fine straight hair the colour of a mouse's back, in semi profile their heads have a familiar shape, sometimes they have a similar cardigan to one of Lily's, or even an identical skirt, they might move with her easy, unobstrusive grace. Just for a second, if I screw my eyes up I could just pretend...
Sometimes we all look through her wooden box. She didn't have lots of stuff but it's all in there and we handle each scribbled note and china horse as if it were a precious jewel. It brings up emotion, unexpected anger from some, quiet withdrawal from another. We don't do this much. Since we've moved it's like she's taken a step away, or we've moved further on and left her behind. Her photo is still in the kitchen, with a candle and some flowers next to it, but she seems less present. Maybe she wants to go back to the woods, maybe she's still there, running up and down in her little red coat with no one there to play with.
Maybe that's rubbish.
We've been busy. I'm busy unpacking and simultaneously packing to move on again. There's the Advent Fair coming up at school and I'm making dolls and curry for it. I'm trying to write. Hugh is building our new home. Maybe it's us that hasn't connected with her, maybe she's knocking at the window and our heads are too busy to hear her.
Is that the way it is with someone who dies? No matter how you try, life on earth just moves on and away and we forget, not fully but in a soft focus, fuzzy kind of way?
Sometimes a flash of clarity, the exact tone of her voice, the set of her jaw when she was sulking...what would it be like without photos, without memorabilia?
My lovely friend Ruby has written about her experience of losing someone close where no keepsakes or belongings were kept and nothing was discussed, she talks about this at http://www.loving-transformation.com/ In our family we are lucky to have photos, a couple of video clips, school books, hair clips. But really, am I being too attached to material props? Are we all? They are comforting, but are they a distraction from the Lily that is real now? Do they put a barrier between us and a very real connection with her in spirit form? Doesn't our preoccupation with material things prevent us from connecting to the spirit that is in everything, even ourselves?
Old coat pockets and sweet wrappers will eventually rot and fade away, Lily's love will always be there.
If we believe that nothing ever really dies, then why is our grief at losing the physical form so excruciating?
Do you have any experience of this? How do you remember your loved ones who have moved on?