40 days: Ascension

Today marks forty days since mum died. In the Christian Orthodox tradition, it’s the day that the soul goes up to heaven – mirroring Christ’s Ascension. You mark it with a ceremony by the graveside, giving out “zhito” (plumped up pearl barley with cinnamon, lemon and lots of icing sugar) and a libation of red wine. Sarah, who was an essential part of the funeral service, read out the verses as we placed red roses on the grave.

It gave us a chance to reflect, be at peace – under the bright afternoon sun, on the slightly parched grass, wind frisking the trees. Forty days can feel like an eternity; it can also feel like no time at all. In forty days, you feel the full gamut of emotions: the feeling of living in a mirage, where you see everything through a sheath of tears; see-sawing between anger and resignation at the smallest IT glitch; waking up with that hollow, empty feeling; sometimes feeling nothing at all. In the early days, there’s a strange claustrophobia of “normal” things – overcrowded trains, loud music, seeing friends you haven’t yet seen. You’re living in the mirage and nothing can be the same old normal.

One thing that’s got us through, as well as hundreds of incredible people’s support, is the knowledge that mum would want us to forge on. She’d want us to take all the things she taught us, and go do things with them. That’s been the tiny glimmer of real in the mirage. There’s her unfailing optimism, her drive, her love of people and focusing on the other, her generosity. I’ve never felt so comforted by a long “To Do” list and doing Race for Life felt so uplifting, for all of us. My sister was amazing in getting her friends together for the Race; I’ve dusted skirting boards with great vigour.

One of the things that stands out in the mirage is meeting one of my coachees for coffee in Westminster Abbey cafe. It was my first week back at work, and it had been arranged before everything changed. I had woken up and it was a heavy sadness day. I was slightly dreading it, because I didn’t think I was in a place where I could offer anything useful when I really wanted to hide under a duvet for the day.  I started the conversation on autopilot: over time, it took me out of the mirage; the high vaulted ceiling seemed more real. I noticed and made a pleasant remark to the waiter. Talking over her experience, focusing on someone else’s challenges and asking a few questions – that helped. It was a lesson in that magnanimity, that generosity, that other-orientation mum was a maestro at. Even a much poorer attempt made a difference.

After the ceremony, we went to Bloom with my cousins. On saying goodbye, after tea and cake, we had a group hug. It felt “mum”.

This evening, we went for a walk along the river, as we’ve done countless times over the years. The Thames was that beautiful, shimmering silver at dusk. It looked like a Turner, or a Whistler, with a Gatsby-esque green light. Just over Hammersmith Bridge, the clouds had opened up, as if mum was on her way up – no doubt to go for a run, dance salsa, eat cherries, have a Skype session.

We miss you, mum. You are always with us. We always love you. 

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