Well, the Be Happy For Mum plan didn’t go all that badly, in the end. I thought that it might be the most shaming disaster. I thought that everyone might shout through the ether Oh for goodness’ sake, just be bloody sad and get it over with. (I suspect that was a bit of Freudian projection, and in fact was the voice of my critical self, who is a terrible old vampish harridan and has always had too much gin.) In actual fact, on the Facebook, on the blog, kind people, some known well to me, some complete strangers, all rose up in glory and said generous and funny and wise things, which touched and amazed my bashed heart.
Here is what I learnt, because I must always learn something. All these years on, and I am still a girly swot at heart.
There is one place that the sadness really and truly does go completely away and that is on the back of my thoroughbred mare. I always knew that she did have super-powers. I just did not quite know how powerful they were. Being with her is cheering and soothing, but it’s on her back, when I feel her power under me and the peace that she carries in her flowing from her mighty body into my puny one, that everything falls into a stunning equilibrium. All the bad and sad things just fall away and I am free. I don’t know how this happens, but it does. She is a miracle horse and that’s the end of it.
The joys are there, if you look for them. They don’t banish the sorrow, but they go in tandem with them, like a pair of slightly grumpy and ill-matched carriage horses, the kind that the Queen would not use for state occasions. I’m going to go on driving my wonky carriage, and one day, those two ponies will learn to trot along together.
My stabs at normality are quite funny. I’m a little off kilter. Everything I say is a crotchet off-beat. My laughter is a bit too loud. My walk is a bit ragged. My clothes are frankly peculiar. My hair is a bit bonkers. My attempts to make sense don’t quite make sense.
Laughter still exists though, and it is as healing as tears. I have a new theory that grief is like a trapped energy and has to be let go, in great gusts. It needs to be released from the actual body. Shouty tears can do this, but so can shouty laughter. The Beloved Stepfather made me laugh at breakfast so much that I couldn’t speak for four minutes. It was one of those comical stories so recondite and absurd and almost tragic that only he and I (and my mother had she been here) could get it. That made it even more intense. Once he had told me the absurd thing, and I started laughing helplessly, he started laughing too, the first proper laugh he has done since it happened. It was naughty schoolboy laughter, because it was the kind of thing that was really quite sad in some ways, but we couldn’t help it, it tickled us to death. That laughter opened the door and let some of that captured energy out.
I have to keep reminding myself to let my shoulders go. I have another theory, you will be amazed to hear, that people trap their emotions in different parts of their bodies. Some people get headaches, or stomach cramps. I get the shoulders up around my ears. Every half an hour, I have to say: get those damn shoulders down.
Talking out loud is oddly helpful. I’ve always been prone to this, and it’s getting worse as I get older. Lately, I find myself in the Co-op saying, at shamingly high volume: ‘Now, what have I forgotten?’ Since Saturday, I have been walking round the house saying ‘Oh,’ and ‘Ah,’ and ‘Oof,’ and ‘What next?’ I say: ‘Oh, Mum,’ with a dying fall. I expect soon I shall move on to: ‘Steady the buffs.’
I like having a mission, and I’m going to keep on my mission of hunting for beauty, squinting for the good, searching for the consolations. My old friend The Horseman, who is a man of great matter-of-factness, not a sentimental bone in his body, but a man of oak, the sort of man on whom you can really rely when the chips are down, wrote me a brilliant, pithy message. It said: ‘Live hard in respect for those who can’t.’ That is my mission.
But, and here I think is the important thing, I’m not going to scold myself when I can’t do that. There will be days when it’s not possible. It’s a good goal, and a fine thought. I keep it in the front of my mind, like a shining amulet. The good old Horseman. He was there when my dad died, and when my dog died (he found me in streaming tears on his drive and staunchly faced them without fear) and now he has sent me a line to live by.
Rather to my astonishment, I have achieved quite a lot this week. I have written words, and done good work for HorseBack, and made soup, and worked my new mare, and ridden my old mare in glorious cowgirl canters on a loose rein, and even arranged some flowers. There are roses on my desk. There are never roses on my desk. They were on special offer and I thought, bugger it, I must have roses. They feel sweetly symbolic and I look at them now as I write and think: yes, yes, the small things. I live now in the world of the small things, so that the big thing does not overwhelm me, so that I do not drown.
I found this wonderful picture of my mother this morning. I remember that fur hat so well. I was very small when she had it, and I used to whip it off her head and hold it and stroke it as if it were a small bear. I can feel it now:
And this picture was in the same book. It is my sister, on her side-saddle champion. This says a lot about my mother. It was she who taught us to ride these ponies, who schooled them and groomed them and taught us sternly to look after them. If we were to have the great fortune to have such glorious animals, we had to be responsible for them. We were never allowed to come in at the end of the day until our ponies were happy and settled with their bran mashes. She would get up at three in the morning to drive us to distant shows – to the Three Counties, and Builth Wells, and Windsor, and Peterborough – and she would make us the best bacon sandwiches in the world to sustain us for the road: