Hope. Somewhere in the core of my body is an awakening, a yearning. I am peering into the future, and not looking back. This is a surprise, given I’m recovering from a horrible few weeks of sickness and somehow ‘lost’ another Christmas. Hope for new beginnings, and a realisation that to leave the sadness and grief behind for a while is perfectly acceptable. Really.

Reflection is therapeutic, and timely as it is the advent of a New Year. Where to begin? It is ten months since my darling mother left this world, and the enormity of that hit me with full force during my summer retreat in the French Alps. This is what I wrote:

I am here in the tranquil surroundings of our chalet in Trossy, tucked up next to the imposing Dent d’Oche. Chantalle and Gabrielle are here with me and we are taking each day as it comes, waking up whenever we feel. I have felt the heat of the sun on my body for the first time since leaving Uganda in January, and witnessed ‘make you very wet rain’ too. I feel as if I am just barely existing at certain times. Usually it is in the late evening or in the early hours of the morning when I am trying desperately to remember or investigate something – a place, a memory that was important to you, that I struggle.
I can hear a distant rumble of thunder and the clouds are building over the mountains, and the temperature has dipped a few degrees. I am so thankful that you were our first visitor here, in August 2009, although some of the detail escapes me. I hate that – the fact that my memory does not recall all of the finer detail. For weeks I could not remember the sound of your voice, causing panic in my heart, dreading if I would ever be able to hold on to the ebb, flow and cadence of your unique voice or the sound of your laughter.
I have not looked closely at all of the old, gnarled black and white photos. It is too much of a heartache and I have not been able to cope with the feelings. It is just too sad. Yet one or two photos have etched themselves in the forefront of my memory. You are wearing white capri slacks and top, sunglasses in situ posing on the steps of a very distinctive fountain in an old square in Portugal. Another snap shows some kind of iconic church building with what looks like a building beside it, which you have marked with a x – and scribbled ‘our hotel’. I remember you telling me that Portugal was your favourite European country, with emphasis placed on the part north of Lisbon, dismissing the Algarve where you intimated all the package holidaymakers headed for.

So imagine – thanks to the internet I was able to track down the church, the fountain and the hotel to Viana do Castelo. Should I go visit one day, I wonder. It would be comforting to sojourn somewhere that obviously meant such a lot to you. I only wished you had been able to tell me more. I may soon be strong enough to go through those photographs and select one to have made into a canvas, as you were a stunning young woman and I want to capture and remember you in your prime. It will help erase some of the recent painful memories. I need to do that.
I also was thinking about your first love, Robert – (pronounced as only the French do, emphasis on the ‘ert’), your pilot who flew for the Free French. I remember a photo you kept of him for years. Dark wavy hair, swept back from his forehead a handsome smiling face. You said my father may have destroyed it in jealousy all of those years afterwards. Who knows? Anyway – we discussed it in recent years on the telephone and you did tell me his surname, but I cannot remember it at the moment. He was killed in the war and then at a later point in time you met my father.
I tell you most days, even saying it out loud, how much I love you. I know I told you and tried to show you each of those days from January through until the end of February. I am so sorry for the pain and suffering you had to endure and would have done anything for you not to have gone though all of that heartache. Now you are free and I believe in heaven living life eternal and singing and celebrating with the angels. I have questioned everything, and struggled with my own mortality like never before in my lifetime. I am emotionally fragile. Perhaps it is depression. It is grief…and that is more than I can deal with or write for today…

So fast forward six months. How am I doing on reflection?

Hopeful. I am a little optimistic. I am not feeling that stone-cold hollowness in my gut. I’m not tumbling around, flailing helplessly in a grey ocean. No. I can take control of my thoughts, with practice and turn a situation I may be dreading around, and deal with it with a positive outlook. I give thanks to my wonderful counsellor who has given me some strategies to try which have proven effective. Yay!

I was able to lay my mum and sister’s ashes to rest in a quiet corner of an English country churchyard, and feel proud that I had brought them home. That is – their remains. I had no sense of their spirit or soul being there, and I am at peace with that. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes.  They lay in loamy soil underneath a beautiful holly tree that nudged me to look up, to reveal its’ berries in glorious abundance under the wintry sun. Tears trickled down my cheeks, quiet tears for two precious and influential ladies who left their indelible mark on my life.

I miss her. Yet I am so grateful to have had her as my mother and for all the love she invested in me. I am inspired to visit Viana do Castelo and discover what charms it holds. Best I put that in my diary for 2017, don’t you think?

As for the writing journey, it came to an emergency stop, brake pedal full on the floor, hissing, burning and then silence. Neutral, then first gear. Time to gather a little more speed and change up. Bear with, my friends.