The sound of a voice

When my mom was dying with lung cancer, my sister and I travelled up to Birmingham in the UK, where my mother had grown up.

Without consciously realising it, we found ourselves outside my grandmother’s old house, my mother’s childhood home.

I did not know my grandmother that well but my mom would regale stories of her childhood and I would delight at them, hanging on every word.

One of my favourites was the time when my mom and aunt decided that as a treat to my grandmother, who worked as a char lady for other households in the area, they would spring clean the house.  My mother and my aunt, aged probably no older than 8 and 10, dutifully removed every item of furniture from the downstairs and deposited it on the front lawn.  The beauty of this gesture did not dawn on my mom until she was a mother herself.

Of course, once they had ‘cleaned’ the house, the idea of returning all the furniture was just too much for them, so they waited until my grandmother returned to present to her their efforts.

As my mother told it, my grandmother acted dutifully grateful, and without complaint, after a full day’s work of cleaning other people’s houses, returned the furniture on her own to its rightful place inside the house.

This was the enduring vision I had of my grandmother, and I saw my mom very much in the same light.

My cousin decided to join us to visit my grandmother’s house.  Her mom was my mom’s sister.  The house had changed.  An extension to the side had been added.

We started to take some photos when a woman came rushing out of the front door.

Can I help you?” she demanded.

I am sorry,” I said, “our moms grew up in this house.  They lived here from around 1950 and my grandmother lived here until her death in 1978.  Now, my mom is dying of lung cancer and I thought it would be nice to take some photos of her old childhood home.  I promise I am not being creepy or anything.

Without batting an eyelid, the woman offered to show us around.  As I walked inside the front door, crossing that threshold, familiarity wrapped me up like a warm blanket.  I looked up the stairs directly in front of me and remembered walking up them to go to the toilet as a little girl.  An image of my mom, holding my baby sister whilst she held my hand flashed before me, white blanket trailing down her dress.

To the left was the front room, where my grandmother, sickly for most of her life would have a bed covered with an oxygen tent in which she would lie when we came to visit.  On very lucky days she would be well enough to sit with us on the settee.

My grandmother in the middle, my brother to the left, me to the right and my uncle behind us (circa 1977)
My grandmother in the middle, my brother to the left, me to the right and my uncle behind us (circa 1977)

To the back of the house was the kitchen, updated now, but all I could see was her old kitchen, and the washing ringer that I used to love, watching her as she passed her clothing through it ready to go on the line.

I drank in the smell of the kitchen, the taste of the evaporated milk that my grandmother, Peggy, used to put in her tea still fresh on my tongue.  As we stepped out of the kitchen and into the back garden I remembered the tart taste of the gooseberries as we picked them off the bush at bottom of the garden (why do we call it the bottom, I wonder).

Mom, sitting in the back garden as a young girl (circa 1953)
Mom, sitting in the back garden as a young girl (circa 1953)

Moving upstairs, we peeked into the back room, once the sleeping quarters of my mom and her sister, but in later years would be the bedroom of her much younger brother, only 8 years older than I.  I used to love his room, filled to the brim with comics of all description.  He would never let me touch or read them, they were his treasures, but I was content with the smell of all that paper.  Even at such a young age, written words on paper had found their way into my psyche.

We remodelled a couple of years ago,” the woman said.  “Added an extra bedroom and bathroom.  Would you believe that when we ripped off the wallpaper, layers of it there was, we found the names of three children written on the walls downstairs with heights marked for each one.  Elaine, Sandra and Jon.”

Yes, I had said, they were the names of my mom and her siblings.

I wish I had taken a photograph of them now,” she said wistfully.

I do too.

Later that day, as we drove away, photographs in hand, my cousin admitted to me that she had never actually been inside the house before.  My grandmother had passed before she had returned from Africa where her parents used to work.  I was glad that we were able to give her that gift, that she had some tangible memory to hold on to of where her own mom had shaped her own life.

The family home, remodelled
The family home, remodelled

My sister’s memory of that house is also sketchy, but also tinged with sadness as she was there, staying in the house, when my grandmother’s illness got the better of her.  My sister was only five.

I took the photos to my mom, who, weak now and confined to bed, looked at them with fondness and a certain longing, I felt.  She declared to me later that day that she had seen my grandmother at the bottom of her bed.  I knew my own mom’s time was coming, her mom was calling her.

So many times I have been asked how we find our voice, how do we know the sound of our own voice.  It isn’t something we find, or create.  It is something that is within us.  It envelopes us and shapes us.  It is born with us inside our DNA.  We just have to listen.  Just listen.  And then you start to hear the thump inside your heart, the rhythm, the tone, the pitch.  And everything you become, everything you are is as a result of all the people that have come before you.  Your voice is right there.

The women in my family are strong.  At her funeral my mom requested that as they processed her down the aisle I am Woman by Helen Reddy be played and that during the service my sister and I sing Scarborough Fair and Amazing Grace.  It was also requested that no one wear black.  I have no idea where we found the strength, but our voices sounded like angels that day.  People kept telling us we had such beautiful voices.

From those humble beginnings in that humble council house, that is now shaping another new family, my voice has been forged.  I am woman, hear me roar.

Where was your voice forged, I wonder?

Until next time,

SHW Signature




This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  
To Others

What I can say with certainty is that kindness matters!


Today is Monday, and it is also the 1st December.  The first day of summer for those of us in Australia.  The first day of the advent calendar countdown for Christmas.

It is a good day to begin the process of contemplation.  Contemplating the year that was.  Contemplating the year that might be.

On Friday, our family came over for BBQ.  It is a fortnightly thing.  The entire family comes over after work and we eat and talk and laugh and connect.  It is my most favourite time.  We don’t put in much effort – it is very much a “just rock up and have whatever is going” affair.

Kindness matters

My mother-in-law has Alzheimers Disease.  I have known her for nearly 20 years and she is a shadow of the person I once knew.  If you ask her directly about people, places and events, her recollection is very hit and miss.  But she can still hold a conversation as long as the topic isn’t too specific.

On Friday, she noticed that I was looking a bit sad.  I told her that Christmas has lost some of its sparkle for me since my mom died four years ago.  When she passed, I broke down and I guess, whilst I have glued the pieces pretty much back together, it isn’t the same.  And at this time of year a kind of melancholy, uninvited, unwanted, seems to settle on my shoulders.

She looked at me, telling me how she understood.  She used to love Christmas, she said.

Christmas was such a special time.  We were never allowed into the front room, ever.  That room was for Best.  But at Christmas, oh we were allowed into that room then.  I remember all of us being in that room.  The christmas tree, the presents.  I don’t know how mum did it, but it was always a special time.”

As she spoke, my mother-in-law’s eyes lit up.  She clasped her hands together, savouring that moment, that bygone era.  As I looked at her, I imagined a young girl in the 1950s, warm fire going, with her parents and three sisters.  Times were tough for people after the war and it is times like those Christmases that people allowed themselves to relax, to enjoy, to savour life.

Those Christmases were special.  After that it all changed.  My one sister found a new family and we have never heard from her since.  And my other sister didn’t have time for us, her working class family.”

Neither of these statements are really true.  Her one sister married and moved to Australia with her new family.  We have since moved to Australia ourselves and she has seen her sister at least twice since being here.  Her other sister remains in good contact and is in fact quite concerned about the mental health of my mother in law.

But in that moment, in that statement, in our conversation, I realised something.  I realised that what I can say with certainty right now is that it doesn’t matter what we do, where we go, or how we act, it is the feeling we leave behind that is the most important.

Moving to Australia in the 1950s was a big undertaking and communication would have been scant at best.  I realised that mother-in-law, as the youngest child, felt abandoned by her sister, probably not understanding the situation.  Even as an adult, knowing full well that her sister emigrated, that original feeling of abandonment never left her and now she doesn’t remember the emigration, just that she “never heard from her again.”

My mother-in-law cannot remember specific details.  She was asked how many children she had and their names recently in yet another assessment.  She became agitated because she could not remember them, despite two of them sitting in the room with her.

But if you listen to her talk about her children, she remembers them by how they made her feel.

Oh Mr A always sends me flowers on Mother’s day.

Ms M always used to go shopping with me.”

Mr D was always so helpful, never gave me any trouble.

If you asked her what shops she went to with her daughter, or what flowers were her favourite, or what things she used to do with Mr C, she could not tell you.  Those memories are long gone.

But what is left, what is indelibly marked onto the neurones of our brains, and is so evident in my mother-in-law, is how a person makes us feel.

And that bares thinking about, don’t you think?

So often we say and do things without really thinking.  We live in a culture that says our needs and wants should come before all others.  We plunder along, believing in our right to treat others as we see fit, because, well,l it’s important our voice is heard and by god, we are going to make sure it is.  We do this without consequence, without thinking how our words and deeds might make others feel.

We don’t think it is important, but it is.  It is so very important.  So very very important.

Kindness Matters!

When all is said and done, when we have lost our minds and our memories, all we have are our feelings.  All we have is how people that we knew made us feel.  They are our last bastion, those feelings.  They determine the quality of our final years.  Are we left all warm and fuzzy, or cold and stark?

Kindness and consideration costs nothing.  But the impression left will last a lifetime.  A simple letter to let loved ones know how you are doing, a simple phone call, even a simple smile.  All of these things add to the feelings we create in that other person.

I know that as I go about my business this coming silly season, rather than snap at my children or my husband because I am feeling sad at the loss of my own mom, or tired with all the work this time of year brings, I am going to practice more patience, more gentility in my words, simply more kindness.  Because I know for certain that, when their memories of me as a person might be gone, I want them to feel warmth when they think of me.  That is the feeling I want to leave behind.

Have a wonderful Monday lovely.

Until next time,

SHW Signature




This post was written as part of #reverb14 – a blogging initiative hosted by Kat McNally.  The month of December is a good time to reflect on the year that was and for us to contemplate the reverberations that we send out into the world.  Please do hop on over to Kat’s blog and if you feel moved to do so, please join in.  
Make a Card Monday

Make A Card Monday {F-off Monday}

I overslept.  I hate it when that happens.

The dogs kept me awake barking all night.  I have no idea what it was, but almost every hour on the hour, Harry would bark.  I would get up, walk over to the laundry (where they sleep at night), yell at him to shut up and then crawl back into bed.  Over 5 consecutive hours the ritual continued.

I did not wake up full of unicorns and sunshine!

To make matters worse, throughout the course of the weekend, I had forgotten to wash uniforms and PE kits and so I spent the (already late) morning running around trying to scramble some clean clothing together.

Then I got an email from my dad (I know, don’t ask me how I managed to find time to check my emails, but I did).  He sent me this photo of a memorial cross that he lays every year on Rememberence Day (which is tomorrow) for my grandfather who fought in Africa and Italy in the war.  How beautiful does it look in all that foliage?

This mentions my granddad's service number, rank, where he fought in WW2, and his life span.  I miss him so much!
This mentions my granddad’s service number, rank, where he fought in WW2, and his life span. I miss him so much!
This is where he lays the cross every year at the Remembrance Day Service
This is where he lays the cross every year at the Remembrance Day Service

Grief, it is a funny old thing.

I just stared at that photo.

Yesterday, I had gone to a scrapbooking group that I attend every month.  Well, I am meant to attend every month, but this year has been the year from hell and so yesterday, November, was the first one I had attended this year.  It was delightful.  Everybody hugged me and told me how beautiful my hair was {because of course, they had not seen my new hair that I got in April}.

I had just grabbed a couple of photograph envelopes from the box without even looking and a few supplies.

When I opened them up, they were of my mom and my grandad.

Grief, fuck grief.

And so this morning, my dad sent me that photograph and I was sleep deprived and late and disorganised and still feeling a little sad from yesterday and, well, it was all too much, so I cried.

Then, after I managed to drop Master J off at school on time and with a (relatively) clean uniform to boot, I went for my usual coffee, logged online to my beautiful mentoring group to let them know about my hideous start to the week.

There must be something in the air (moon issues perhaps?) because two other people in my group also had a hideous start to the morning.  We all agreed that we needed to tell Monday to, frankly, fuck off.

I have never been a fan of Mondays.  Ever.

I have never looked at it with excitement thinking “OMG this is the start of a beautiful new week!”

Even as a child my parents could never stir me on the first day of the school week.  Tuesday and the rest of the week was fine, but Mondays?  Just not my thing!

And so I present to you today’s card.  I would love to receive this card, because well, I hate Mondays.  The person that gave this card to me would have hit it right on the nail.  And I figured if I hate Mondays, then hey, there must be at least one other person who hates Mondays too!

The card required nothing more than a simple saying.  I created it using parchment card stock bought at Office Works, and the saying was created with the print and cut function of the Silhouette Cameo – very simple and easy to do.

Monday you suck balls

Fuck off monday

Two cards together


Not the nicest sentiment perhaps, but sometimes you’ve just got to go with the flow, you know?

And so I leave you with this – a song that has been my Monday mantra since it was released when I was 10!


Until next time,

SHW Signature