Tuesday, 22 January 2019

5am Life Wave


Today I'm belatedly sharing a project I started in December 2017 and finished in October 2018. On Instagram, I've referred to it as Rainbow Soup, while the Illustrator file where I originally planned it out was named '5am' (an obvious choice when you open a new document with no idea what you're going to do in there, but it is indeed 5 o'clock in the morning), and in my head its working title was Life Wave.


In early June 2017, my grandmother, who had made relatively regular appearances on my blog since I began writing it, passed away. I've gone to post about it several times in the last 18 months, but somehow found myself unable to, although it's been an odd feeling to leave her death unacknowledged here.


Over the last decade, my husband and I have lost friends and family far too early, so when my grandmother died peacefully in her late 80s, I initially felt comforted to finally be experiencing a natural, age-appropriate death - it offered a feeling of, Ah, so this is how it's supposed to be - sad, full of memories, but not unjust. I had thought that would make it 'the easy one'.


But despite what I'd initially imagined, my grandmother's death didn't end up being 'the easy one' and it took me the rest of 2017 and a good portion of early 2018, not to find my eyes streaming at the thought of her or the mention of her name - it wasn't that I wanted for her to have lived for longer, just that I had a huge ball of weepy sadness inside me over her no longer being here.


So, when I came to designing this piece,  my grandmother was at the forefront of my thoughts and, initially, the great big undulating wave of colour that runs diagonally through the centre of the piece represented her, in all her wonderful vibrancy, the world receding around her. But at some point while I was sewing it together, I gradually began to view the piece differently, and eventually that central swoop of colour began to represent a wider life force - humanity, all of us - and reluctantly, the smaller bits of warmth falling away from it - those three lone orange pieces in the bottom right quarter - came to represent my grandmother (and all the other good ones), like the light left radiating from a star that's already died.


Above is the design I created it in my graphics programme and below is the finished piece.


I much prefer for the creative part to take place on my laptop, and for the making part to be more about following a map - in this case, each individual colour was carefully matched up to my plan - it's fun (for me at least!) to try and spot the pieces where I went off track and, accidentally or intentionally, used a different colour. 


As larger pieces are so expensive to frame, for now it lives in a ready-made one found in the garage that doesn't match its dimensions perfectly (it's too big by one frustrating centimetre...although I'm not about to sew an extra row on to make it work), and it hangs in this room at the back of the house where the light never quite makes it sparkle as it did when it was in my sewing room at the front of the house, so it's a rather temporary resting place, but despite that it feels like a happy, joyful thing.



My grandmother didn't have an easy life, but she was one of the most vivacious and radiant people I've known. She had the ability to make the mundane feel magical, whether that was something as simple as choosing the shiniest fruit in a greengrocers, or racing us to collect a hundred weeds from the garden each evening in our nightdresses, waking us at midnight for feasts (where she would open out the bathroom and airing cupboard doors to create a secret compartment on the landing for us to hide away in), searching gravestones for the loveliest names, telling us stories from her imagination*, floating around her local lake in a rowing boat for hours, where she would regale us with tales of lost loves or the great many ghosts who'd haunted her houses (if she misplaced something, she found it more comforting to blame a ghost than herself and had many furious meetings with them as a result), helping us to create miniature worlds from things she'd saved up in the weeks before our visits, or mainly, just talking in her beautiful voice, which seemed to curl around words as though she was hugging each one of them - she had worked a telephonist connecting calls, which always seemed a perfect job for her.


She created a bubble around the three of us (her, my sister and me; the members of The Magic Circle, who could communicate telepathically by placing a tiny rose button against a circle of card), and when we were together, I always felt anything was possible and and as though the whole world was full of magic; if a little streak of madness lived within her, in grand-mothering she triumphed in using it for good.


(I want to draw your attention to the rosemary plant covered in little flowers from the 5am Life Wave while it was a work-in-progress - she would have loved this photo and it was created in her honour).

Here are a few links to posts where I talked about my grandmother while she was still alive - in this post, I discussed an interview I'd taken part in for a friend's dissertation on special places - I chose my grandmother's house and talked about my childhood memories; a few Christmases ago, I wrote a post where I mention knitting together and how she made me feel whenever she was teaching me; here, I write about her wonderful baking and how she used to greet us when we arrived at her house as children; at the end of this post, I share her (and my own) frank opinions on my neglecting to buy school photographs of my children; in this post about the EU referendum, she plays just a bit part, but her comment made me so proud as she bucked the trend of how many in their late 80s were reported to have voted; in this post my grandmother makes a pertinent assessment on the contents of my brain (it also happens to be one of my favourite posts, although most of it doesn't relate to her); this post shares a photo of my diminutive grandmother (she was well under 5ft) nestled amongst a densely-planted bed of cornflowers; this post shares a story from my childhood where she taught me that small things are just as good as big ones - it is one of my favourite memories of her and it still delights me that rather than simply reassuring me that my tiny gift was just as lovely as the bigger parcel my sister had given her, she stopped to use an illustration I could truly understand, asking if she was not as special as my other, much taller, grandma. She kept the little creatures that were wrapped inside the package I'd given her for the next thirty-five years, and now they live on my dressing table where I see them each morning - it should be an odd thing to have your own gift back, but somehow they feel more like her gift to me.


And finally, at the end of this post, I talked about her move to a care home, nearer to the area where my mum and I live - I was sewing name tapes into her clothing and feeling nervous anticipation for her as she set about putting down new roots ( totally unnecessarily; she had a wonderful way of magnetising people to her, even when addled by dementia).


Although we held vigil all week, none of us were with her when she died just after midnight, but my mum and I arrived separately shortly afterwards. One of her carers, who knew her well, put bright pink flowers in her hair. We asked if that was a tradition in Hungary, where she was from, and she laughed and said 'No, I did it because I knew Jeannie would have liked it', and she would have done. After the undertakers had gone, my mum and I lay on her bed not wanting to leave her room and chatted until 5am, watching the light change and hearing the very first bird make a sound to begin the dawn chorus. We held hands and laughed, cried and celebrated what a wonderful life she'd led and how few regrets we had for her - she'd had a marvellous ability to make lemonade from lemons and had been loved for it.


Later, as we drove home in convoy along empty roads, a bird swooped directly in front of my windscreen, loop-the looped, then dived playfully back at the glass once more before flying off - it was so curious that my immediate thought was that it was my grandmother playing with me and when we reached the place where we'd agreed to meet for an early morning walk, my mother asked if I'd noticed the bird in front of my car and said she'd felt sure it was Nannie - I was so pleased she'd witnessed its peculiar movements too. So many friends who've lost loved ones have had odd experiences with birds just before or after death...it makes me wonder if our spirits briefly inhabit them.

I was sad to learn that the poet, Mary Oliver, died last week. It's impossible for me to pick a favourite poem or line - there are too many that I love (a bit like Liberty prints), but a line taken from The Summer Day that always resonates with me for its feeling of immense possibility, is this one: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Thinking of this in relation to my grandmother, I know she will have felt she spent it well.

Florence x

** It was too much to add in brackets in the middle of that paragraph, but those stories she made up usually involved a boy and a girl entering another world through a tree trunk, where they would come across miniature woodland people, sparkly lights, and a banquet of party food. At the end of the adventure they would have to return to the real world, but would usually take some kind of treasure with them...somehow my brain never linked up the dots as a child to notice that the boy and girl who starred in those stories actually shared our parents names! My grandmother had a lightning quick wit - unaffected by dementia - and would have been amused to find I only discovered the link after she'd died when I was talking about it with my sister. As a random aside to that, while I didn't inherit her nimble mind (or, seemingly, even a mid-paced one), what I've realised while writing this post, is that she did impress upon me a love of all things miniature and that I've never really known where that's come from until now.

19 comments:

  1. What a wonderful tribute to your Grandmother! I know she'd be pleased to read it...all of us grandmothers hope to make a difference in the lives of our grandchildren. I will be happy if I can leave my grandchildren with half of the lovely memories you have!

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    1. I'm sure you will. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. x

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  2. So much beauty in this post Florence. Your way with words and fabric are a gift, just as your grandmother was to you! I loved the cornflower photo, probably because it was my mother’s favourite flower. A loving tribute that will stay with me a long time.

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    1. Oh, thank you so much, Susan. Cornflowers are really lovely aren't they - such a perfect shade of blue. x

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  3. So touching Florence. Your quilt really captures the light and all it's changes which seems so wholly appropriate. The magic circle and the button- what a treasure and so many memories x

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    1. Thank you, Kerry. I feel really lucky to have the magic circle and button as I'd lost mine at some point (I think it must have been in a lot of boxes I left at my parents' house when I moved out and when they moved house themselves, I just asked them to get rid of it all, rather than go home and sort through it - I really regret that now!), so it was lovely to inherit my grandmother's. x

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  4. It's not often I comment on blog posts but just wanted to say your grandmother sounds like an incredible woman and I loved hearing about the time spent with you as children x

    P.S I also love all things miniature, there's something special about them!

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  5. A lovely tribute to your grandmother, she truly sounds magical - your story of the bird reminded me of a story a friend of mine told me - she was swimming after hearing the news of the death of a friend and was so sad as she thought how young the friend had died - when a small blue fish jumped out of the water in front of her and then went - my friend says its the one time she was sure there was something more after life....and she did feel it was her friend to say goodbye

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    1. Oh, that's really lovely! What a special memory to have. Thank you for stopping by to share it. x

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  6. Thank you for writing this memorial. You (and I) were lucky to have a wonderful, kind, and imaginative grandmother.

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    1. So pleased you had a similarly wonderful grandmother. x

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  7. This is a fabulous design and a wonderful tribute post to your grandmother. My Gran died 20 years ago in January and I still think about her every day, she was the person that really loved me when I was growing up and she made me happy. Your grandmother would be thrilled by all you do in your life, it is rare we get such love in our lives. x

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    1. That's really interesting - I think maybe that's a big part of why it's so difficult to say goodbye, as I too had felt incredibly well-loved and accepted by my grandmother when I was young. So pleased you had a wonderful one too, Kay. x

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  8. Such a beautiful post, Florence. Your grandmother sounds like a wonderful person, and a powerful influence on your mind and heart :)

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  9. So sorry about your Nana, Florence. She sounds truly wonderful. I think certain deaths are 'easier' to take, but the resulting absence isn't any better for it. Dementia is so hard to deal with, too. Your design is beautiful and poignant and stunningly executed as ever. xx

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    1. Yes, I know what you mean - the grief and the space that's left behind aren't necessarily directly linked, are they.

      Thank you so much for your loveliness about my piecing. Wishing you a lovely week. x

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  10. I am always looking forward to your posts, especially this one portrays your love for your grandma so beautifully. Unfortunately I don't share such treasured moments with neither of mine, one of them passed away when I was only 6 and the other one suffered from the long effects of a a severe stroke, however I do have very fond memories of my grandfather. I am looking forward to reading all the other posts related to your Nanna....Your quilt is simply beautiful, as always.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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