Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Worst Day

I’m not sure which is the worst day: learning that the person you love most in the world has passed away, or the ceremony of reducing their body to ash. Both are very traumatic events. The fact that they invariably occur within close proximity to each other is particularly bastardly.

I was one of the pallbearers at my Mum’s funeral, this morning. I had to stoop a little because the other three were a bit Hobbity in comparison to my height of 6’4”. I met my siblings at a hotel for breakfast and my hands were shaking, then, when I was trying to sip from the coffee cup…  and a couple of hours later, I was entrusted with my Mum’s coffin. I think the mild panic of not wanting to drop it distracted my mind from the realisation that I was carrying a coffin with my Mum’s body in it.

It was a bitterly cold morning with flecks of snow thrown around in the wind, refusing to settle on the ground. It’s been like this for days. It seems reflective of the bite of loss in my heart, though I’m warmed and strengthened by the same love that makes this loss so terrible.

The service was really lovely, as these things go. There were quite a few people from the village, and, otherwise, close family and friends, but it was a small affair. Most of my Mum’s family is from Birkenhead – some 120 miles away – so we’re having a larger memorial service there in a couple of weeks.

After the minister had read some wonderful, inspiring and funny words from my eldest brother, Paul, my Dad got up and spoke. Immediately, his voice broke, but he pushed on through his short tribute, sobbing and wiping away tears. They had been separated for around thirty years and I understood today that he’d always loved her.

I wimped out on reading the eulogy I’d written for my Mum, with another of my brothers, Steve, taking on the task instead. He spent around thirty years with the Army and he’s one of the toughest guys I know, but I think standing there today and reading it was one of the most difficult things he’s ever done.  

This is what I wrote for her:

“The last words my Mum spoke to me - almost inaudible, but so familiar - were: “I love you.”

Stephen wasn’t so lucky. Mum’s last words to him were: “Tell Paul to put the chicken pie in the oven.”

She had been in hospital for over two months.

There was no chicken pie.

She was on morphine.

Paul was comforted on another occasion when Mum said she could see her late brothers - our uncles, Dessie and Bernard, I think it was - standing at the foot of her hospital bed, but that comfort was quickly torn away when she said:

“But they’re not here for me, they’re here for you!”

It was almost a relief that Paul hadn’t made a surprise departure of his own before she passed away, and that we know she hadn’t been making prophecies, or we’d all be wondering, now, what the true relevance of the chicken pie was.

Mum and Dad celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in January. For most of those 50 years, they were very happily married, due to the fact they separated three decades ago, but never got round to divorcing. And it helped that they lived at opposite ends of the country and barely spoke to one another.

Although they may not have been a match made in heaven, their union brought five children and, so far, five grandchildren into the world, and I know Mum felt blessed by us all, as we felt and feel blessed by her.

Amongst my first memories of her were of ‘Magical Mummy Fibs’, the majority of which, I learnt in later life, were advanced psychological tactics for deployment exclusively against small children, in order to manipulate them into giving their mother just a little bit of peace in their day.

These included the Sweet Fairy, who would leave Curley Wurleys and such under the pillows of her bed, and we could only have them on the condition that we lay down and napped for half an hour or so.

I also remember her telling me that Brotherhood of Man’s Eurovision winner – ‘Save All Your Kisses For Me’ – was written about me. I was only two at the time and she would kiss me all over my face when she told me. It’s one of the cheesiest pop songs ever recorded, but whenever I listen to it, part of me is drawn back to those halcyon days of childhood where there wasn’t a care in the world.

It is tough to comprehend that we’ll never see her again; that no more will we hear her voice or listen to her laughter; we can’t call her; we won’t be able to hold her tightly in our arms one last time and let her know how much she is loved…

I feared, for many years, that Mum’s passing would be the single most devastating event in my life and that I’d struggle to carry on without her.

Now that awful time has come, and through the sustained period of limbo between her leaving us and her funeral, the greatest solace has come from the legacy of love she left us – and we were truly loved.

We were not a financially wealthy family and we went through some extremely tough times, but what we were never starved of was love. We always knew just how much Mum loved us, and she always knew just how much we loved her.

I always thought that losing Mum meant losing her love, but I realise, now, that the love is never going to go away and it’s as greatly cherished as when she was here with us.

Sure, the past week or so has been tough on all of us - as have the two and a half months previous, when she was ill in hospital - but as much as I understand and have come to terms with the truth that she’s physically gone from this world, forever, what’s also true is that her spirit has not. It endures, within us and around us. It really is like she’s just gone into another room. There has been no disconnection of that bond of affection we’ve always felt with her.

There may be the sadness and fear of grief in our minds, but our hearts are still packed full of that love she radiated for all the years we were fortunate enough to have her with us.

When she was frail and her mental faculties began to decline, out of the blue, she dictated a text message to Paul, to send to me. It read:

“Forgive yourself as we forgive you. I love everyone in the world. I hope God loves everyone even half as much as I do.”

Yes, she was on morphine… but…

Our Mum was an angel of a woman; a gift to all of us here – such a special and beautiful soul to have graced our lives…

So, I hope, rather than mourn her loss, today, we can all celebrate her life and remember the great things about her, of which there were many.

Thank you all for coming here today. Your love is a great strength, too.”

I simply couldn’t have read that out loud, in front of all those people. It was hard enough to hear the words in my own head when I wrote them. Also, funeral crying works faster than a zombie virus and I didn’t want to be the one to start that particular apocalypse…

Steve stumbled through the words, at times… fighting back tears… later telling me it was because I’d used too many big words. He did what I couldn’t, though, and for that I’m so grateful.

My sister was inconsolable, bless her beautiful heart. She was sobbing so hard when the minister delivered the committal and the curtain closed around my Mum’s coffin. We all remained British and kept to our seats, when I know that everyone in the room – myself included, of course – wanted to go over and wrap our arms around her. She had her own sons beside her, though, and we knew they were looking after her as well as we could hope to.

We children of Brenda Veronica Floyd lined up, shook hands and hugged those who had attended the ceremony, then the close family went to a pub in Carlisle to reminisce and contemplate life without her.

I know what I’m experiencing isn’t unique to the world, but it’s unique to me. I have been offered so many comforting words from others, relating to the passing of their own parents and family, and I have now learnt through experience a more acute sense of empathy with the countless other souls on the planet who have faced this greatest loss.

Present awareness has saved me. I know that the ‘old me’ would be wanting a rope right now… and not because he’d just read 50 Shades of Grey.

Instead, I want to do more with my life, in tribute to the woman who gifted me this whole Universe and made it my playground.

I want to thank everyone for their inspiring kindness and comforting words.

Life does go on… love does go on…

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

RIP Brenda Floyd, My Mum

When my oldest brother woke me on Sunday morning, around half past six, with the news that my Mum had passed away, I think the first thing I felt was relief that the suffering I’d witnessed over the previous week had ended.

We knew it was going to happen. She’d been almost entirely unresponsive and had barely taken in any nourishment for that same period, and it was decided on Saturday that the kindest thing we could do was agree to let her go, so her saline and antibiotic drips were stopped and her painkillers were increased, to make her as comfortable as possible.

I am the youngest of her five children. She often called me her baby, despite the fact – at 6’4” – I’m the tallest (and, currently, broadest) of all my siblings. None of us wanted her to leave us, but that awful fear was outweighed by love and the desire to do the right thing by her.

No matter, though, how much we’d braced ourselves for the inevitable, there was still a sense of icy shock when it happened… like the involuntary gasp made when plunging into cold water.

I got dressed and went downstairs. With life framed in a surreal daze, I spoke with my two brothers who live here, at my Mum’s house in Carlisle, in quiet tones, getting a grasp of the situation.

My sister and another brother were staying at a hotel in the city, having travelled up the previous day to see Mum, and they were already on their way to the hospital.

I was set to get in the car with my other brothers and head there, too, but I really didn’t want to. I asked them if I could stay at home and they totally understood.

It’s not a decision I regret. My Mum used to tell me that, once a person had passed, their body isn’t the person any longer… it’s just a shell… and I preferred to remember her as the vibrant soul she was, rather than an inanimate remnant lying in a hospital bed.

When they all returned, a few hours later, we hugged and talked, reminisced and even laughed at times. We had all been blessed by her magical love, and that was and remains such a great strength in these dark days we’re stumbling through.

Later, after my visiting sister and brother had left, my ex, Shirley, dropped by. We broke up in the middle of last week, but we’re still great friends. She’d journeyed up from London to attend a funeral, in Newcastle, of another of her exes, and she made a detour to Carlisle (on the opposite coast) to drop off my things.

We went for a sandwich and a coffee in the bar of a hotel in the next village, then I took her to one of my childhood playgrounds; the River Eden, which is (at least, when it’s not in raging flood) as tranquil a place as the name suggests. We hugged, held hands and sighed a lot, strolling without urgency along the banks of the river.

Breakups are often traumatic affairs, but Shirley is a blessing and she helped me so much on Sunday, despite dealing with her own sadness.

It was a surreal day, in all… and I did break and sob my heart out later in the evening… but the sense of loss wasn’t close to as violent as I may have feared, in all the years of fearing the coming of that day.

Although I’ve been fluctuating and feeling somewhat numb, I’m coping far better than I imagined I would. There are two reasons for this: the first is that I’ve been able to practice what I preach and invoke the power of present awareness, and the second is down to the fact, in the middle of all this heartache, the love that my Mum blessed my siblings and I with is still mighty and unwavering, despite her physical passing.

The awful truth of losing her presence hasn’t at all resulted in the feeling that we’ve lost her love. It has given us all a great strength of endurance, and I feel sure – as many people have suggested on Twitter and Facebook – that this love will reassure and bolster me in all my days to come.

My Mum was born Brenda Wise in 1939, months before the outbreak of World War II. She was actually bombed out of her home as a child, after a neighbouring house was hit in a German air raid. Birkenhead, just across the River Mersey from Liverpool, was one of the main shipbuilding ports in the UK, so was a regular target of Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

The youngest of an astonishing nine children, she lost her own mother to cancer when she was just seven-years-old and was then brought up by her oldest sister, Betty, and her husband, Bill – the parents of one of Canada’s most celebrated comedians, Roger Abbott, who passed away in 2011. Along with Roger’s older sister, Jacki, the three of them lived like siblings, and my Mum was actually due to emigrate to Canada with them all, in the early 1950s, but decided, at almost literally the last moment, that she wanted to stay with her brothers, sisters and Dad.

It was a decision that eventually gifted me this Universe I’m experiencing. Her life and fortunes would have been so different if she’d got on that boat. The ‘Canadian’ branch of the family are all very well off and my Auntie Betty is still alive and kicking, just a few years from her centenary.

Instead, my Mum remained in post-war Britain, with all its sacrifice and suffering, and got locked into the working-class life of hard graft and having little, living hand-to-mouth, which is something she never really escaped from.

She met my Dad, Peter Floyd, in the early 1960s and ‘naivety’ led to the impending birth of my sister, so a shotgun wedding being the order of the day, they got married not long after. (It was actually their 50th wedding anniversary in February, just gone, though they separated – never getting round to an actual divorce – around 30 years ago. We chuckled about it, suggesting they get back together, to which my Mum replied: “Sod off!”)

A series of unfortunate malfunctions in contraceptive measures led to the birth of my other three siblings, before the family moved from Birkenhead to Carlisle, after my Dad found a job at the newly-opened Pirelli tyre factory in the city, in 1970… the year my closest brother was born.

I was born in 1974. She was on the pill at the time and though the family was already suffering from financial hardship, it wasn’t an option that I be denied life.

As I grew up, I remember my Mum telling me, on occasion, that she went to a very well-known psychic medium in the city called Mrs Cummings, and she said that I had been born ‘for a reason’. My Mum joked that this reason was to test her, but I know I did, too many times.

We were the poor family on the estate. My Dad drifted in and out of jobs and was unemployed for a long time. We’d just witnessed ‘The Winter of Discontent’ in the UK, and there was another major recession at the turn of the ‘80s. Although I can’t remember it myself, my siblings recall a time where we lived off potatoes and chives that were grown in the back garden of the house I’m writing in, now.

But although we may have been financially challenged, we were never poor in regard to the love we received, and the primary source of this love was my Mum.

My Dad left when I was eight or so and I only saw him on a handful of occasions after that, over the next decade, but my Mum’s strength and support was constant and unwavering.

A single parent, she got a job at a biscuit factory in Carlisle, then, later, a sweet factory, working absurdly long hours just to make ends meet, put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. She would often work seven days a week, waking at 6am each morning and – during the week days – not returning home until 9pm in the evening. It would be a 12:30pm finish on a Saturday, and 4:30pm on a Sunday. Often, she’d work months without a single day off.

It was about then that I started showing symptoms of being a ‘problem child’. In my early teens, I began truanting from school. I would go up to our local shop and get things on credit… essentially stealing from my Mum, because I knew that she’d have to pay the bill… and I’d gorge myself on sweets and cakes, feeling utterly miserable and ashamed of myself. By the age of 14, I was 22 ½ stone (315lb/143kg). I was very tall back then, but still disproportionately fat. I used to feel like a cuckoo’s chick that had been left in a wren’s nest, working the poor mother wren to despair, trying to feed the monster that she’d taken charge of.

As my teens passed and I moved into my 20s, I repeatedly ended up back at home, locked in a repeat-cycle of depression. I drank too much, I half-heartedly attempted suicide on numerous occasions, then made more serious efforts in my late 20s, but somehow managed to stay alive.

As frustrating and heart-breaking and down-right annoying it must have been for her, to see me go through that spiral of self-hatred over and over again, she never gave up on me. Although she would have been completely justified in kicking me out and turning her back on me, she never did.

I was not a good son, but despite my failures, I was a loved son, and it’s that knowing which helps me so much, in these dark days.

In recent years, things became much better. After my awakening, she watched her baby boy grow into something different; she was so relieved to see me living my life outside the shadow of depression, achieving things that may have seemed impossible in the years before…

I had hoped that she’d have been around long enough for me to really take care of her, to build a level of success that would enable me to reward all those years of tireless love and patience with a more comfortable life in her retirement, but, sadly, it didn’t work out that way.

This is where my awakening – and the gift of the ability to practice present awareness – has been such a saving grace, because although I could dredge my memories and come up with a thousand reasons to emotionally damage or even physically destroy myself, in the midst of this grief, I know that I would just be reacting to the egoic mind’s compulsion for suffering.

The past is gone and I cannot change that, so losing myself by wishing I could is futile and counter-productive to what I know my Mum would have wanted, which is for me to be happy.

The future, too, could be a source of the most agonising pain, torturing myself by trying to visualise all the years ahead without her.

So, here I am, in the now… selecting the best memories and cherishing them, rather than feeling compelled to take the worst and crush myself under what would be their inescapable gravity.

Last month, while sitting with my Mum in hospital, my brother sent me a text, passing on this message from her:

“Forgive yourself, as we forgive you. I love everyone in the world. I hope God loves everyone even half as much as I do.”

Fairplay, she was whacked-up on morphine at the time and may have turned into a bit of a hippy in her twilight days, but I’ll always remember these beautiful, poignant words.

I was gifted life through the love of this angel woman, my Mum. Perhaps, as that medium said long ago, I am here for a reason, and though the days, weeks and months ahead may be painful at times, I know that I will continue to thrive and build my new life, without her, so I can explore what use I can be to the world.

I will miss her, but I will not miss her love, because the love is still here, in me.

(P.S. If anyone has the will and ability to contribute to my ‘fighting fund’… I need carpets and somewhere to hang my clothes! Donations would be most welcome through PayPal, at ‘’. Anything would be greatly appreciated.)

Friday, 15 March 2013

Stop. Look. Listen.

I’ve been reminded once again, over the past few days, just how powerful a tool the practice of present awareness is, and how much strength can be drawn from anchoring ourselves in the moment.

Facing up to the impending loss of a dearly loved parent is no trivial life event – it’s up there with the very worst - yet, somehow, I’m doing what I would have considered impossible just a few years ago… I’m coping with it, and I’m coping well.

Sure, there are a few jitters and my mind does wander, but I’m able to check that mental process, draw myself out of thought and back into the present, and there really is no emotional pain in the present moment, even amidst such seemingly harrowing circumstances.

Unconsciously succumbing to the lure of the egoic mind would have me fall into a pit of agony that would be so difficult to scramble out of… if I made it out at all. If I wanted to make it out at all.

Staying present allows me to reject this pain and see it for what it is: useless.

If I were to bang my fists, stamp my feet, pull my hair out (okay, maybe that’s not an option), wail until my eyes bled or cut my wrists, just what good would it do anyone?

It’s not going to change the fact that my Mum is close to death.

It’s not going to be a comfort to my siblings.

It’s not going to help me work towards tackling the challenges I’ll have to face in the weeks and months ahead.

I’m certainly not going to beat myself up if I lapse into a trance of sadness or if I shed tears (which, of course, I do from time to time), but allowing the tortuous ego to overwhelm my being is not an option… not any more.

The Awakening I experienced in February 2010 has, at the very least, prevented me from the most excruciating suffering of this time I’m going through… and it may well have saved my life.

Instead of collapsing into an irreversible and crushing depression, as I would have predicted to happen if you’d asked me in January 2010 about the prospect of losing my Mum, I’m becoming stronger.

My comfort zone is being ripped down and rather than taking the drastic step of forcing myself into a purchase of agricultural property, I’m already laying the foundations of something new which will harbour and sustain me for years to come.

This is the power of present awareness – an energy of positive creativity, rather than destructive negativity, that you too have access to.

It is not a superpower possessed by the few or some secret skill taught to a select sect of the deserving, nor is it the ultimate prize gained only after decades in pursuit of spiritual understanding; it’s a gift to all people, ready and waiting for them to discover it inside themselves.

Imagine a life free from guilt and regret?

Not in a callous way, where you stomp through all your born days with complete disregard for the feelings of others, but in the sense of having the insight to know that what’s done is done and can’t be changed, no matter how much you hurt yourself wishing it could.

A life without fear? Being able to recognise and let go of the thoughts in your head that cripple and cloud your true consciousness, blighting your happiness and dragging you outside your inherent state of peace, but which do you and everyone else absolutely no good at all?

The truth is that you can have that, right now, yet there are still countless millions, even billions of people across this planet who just can’t see it, and that’s why, when you watch the news, there’s so much chaos and suffering in the world.

We are a microcosm of the macrocosm.

As within, so without.

But beneath the cacophonic clatter of egoic thought in our own minds, and behind the bluster and blare of global drama, there’s the peace of true, tranquil consciousness that has no interest in or use for prolonging strife and hardship.

I’m fortunate to know that peace, within, which will allow me to grow when I would otherwise have been stagnating in deep suffering, but I’m not unique in being able to harness the energy of this awareness.

I’m not special.

Or perhaps I am… but so, then, is everyone else.

And for the love of God, Allah, Jehovah, the Universe, the Great Spaghetti Monster or Darwin’s Monkeys, if your parents are alive and you haven’t spoken to them in a while, give them a call and tell them you love them.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Facing My Greatest Fear

My Mum is gravely ill and it won’t be long before I, and my siblings, and our wider family,  and all her friends, lose her from our lives.

The truth is, she’s already gone… her body remains, but she has fallen into a long and restful sleep. This has been difficult to come to terms with.

She is loved and we have all been blessed by her love.

Her passing has always, throughout my life, been my greatest fear… and those days of perceived incomprehensible terror have arrived.

I have to admit that the past few months have - with the deterioration of her physical health and cognitive function - thrown me into a state of incredulous confusion, but clarity returned in the early hours of this morning and I am no longer afraid.

I broke up with my girlfriend, yesterday, and the culmination of all this chaos had me, last night, seriously consider whether it was worth sticking around at all. I couldn’t imagine a future after so much loss. There are many challenges to come, including the possibility of homelessness and abject poverty, and the dark imaginings of the mind were clouding my consciousness.

My Mum brought me into this world and, through my ‘depressive’ years, saved me so many times, when many other parents would have kicked me out and turned their backs on me.

What an insult it would be, then, after all that love and saintly patience, if I were to transmute the positive energy she gifted me into something dark and negative, which I would use as fuel to compel myself to a miserable ending.

Although there will be those who say I’m wrong or uncaring, when the time comes, I’m not going to grieve her physical passing… I’m going to celebrate her by living my life the best I can; by growing stronger and making sure that the gift she gave me is treasured and put to the best use I can find for it.