Saturday, 21 May 2011


I have travelled to many great countries, made wonderful friends and pretty much put down roots which keep special people and places forever in my heart. But, Scotland has always brought me home and here, there has seemed to be various homes - East Lothian where my mum's family came from, Edinburgh where I grew up and Kinlochbervie and Durness in the Highlands where my family holidayed. Yet, when it comes time to pack up a house, then you see: "home is where your parents house is." This I realised when, I moved to Inverness to accept a new job (168miles away). Moving to a most beautiful house - everything looked new and exciting but going forward was to stretch my ties to 'home'. As I prepared to leave, mum was determined not to be upset in front of me and said "I am so happy for you, so pleased for you to realise your dreams and we can talk on the phone, you'll visit when you can but oh, I will miss your smile!... So, with this in my mind, I took and printed off a life size photo of my smile (wrinkles and all!). A picture mum loved and one she kept beside her chair in the living room. A photo which also (at times) went with her through to the front room, where she liked to have a cigarette (in peace as we hated her smoking), and there, she'd look out to sea with her thoughts.

Mum at home, preparing to wave me goodbye
and, after Inverness, a safe return back to Edinburgh

2011, and thinking of her smile today, I looked out some photos such as this one. A photograph I took of her some years later, when she stood outside her home - ready to wave goodbye to me in May 2006 as I set out for Inverness for the last time. Planning to return to my house in Edinburgh (keen to get 'home' as, behind mum's smile, I thought I saw 'something' telling me that something was 'wrong'....)

Photographs, so very important - their content capable of messages which can convey to us so much more than our words ever can.

Mum celebrating her 80th birthday in May 2006
- on an adventure with me as we began "People of the Sea"

By Autumn 2006, I needed a new smile for my mum - a smile to try and match the needs of a worsening situation. Ever with her cheery disposition, mum would have us laughing but there was a marked change in her health and I believed she was preparing for something very bad ahead. Possessing remarkable faith, mum drew on her religion to keep her spirits up as again and again we'd take her in to hospital. We believed pains she was experiencing were a symptom of something being very wrong but doctors were reluctant to agree, the doctors told us we were all just worrying needlessly.

At eighty, mum was told to expect discomfort with old age but she was not a woman to complain so finally, after being repeatedly sent home from Edinburgh's main A & E, we took her to the Western General who kept her in. They wanted to conduct an operation to see what was going on. There were mixed emotions - finally we would have answers to our questions but also, of course, we were so very scared. Many jokes were shared to try and ease the tension!  Indeed, there is nothing like a hospital ward to see laughter as Nature's medecine for our darkest hours. Black humour can appear shocking to those outwith a situation but for those going through it - laughter REALLY helps! And, once in hospital, events with my mum's illness increased at an absolute mind numbing speed.

Sharing a smile in difficult times - the last photo I took of me and mum,
squeezed together so I could stretch my arm out and photograph us both

On the Sunday my mum had been sent away from A & E, on the Wednesday terminal cancer was diagnosed (and just 65 days were to follow). Told that her remaining time would be short mum's reaction was to radiate a degree of strength I had never seen before and, in her final days, she consistently chose laughter over tears. Back home, she asked me to sing to her but that first time, when I thought she had fallen asleep, my voice broke and I couldn't finish the song. Her eyes flashed opened and she asked "Are you crying?" "Yes" I said "mum, this is really hard" She replied in the strongest tone "It's a bloody site harder where I'm sitting! There'll be time enough for tears but for now, time is far too precious and you must BE STRONG".

That night when I went home I got out my camera and I practised a smile - a smile which would reflect the strength my mum was showing to me so that, in turn, I could do my part to let her leave this world as she wanted to. Mum explained she had felt scared and unable to cope when her mother fell ill but as she said to me "it's the way of the world and you will find the strength you need to help you get through just as everyone else has to do when this time arrives".... (and that was true) Yes, I did go out to a book shop to try and find a book, something I could read which would help me find a way to get through that time, something to help me but, in the end I found that I could actually be my greatest help. Just by taking one day at a time the difficult days would pass and eventually sunshine would return.  I knew I had seen my mum grieve for her mother but, before granny passed on, I had seen mum fight not to let her own sadness spill through in to granny's last days - so too then for me, I knew I had to try and be as strong. AND I am no different from anyone else - the strength comes to us to tackle things we would think we can not endure. And for me, my challenge began with a smile on my face for my mum when my heart was so heavy inside.

Granny & Granda with Venture
Granny and granda, gone by the time I was 17, mum gone five years ago, my dad (in his 90th year) now lost to dementia. Our culture can shy away from talking about such things but death is as much a part of life as birth. And, as my mum said to me "it's not that death should be feared so much that some will reach that final chapter without ever having really lived". So for me, when I reflect on those gone, yes, I can shed a tear but more often I smile. I remember the good times, I prefer to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before.

I choose to smile, I smile because life is precious and by creating your own sunshine - it may not brown the skin but it sure can warm the heart. A smile is like sunshine, from and for the heart!

Thinking of my mum's smile, I remembered her laughing and singing with her mother. I also recalled my granda' singing to granny her favourite song "The sunshine of your smile!" I found myself smiling as I recalled it and the two of them laughing. How granny would say "Oh Billy be quiet" when he would sing to her - but smiling with a pride which told him she loved the song and him singing it. My mum in turn, after granny and granda' were gone, how she would sing the song recalling her parents and then today, me with the same song thinking of her.  Yes, we can be sad when those we have loved are gone but we can also be so very glad that we have known them and they have shared these special times with us to enrich our lives. In addition, how special it is for us to know, that those who have greatly touched our lives, they still live on with us in our hearts, our thoughts, our memories. True love is a bond that forever endures until, as in the words of the song,  life itself is gone.

It seems to me that the power of a smile is something really remarkable, its value is never to be underestimated. Indeed, my philosophy for life being :-D SMILE and pass it on. Life can never run smoothly but when we understand that, we can actively seek to make life better. Positive thinking, it's all in the mind and something as simple and as beautiful as a smile is something that we all can benefit from. As my mum so often said "I pass this way but once, any good I can do then let me for, I may not pass this way again."

The Value of a Smile (anon)

A smile costs nothing but creates much.
It enriches those who receive without
impoverishing those who give.

It happens in a flash and the memory
of a smile can last a lifetime.

None are so rich that they can
get along without a smile and,
none are not so poor,
that they cannot afford a smile.

Yet, a smile from the heart cannot
be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen.
For a smile is of no earthly good until
it is given away

And if ever it happens that some
are people too tired to give you a smile
- then why wait for them but give them
a smile left from you to them

For no one needs a smile so much
as those who have none left to give

:-D SMILE and pass it on!

I was previously asked by a Cancer Charity to share my experience of losing my mum. However, some things can only be shared when the time seems right. Five years on (and very happy in my life) I chose to share this story today because at some point, someone may be faced with a difficult situation, as I was when I looked for information from others to help me. Yet, until that time comes, we really don't know just what we are capable of and how strong we can be. Therefore, I would hope that what I have written proves a comfort in some way to another. In life we all have to pass through difficult times and now it always helps me to remember the phrase "and this too shall pass".  The phrase applies equally to good and bad, saying that we should both find comfort from the fact that our troubles will end just as our good times should fully be enjoyed whilst they visit. Time is indeed so precious, we need to live life to the full and of course, those we have loved would never wish us to be sad but let our pain go so we can reach out and embrace our life - Carpe Diem (Seize the Day!)

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