13 Aug 2017


Readers of this blog may have noticed that I haven't been around for a couple of months. I've written this post by way of explanation and will then return to writing regular garden related content. 

I hadn't realised that becoming an orphan later in life could be so exhausting. Emotionally, creatively, productively.  It's something that I'm learning to come to terms with.

I wrote here of my mother's death three months ago.  After my Dad's death, fifteen months beforehand, I didn't grieve but got on with clearing and selling my parents' home on the coast (100 miles from where I live) and keeping an eye on Mum living in a care home. I watched as my mother struggled to recognise me, to talk and to eat, as a cloud of incomprehension and memory loss settled over her brain. She faded before our eyes, slipping into another world where we couldn't reach her. After her death, my brother and I liaised with solicitors, registrars, the taxman, funeral directors, printers, grave diggers, stonemasons, banks, florists, wake venues and the Naval padre (vicar), an old friend of the family who came out of retirement to conduct both funerals. The practicalities kept us busy but further loss awaited. I lost my country weekends when my Oxfordshire-based niece and her beloved family recently relocated to live in Boston USA for the foreseeable future. There has also been a family rift with one of my sisters who, until a year ago, was pretty much my oldest and best friend. Apparently it happens, when you lose your parents.

During all this time I carried on working full time, as would most people. When asked, I said it was fine, I was okay, my parents had both lived to a good age and they'd enjoyed a really good life. But was I okay? Seemingly, yes, but the bedrock of my life had shifted. There had been too much change. I was warned by a blogger friend that I was likely to hit an emotional wall and I did, but not in a visible way.  I lost the motivation to write, to garden, to exercise beyond a slow walk to the shops. I would sleep for seven hours and wake up still tired.  But still I ploughed on with life as habit dictated, except that I preferred my own company and that of the television.

In daily life I became easily irritated, insensitive to others, occasionally volubly indignant and impatient. There has been overeating and too much comfort food.  It took a while but I finally realised that I was angry, sad, vulnerable, exhausted. Angry that fate had given my parents an undignified death, sad that I was unable to do more for them, vulnerable because the emotional support they gave was gone and exhausted from suppressing all these feelings.  Those feelings were equally applicable to the rift in the family. The time had come for more, but better, change.

So last week, I retired. Which is to say that I've given up working with small children. For the past seven years I've worked as a childminder in order to be at home, to blog, to be my own housekeeper, to garden and to support my son. (Not necessarily in that order!) It was fun, creative, enlightening and exhausting. I was graded Outstanding by Ofsted so I'm bowing out at the top.  But, never say never; I might go back to it but, for now, I'm taking some time to consider what else I'd like to do. My background is creative: artist, photographer, graphic designer, illustrator. To that I'm now adding writing, workshops, training.  My body is learning to sleep beyond 6.30 am - such a novelty! - and I'm eating sensibly again. (Sometimes. What would teatime be without cake?)

My passion for gardening is on the rise once more although that's been a snakepit of problems this year. Children who live in the flats here have, for many months, been denied access to our fenced playground (a repair issue, apparently) so have taken to playing football around the veg patch. I now walk past to see what, if anything, is still standing.  Plants have been smashed or crushed, fences toppled, pots broken, gates left open for urban wildlife to creep in and fruit stolen - not a scenario which is conducive to spending more time on growing things.

Things are not going well at the shared allotment either. At every visit I spend hours weeding because I happen to think a well-kept plot is important. The other two women who are supposed to be helping don't believe in weeding - ever.  I've asked, the plot holder has asked, but to no avail. Their stand-off was tolerated as one of them said that what they grew was for everyone. Then I picked one of their cucumbers and the other one sent a terse text saying they don't want to share and I wasn't to pick 'their' produce.  I took a deep breath, said nothing and stopped going for a few weeks. It was a development that added to my downward spiral. Last week, during my newly freed up days, I went back as I remembered that I have pumpkins, squashes, carrots, leeks, beetroot, sweet corn, tomatoes, flowers and cape gooseberries (groundcherries) growing there. I restricted myself to weeding around my crops only - a bit mean-spirited perhaps but a step on the path to self-realisation and improvement.

It's still early days, I still miss my parents and feel sad, but I feel some of the weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Giving up the daily grind will do that for you. I'm quietly optimistic about exploring new possibilities and will be writing here more regularly. My apologies to readers who have looked for posts and not found any; and my thanks to those readers that have stuck with me. I've  missed being part of this community.  I have a lot of catching up to do but I'm back - and I hope my readers will be too.


  1. I am so very sorry for the struggles that you have gone through, Caro. I am not necessarily in the same situation but I fear that I am close. My father passed away in December and my mom, while still doing very well, is always on my mind. Being in her 80's I am constantly fearful that something will happen, either suddenly or through a diagnosis. I have not yet learned how to set those fears aside and simply live in the day, so to speak.

    Grieving is a process and you have allowed yourself to probe it's depths. I am hopeful that you are on your way back to the surface, to the sunshine.

    And on those ladies at the allotment - I think that you should in no way feel mean-spirited in not weeding their area. They have made it abundantly clear that theirs is not a team effort and leaving them (and their area) to their own devices is the nicest thing you can do - perhaps it will teach them a life lesson, both in terms of gardening and teamwork.

  2. Change is inevitable, and it sounds like you've done a fanstastic job staying afloat during some very difficult times. And now that there's some breathing space, you've given yourself time to rediscover what's important to you, and your direction for the future. I think that's wonderful, and I wish you all the best.

  3. I'm so sorry for your losses, and even more for the fallout. Grief is a mysterious and confusing maze, and finding that you are also losing control of your beautiful community gardens and your allotment share is getting fraught is the icing on a very unpleasant cake. I'm so impressed - and glad - that you are beginning to navigate your way forward. Plus one for not feeling mean spirited about only weeding your own patch. Only you can truly look after you, and finding your way back to yourself and your creativity is exciting and positive. My own garden is more millstone than delight and inspiration right now, but I'm taking baby steps towards changing that for the better. Sending you warmth and best wishes for your new adventures xxx

  4. This thing about being an adult orphan . . . it's something I feel strongly about and have only once, before now, come across it being mentioned in this way. 'Orphan' is the right word. And for older adults there's the added weight of suddenly being at the top of the generations - the one to be looked to rather than looked after. And everyone needs to be looked after in some kind of way. I've met really elderly people who still miss their mothers (it's their mothers they've mentioned) and wish they had them there beside them in times of trouble. Overall, I don't think bereavement is taken anywhere near seriously enough. The fuss we make when a baby is born - yet we are expected to shrug it off if an elderly person dies. There's much said about the kinds of funerals people have and all sorts of things about how we mark death in a formal kind of way and the degree to which we should do so. But this stuff of how deep the pain goes - given how many people are going through this every day it's extraordinary, appalling, that it isn't given automatic recognition. I'm glad you wrote this post.

    (And although in the circumstances it's a bit trivial to say so - but I like the picture of the poppy seed case very much.)

    And why does the council or whoever think it's important enough to build a playground but that the playground is not important enough (nor the children important enough) that different provision is looked for when it is closed.
    It's another example of patchy thinking.
    Best wishes.

  5. So sorry that you have been through such a hard time. Sharing an allotment or garden can be tricky- you really do need to be on the same wavelength. It's a bit like the mistake of going on holiday with friends who don't share your ideas of a holiday. I hope that your rift with your sister is rescuable. I must admit the losing our parents has made my sister and cling to one another more tightly

  6. Caro, I'm so sorry you've been through so much, it is not surprising it has affected you. I agree with Sue, sharing an allotment is a difficult thing, one person is often likely to be left with all the less desirable jobs. I hope that you are able to find the right path for yourself now and adjust to the changes in your life. You have had a lot to deal with, be kind to yourself and take it a bit easy if you can. Sending you a cyber hug. CJ xx

  7. So much you say here resonates as you know from our conversation last week Caro. I hope the rift with your sister heals with time, it sounds like it's a product of you both dealing with and reacting to a horrible situation in different ways.

    Things will get better with time and it sounds like retirement will give you some space to come to terms with it all.

    Don't worry about any blog absences, take your time and come back when you're ready xxx

  8. I was glad to read your blog and am glad you wrote it. This is such a universal subject and I can only wish you all the best for the future. I look forward to reading more when you are ready. Let's remember that this blog writing is meant to be fun and not a chore, ever. Best wishe, Julie at londoncottagegarden.com

  9. Caro, thanks for a lovely post. I think your sentiments are some that many of us can appreciate and empathise with. It sounds like your fog is lifting, allowing your much-loved soothing techniques to find their way back into your life. One day at a time, and hopefully your world finds it new rhythm. x

  10. I am so very sorry for your heart ache with the loss of both of your parents. I have missed your post and I am so very glad you are taking care of yourself. It is a huge step!!! My prays will be with you in the next steps of your life. Belinda jax, fl

  11. Thanks for this heartfelt post and my sympathies, I hope that life gets back on track for you soon. xx

  12. Oh Caro you have put into words so eloquently some of the emotions that I've been feeling over the last few months. Becoming an orphan later in life is as you say an exhausting experience in so many ways. I'm so glad to hear that you have given yourself some breathing space and wish you all the very best. I hope that the rift with your sister can be mended as that situation must be particularly painful for you both.
    A dedicated playground that children can't access is a nonsense. You can understand them kicking the ball elsewhere but it must be most frustrating for your garden plans. When their veggies are struggling to see the light of day the non-weeders will be converted but until then just keep weeding your own patch without any qualms of conscience. Maybe those missed weekends in the countryside could morph into a holiday in Boston sometime in the next few months when you are feeling stronger and more energetic? Take care xxx

  13. I get you so completely, grieving, feeling guilty, tired of it all, exhausted afterwards....give yourself a break, life aint easy,you are coping brilliantly and honestly....I'm still in that mode after my beautiful sister died, can't quite get mt head around it ...take time to look after you.....all my love.xxxxxx

  14. It must have been so difficult for you with your parents dying quite close together. My Dad out lived my Mum by 1O years and that was still hard. I'm sure that the big decision to retire and spend more time being more creative and following your passions will help you to feel better and inspire you follow new paths. Sarah x

  15. Hugs to you, Caro. Lovely to see you back here. A & S x

  16. Hello Caro,
    I so sorry to hear that and you have been through such a hard time.
    I am also a gardener and mother of two children, I've followed your blog and found out lots of useful information here.
    Thank you so much.

  17. Welcome back. Take time and look after yourself, then you'll be able to take care of other things. I too had the experience of a falling out with a close friend recently - she fell out with me - and I am mourning the loss of a nearly 40 year friendship. I'm investing lots of time in my garden and meeting up with gardening friends regularly. It brings much enjoyment.

  18. Gardening gives you self satisfaction and has greater impact on the environment with this one can contribute to the nature. Maintaining a garden needs tools as well for cutting and trimming the grass.Planning, planting and watching your own garden grow can fill a person with satisfaction and pride.

  19. Hi.

    I too had a close family member (Grandma) that died via dementia. Seeing her forgetting peoples names, unable to go to the toilet because she didn't know how and lashed out because she was scared (Not an aggressive person in anyway). Forgetting to drink regularly because her brain no longer told her she was thirsty or hungry and her not being able to remember to pick up a glass long enough to have a drink.

    Moving on, good luck on the blog and best wishes for the future. Will come back in the future.

    Good luck

  20. Great to hear from you again, I dont often comment on blogs, I enjoy reading and keeping up to date with them, but I though I would pop a comment on saying welcome back to posting on the blog and hopefully we can read your great articles more frequently once again. Thanks and welcome back!

  21. I know in some part how you feel, seeing my mum go through the same and with my other half's grandmother living another life through her alzheimers. It's a long road to deal with loss isn't it, but recognising the small good things in everyday life helps us to move forward and as you say, feel the weight on our shoulders lessen. Best of luck (and don't feel mean spirited!)

  22. I have just come in from celebrating a birthday and was flicking through lord knows what and this post of yours came up. It's the first time I have seen it and it made me weep. Life can be hard and often appears unfair but you are right to take a break and then to embrace the challenge. Great to hear that you are feeling stronger and ready to make life work again for you.


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