Isn’t it interesting, the way something that you see and hardly notice at the time, can be a visual trigger for a cascade of memories?
During a recent Zoom meeting, I noted that one of the participants had a large bird cage in the background which I think contained a cockatiel, though I didn’t pay much attention. Afterwards though,the visual prompt took me back down the years to childhood.
My dad’s friend, Tom, and his wife Jessie, lived in the Midlands They’d met when they were in the Army together. Every so often we would be invited to stay for the weekend. Dad, who was a bit of a speed freak, did his best to beat his own personal best time up the (then new) M1, so we always arrived somewhat frazzled. I always felt I got one over on my brother Peter. Due to my propensity to car sickness I was allowed to sit in the front. Just imagine, the car had a full width bench seat, with no seat belts! – but to be fair, there were far fewer vehicles on the road.
Uncle Tom and Auntie Jessie lived in a pin-neat bungalow, but the suburban appearance of the outside belied the interior. The kitchen was dominated by a large cage, in which resided a colourful (in language as well as plumage) Macaw parrot, rather splendid in her bright feathers. Beady of eye and sharp of beak, Polly definitely ruled the roost, and there were frequent instances when she became so loud and unruly that a cloth had to be thrown over the cage to keep her quiet. Uncle Tom thought it was a treat for we children, to have Polly alight on our gauntleted hands, but I never enjoyed it very much. Polly looked to have a steely glint in her eye that might presage a peck and I was glad to hand her back.
Uncle Tom’s garden was a sight to behold. The typical suburban lawn of the time had been given over to a series of interconnecting ponds. These were linked by bridges and pathways and at their side sat fishing gnomes, ornaments, and even a small-scale wooden windmill, complete with motorised sails, that had been imported from Amsterdam. Goldfish shimmered in the water by day and we couldn’t wait for dusk to fall so that we could enjoy the magical splendour of the lights glittering and flickering around the garden. We clamoured to be the one chosen to flip on the switch.
Uncle Tom had also installed a shiny, mirror backed bar in his lounge. It was of its time, (the 1960s) containing tipples such as Babycham, then considered a drink for ‘the ladies’, Tizer for the children and an ice bucket shaped like a pineapple. Peter and I were strictly forbidden to go anywhere near the brightly lit edifice which of course attracted us like a magnet!
Even the resident dogs were colourful characters, being a pair of portly Pekingese, who were inclined to take a fit at the least provocation. They frightened the life out of me when they began writhing and frothing but seemingly took no ill effect and responded quickly to Jessie’s calming words.
When I was a bit older, I began to understand Tom and Jessie’s desire to surround themselves with glitter, colour and anything that diverted them from the everyday mundane. My parents held low-voiced conversations about them on our return journeys and one day, mum told me that Jessie had a series of miscarriages and eventually had to have a hysterectomy while still young. Sadly, Tom and Jessie could never have their own baby. It was such a shame because they both loved children, and we were treated like their own.
As grievers, it is easy to understand our desire to displace the great gap that is left by loss and fill it with brightness and colour. Early grief is likely to put you in a place where you see only shades of grey and it takes time to reclaim the vibrancy that has been drained by your loss.
We have an enormous void to fill and each will choose different ways to fill it.
During my recent talk to TCF, I described how, around two years after we lost James, I overheard colleagues describing me as ‘always dressed as though she’s going to a funeral’. At the time, this brought me up short and I started to bring some colour back into my wardrobe. My drab greys and browns gradually became replaced by clothes lifted by colourful accents – a pretty scarf perhaps, or patterns in material that lifted them out of dullness. I favour blues, mauves and pinks, never wear yellow, and rarely red.
There are many representations of colour and light all around us, particularly in nature and during our changing seasons. Rainbows are especially beautiful and invariably lift the spirits. There has been much research done into the psychological effects of colour on our emotions, and if you find you are drawn to a particular shade or colour, there is probably a good reason for that, so don’t question it, but go with it. If you want to use colour in practical ways, a simple adult colouring book can occupy your mind, and your hands, to create images that are calming and pleasing.
As I say in Living in the Mourning Light, “I write often of the grief journey being one of moving from darkness back into light; but it is not as simple as that. It also encompasses the shift of focus from blurred to sharp again, and for the world we know and recognise to change from monochrome back to full glorious technicolour”.
Though I am not about to acquire a parrot or sacrifice the garden lawn to illuminated ponds, I encourage anyone who is grieving to find whatever outlets they can to take back hold of colour into life. Shades of nature, particularly blue skies, green fields and the golden foliage of Autumn, are among my favourite colours. They are my happy place; the comforting lens through which I move forward, into the mourning light. You too may be able to find yours through the rediscovery of the spectrum.