Mum was born on 30 June 1924 at Bethany Home in Auckland, and stayed with her mother till she has a toddler. We don’t know why her mother, Angela, eventually had to give her up. I wish we had met her, she sounds such a character. We are fortunate to know Angela through her son John (Mum’s half-brother) and his family.
Mum would have been 94 today, not an age she had any great desire to get to. Mum didn’t romanticize old age; she talked about it being hard work and used to say that Dad, who died suddenly at 65 while out fishing, “got it exactly right, but a decade too soon”. When Mum died in 2012 she was ready to leave this earth, and we let her go with love.
Mum shared her birth date with John’s ex-wife Liz – birthday twins, as I called them. So happy birthday Liz. I’m sure Mum is watching over us all.
Happy birthday Mum – you are loved and missed, but released with love too.
Every year, as Mum’s birthday on June 30 approaches, I sleep badly and have vivid dreams. Mum died in 2012; we let her go with love in our hearts, knowing she was very ready to die. Yet my brain persists in this hyper-awareness every year. As in previous years, working in my art journal helps. Art really does have the power to heal people.
This photo was taken in 2011, her last Christmas, with her grandson Rowan. I have no idea now what they were talking about, but I can remember it being quite animated! I have put a heart over her face because sometimes I can’t bring her face to my mind, which is such a scary feeling. Mum may be gone, but love remains. The good memories are wrapped firmly round me heart.
Many people know that in my 20s I lost a lot of babies to miscarriage. Because of the medical issues it’s hard to know exactly, but likely more than 12 angel babies came our way. A conversation with Sandra, my best friend of 45 or so years, last night reminded me of them. Not in a sad way, more a sense of heightened awareness.
When all that was happening I was living in Auckland and Wellington. I’d ring Mum often to tell her what was happening — Mum the nurse thinks I’m pregnant. Mum the baby has gone. Mum the pregnancy test was neutral, so they think I might be pregnant. Mum the baby is gone. Mum the Dr is suggesting we try this…
Mum listened patiently, without offering too much sympathy as she knew I had to hold myself together. She and Dad only had my sister Ailsa and I, and there’s more than a decade between us. I know she wanted more children but it never happened, and Dad loved all kids. I wonder how hard it was for them listening to me?
It always looked to me like Mum was a great Grandma to Ailsa’s children. They were lucky to have Mum in their lives and she loved them. There’s an ending to this that I am not going to write because it involves someone else’s child, and I have cried a little for my babies this morning but know, as always, that love remains.
I woke up feeling weepy and worried this morning, which is unusual for me. All I could tell Tony is when things are tough, and they are at the moment, I miss having Mum to chat to. In those last couple of years she may not have followed everything I said, and forgot most of it anyway, but it was a way for me to download. It’s just over a year since Mum died and most of the time it’s okay.
I think what has upset me is it turns out Tony has been a lot sicker than we realised. Long story, and involves a medical stuff-up re some blood tests, but it’s made me anxious about the upcoming surgery.
So, had a quick weep, scared the dog my grabbing a tissue so she thought I was going to wipe her eyes, and decided the day needed to be an art one because art heals.
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- Tagged birth father, exhibition, family, Fred McKenna, grandfather, history, Italy, Mum, photos, process, WWI
It’s a year next Sunday that Mum died and we’ll be putting her ashes in beside Dad at Patea cemetery. After Mum died I had bad dreams – okay, nightmares – for quite a while but gradually they eased. From time to time I still have bad dreams, but without the same intensity. In the worst dreams I drag Dad into it, and he’s been gone over 20 years.
But now the dreams are back, and getting worse. I have a real thing about bodies being in wet ground, which is why all our animals get cremated. I can tell you the logic; they’re dead, it doesn’t matter, it’s nature happening etc. My head knows that, but my heart panics about them being in wet ground. I get anxious and upset.
I totally get that Mum is dead, and her ashes are in a sealed and waterproof cremation box. The fact that the ground is wet for next Sunday’s interment doesn’t matter. Except that, for me, it does, it *really* does. I need it to stop raining. Please let it stop raining…
In 2010 Tony and I took four works I’d created to the Legato exhibition in Cassino, Italy. They honoured four men who had swerved in WWII; my dad, my best friend’s dad and uncle, and the father of a woman who had worked for dad.
I am sending work next year, when the commemorations will be all the more special as the world marks 100 years since WWI. I’m already doing a large landscape based on my recollections of the walk to one of the memorial services we went to, but have been hankering to do something honouring a solider as well. But didn’t know who, or why. I should have known to listen and wait, because the answer always comes.
My good friend Joanne D had asked me a while back about doing a piece to honor her grandfather but we didn’t pursue it. She and I have been emailing and I’m going to do a piece that she can show her Granny then it can travel to Italy, then return to her family. Fantastic!
Before I knew that was happening, I decided to search the internet for local people who had served that could have relatives I could trace and talk to. My mother was adopted, and didn’t find out until she was in her 60s – but we were able to find out both her mother and father’s full names and are in contact with some family members. I was scrolling through names and there was someone I thought had to be her uncle. I range her half-sister and she confirmed this but went on to say that her father had served in WWI as well. Would I like her to send me some copies of war records etc so I could do a work about him.
I had to end the conversation and think about what I had just heard – that I was being given the opportunity to honour the grandfather I never knew by creating a work about him and sending it to Italy to be honoured by hundreds of people. I felt utterly overwhelmed. I wrote back today to say “yes, please do send me some copies” as I’d love to do this.
When we connect with people, and tell others what we need, it’s incredible what happens. Here’s a photo of Mum, and the piece I did of Dad – I knew they’d both be excited to hear this.
I was lying on the sofa in front of the heater tonight, while Tony watched some ancient and vaguely amusing rerun on Jones tv, interrupting him with “I could make a heart out of air dried clay, and embroider one on felt” and then “what about a heart made out of craft metal that I emboss?” and so on. This is a fairly frequent pattern to our evenings; he answers sometimes, grunts intelligently other times, and raises an eyebrow at me for the most outrageous suggestions. All’s well in my world.
Except that this is not good art practice. The artist who did an Advanced Diploma in Art and Creativity is lounging round on the sofa in the evenings, eyes closed and mumbling, instead of sitting at her desk using her art journals and recording progress on her blog. What the heck is with that?
I think it started after Mum died. I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally and needed to take time out. To sleep, mourn and heal. But my art is part of what heals me and I am treating it badly. Enough! Tomorrow, the art journals come off the shelf and back onto my desk.
A few days ago I commented that since Mum died I haven’t achieved much, and have done plenty of art journaling etc but no real painting. Tony was away last night, due back late today, as he had a medical appointment in Hamilton, so it’s been just me and the furkids.
I decided to prepare some canvas and see what happened. Not push it, but just give myself the chance to really paint. I’m not sure where these are headed but I have a sense that I might be starting to paint again. That would be so cool and Mum would be pleased. No doubt she is watching me and mumbling about the mess I make 😉
My wee painting companion
I am still adjusting to all the time I have now that Mum has died. Six months on I find the evening has vanished and, all too often, I have achieved nothing. Yet when she was alive, I juggled it all, and found art time. I think I’m still catching up on rest, and learning to live with the gap in our lives.
So one of the things I am slowly doing is going back to some of the things that have been good in my art in the past – like exploring the landscape to see just how far from a ‘real’ landscape you can get before it no longer says landscape. I’d be been using my Gelli Plate, foam stamps with words on them, and a bunch of bubble wrap, to get messy landscapey layers. What I love is that with printing you get bits of paint left over and they come out in a layer later on, adding more colors and texture.