This piece of writing is all about memories. How they are made and how they can be changed in an instant.
In 2005 I bowled into a house in Letchworth Garden City. I was about to leave my high grade nursing role to follow my passion to work with people as a personal coach. The day started like any other and ended with the start to a journey I wouldn’t change in a million years and created memories I will hold in my heart forever.
The house was owned by Rob. He worked as a design engineer from home and rented rooms from his house upstairs. The combined income was useful. His garden a corner plot and huge. Massive conker trees lined the back of the garden and pride of joy and place in his heart was the 25 foot Koi pond that sat immediately outside the patio doors.
The koi did their dance and were quite tame – each had their own name. Mr squidge and Mr Big were particular favourites and I was introduced to them that very day.
The reason I was there was that alongside my coach training I would be working with my Dad finding accommodation for people. One of the nurses in my team knew she would be leaving Rob’s house and thought I might be able to place someone new!
The rest as they say is history.
18months later he was invaded by me and my children as we embarked on life together. It was a happy home full of laughter. For those who don’t know Rob was paralysed from midchest in a motosport accident in 1992 and it was easier for us to invade him as his home was perfect for an extended family
Memories were already being made…
I took over the task of cleaning the massive pond. Rob had fallen in, wheelchair and all a few years before and although he was completely independent the pond was becoming a task too far. I also began mowing the rather large lawn. I called it ‘mowing the meadow’! Having never done either before I was on a steep learning curve!
Rob’s health began to fail and when he died in my arms in Nov 2012 following his last 5-month battle in hospital I was exhausted. I carried on working for as long as I could and then knew I had to take some time out.
During that time, I had a friend over. We were sitting in the garden and she asked me a question: She said ‘Do you love the fish Julie’? I pondered my answer. I liked the fish but they were a lot of work. My answer was that I liked them but didn’t love them. They weren’t my passion like they were Rob’s.
I knew what I had to do and made a phone call to Claire Austin who I knew well. I explained the situation and she immediately agreed to give the fish a wonderful new home in the large manmade lake at Harwood park crematorium she owned.
I don’t tend to mess about when I have made a decision and so two days later my younger brother Richard arrived to collect the fish. I am also I guess quite determined and set about catching each of the 40 koi. I felt it was important that I caught them and when we arrived I made it my mission to set each one free. Some of them literally jumped for joy as they were released into the vast expanse of water.
Each year since I go to see them on the anniversary of Rob’s death. They do that familiar dance and although they are sleepy due to the time of year (November) they each appear one by one. For the rest of the year I know they give pleasure to people who visit the crematorium to attend funerals and to visit memorials or just reflect and think as I do.
Rob would have been celebrating his 60th Birthday last week and I decided to go visit the fish as it is a wonderful place for me to remember him. Memories come flooding back of our time together and the fish I guess are a central part of my memory from the first day we met.
Imagine my horror as I turned the corner to the lake and saw the sign – pond closed for refurbishment and even more shocking the water completely drained of water… and… no fish to be seen.
I immediately contacted Claire and she apologised for not warning me and that they were all in holding tanks while the clean took place.
The reason I am sharing this is that in just under two weeks time I am in conversation with Dr Kathryn Mannix in a live webinar during Dying Matters ‘I remember’ week. We will be discussing the impact memories have on us as we navigate death but moving forward how that then impacts our journey of grief.
All of a sudden my memory was changed and to be honest it felt like the world stopped turning again like it did the day Rob died. It was like the movement of the koi – their dance was keeping the memory of Rob alive for me.
25% of deaths are sudden and unexpected and this adds complication to the grieving process. The way we react and the way we process emotion can be stunted and if we don’t find the right support on that journey we can stay stuck and eventually end up suffering even more as a result.
I went home after NOT seeing the fish dancing and moving and I guess it felt a little like it did the day of Rob’s funeral. I felt empty and sad. My memory changed once more.
I have asked Claire to let me know when they are put back in the pond/ lake and I will go back and absorb the memories they evoke for me. However, I did have to take a long hard look at how I felt following that visit and recover.
It confirms to me that talking about memories and how they shape our experiences is going to be a good thing to do.
The live webinar has now sold out but you can watch it on catch up as the conversation Kathryn and I are having is being recorded and uploaded for all to listen to.