“ … things possess the power of recall, of recollection … things are memoirs of the existences that once were theirs … “ Norman Lock
“Don’t let them take it off me,” my husband said, pointing at his wedding ring. He meant when he died. And I didn’t, he was buried wearing it as he wished. It was his to take with him on his journey to the Summerland.
But what about all those other precious things he’d worn and used every day – his watch, his glasses, the love stones I gave him that he always carried around in his pockets, his Montblanc pen? I wanted to keep them all but I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t want to tuck them away in a drawer and forget they were there.
If I’d known about Memorial Boxes at the time I’m sure I would have bought one. As it was, I found a tin that used to have notelets in it and used that. The lid was also a picture frame so I put a favourite photo of L. in it, taken on a wonderfully happy day in Winchester.
Some time later I came across these words by W S Merwin and put them under L.’s pic:
“Your absence has gone through me
Like a thread through a needle
Everything I do is stiched with its colour”
I keep the tin on a bookshelf next to my desk. It brings me enormous comfort.
At some point I discovered that Memorial Boxes were actually a thing. I think they originated in the US. Does anybody know? I had started Sisters by then and I really liked the idea of adding a Remembrance Box to our list. My sister thought it was rather a mawkish idea but I knew how much L.’s meant to me and I was sure many other people would feel the same.
Obviously I couldn’t show photographs of other people’s, as examples on the website or social media because that was private, too personal, so I decided to make one for my mum and use that.
As you can see, I used a studio portrait for the exterior, one she’d had taken when she was first married, and inside the lid I painted the silhouette of a ballerina because she had trained in ballet and had a career as a dancer and an actress as a young woman. I painted the interior her favourite shade of green. I keep some of the postcards she drew for me, in there, her Equity card, some small pieces of jewellery, all sorts of things that remind me of her.
I always feel very honoured and privileged to create Remembrance Boxes. People have such wonderful stories to tell about their loved ones and I strive to capture something of their essence in the design.
Whoever first came up with the idea, whenever it was, gave us all a lovely way to hold on to our memories and keep those mementos safe.
Yes, I'm back but only just. 2017 was a beast of a year, I won't lie. No amount of perfectly constructed Instagram pictures could ever quite gloss over just how beastly it's been. And before I get into full whine mode (it's invevitable I'm afraid but indulge me, I need to get this off my chest), I recognise there are worse horrors going on all around the world and there just comes a point where you have to put away the biscuits and move forward. And I guess since I'm sitting here tap tapping away on my keyboard, I must have reached that point.
Have you ever had a run of bad luck and asked yourself, "What am I supposed to have learned from this?" Because right at this moment I have no idea whatsoever. Maybe it will all become apparent at a later date in an astounding blast of recognition, but until then I am still sulking a bit asking the Universe "why?". (I know, I know - why not?).
Anyway. 2017 came around and I was full of hopes and plans for Sisters. That New Year Thing - it's a fresh start, it's all before us, who knows how wonderful it could be?
Bang! Bad Things started happening and went on happening. It was kind of surreal.
Around the 10th of January my laptop got hit with a virus. Not any old virus, no. This one not only takes over all your files and uses your PC for its own purposes, it wrecks anything plugged in to it. So I lost my external hardrive (with all my meticulously saved files on it), two cameras, two printers, a scanner, a PC and two spare laptops - even my wireless mouse.
I had my laptop rebuilt but I couldn't afford to replace my equipment in one go so I spent a lot of time shouting and crying, trying to get ancient bits and pieces I'd dragged down from the attic, to work.
And then my laptop got reinfected! (From an image I scanned into my laptop, that I'd printed weeks earlier that held the virus. No, I didn't know that was possible either but I sat and watched all my files being overwritten for the second time).
All the new files I'd laboriously re-made and equipment I'd accquired, wrecked. Deja vu.
One of my plans for 2017 had been to expand Sisters' range and put some of my original art and pattern work on to various products. I'd been working on this for a year and a half. Losing those files and years worth of photographs really got to me. Even now, I'll be working on a project and click to go to the perfect picture and of course it isn't there anymore.
I was out of action for some months - a disaster if you run an online business and rely heavily on social media for exposure. I was down to an (ancient) iPad by March which began to malfunction alarmingly, then reduced to an antique iPod which - you've spotted the pattern here - gave up the ghost. I felt as if I was living in the Museum of Technology. Windows XP anybody?
And so the year went on. Each time I got back on my feet something else came along to knock me back down. On their own, I suppose, none of these things were huge disasters but piled one on top of another they made me despair.
I hurt my knee so badly I couldn't walk for days and was hobbling about with a stick for ages afterwards - rather tricky when you live on 3 floors! My sight has become more and more problematic (dodgy, unfurling retinas) and I've been back and forth to the eye hospital all year. Close work is becoming increasingly difficult (even with my miner's light strapped to my head - which has alarmed the postman on more than one occasion!). The financial problems from my husband's death still rumble on. And my financial situation hasn't been helped by all the time I haven't been able to work, of course. The drains got blocked, the water tank in the attic sprung a leak through the sitting room ceiling - even the kettle broke! Then only the other day my bedroom TV went up in smoke and I narrowly avoided a house fire. Oh, and my little Familiar was unwell for a while (and no funds for Vet's fees).
By July I was beginning to feel decidedly worn down. I felt exhausted all the time. I couldn't focus on tasks. I'd lost all motivation. I made endless lists of all the things I needed to do to get myself and my business back on track. Not that I ticked off many. I just felt beaten down.
And then I lost it, pretty much.
I have always felt ashamed and embarrassed to admit I suffer from depression. So I don't. There's always that voice in the back of my head saying, "Stop moaning! Stop feeling sorry for yourself! Just get on with things!" But you know what, sometimes life is too much and actually it is okay not to be okay. Many other people would probably have made a better fist of all this than I have, but that's okay too. It's not a competition. Things went awry. I struggled with that. End of.
This isn't the blog post I set out to write. I was just going to say - in as amusing manner as possible - hey, the wheels came off the bus for a while so I've been a bit absent but I'm back now and I've got a great list of future posts for you.
Tell the truth and shame the devil, ey?
Well, I do have a great list of posts planned including a couple of series where I'll be interviewing some of my fellow small biz friends. I'm slowly re-making artwork and I've got new collections in the pipeline. I'm back and the fog is lifting. I still have wobbly days but I'm getting there.
And that really is enough "poor me".
I'm sorry this is such a long post but before I sign off I would like to thank some of the people who helped me through.
Dearest Isabella (@TheWandCarver) who kept me visible on social media, on a daily basis, for all the weeks I was offline. She gathered all my product tweets and sent them out for me, made sure people knew why I was absent and even went on shopping hours for me. And listened to endless shouting and weeping every evening, bless her.
Lovely Peter (@MackworthBandB) who has been so understanding and patient and always makes me laugh.
My lovely customers who kindly took photographs of the Memory Boxes I made for them and tweeted about them, especially Angela (@SewingAngela) who made a collage of pics and promoted my custom service.
The friends and family who took photographs for me, let me borrow their cameras, use their printers and emailed for me.
My sister and brother-in-law who footed the astronomical plumbing bill when I couldn't.
Everyone on social media who sent kind tweets and messages.