Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes

Trees, Memories and Hope

This is my first post since December 2020. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, for all of us. If we thought that 2020 was strange, I don’t think that we could have anticipated 2021.

In our 2020 Christmas card, the greeting was:

With best wishes to you and yours in this very strange year
from Frances and Terry
Hoping for a much better 2021

I read this greeting when creating this year’s Christmas card, and winced. I think I knew around the time I created the 2020 card that we would have a new grandchild in 2021 but I could never have anticipated that our oldest son Dan would experience life-changing injuries in June 2021 and die unexpectedly on 1 July, 6 days after his lovely niece, baby O, arrived.

We have been devastated, and await the inquest into his death that will answer some, but by no means all, of the questions we have about his injuries and death. But we persist! in very troubling and difficult times.

Dan’s plot at Adlington Memorial Park

Trees are important in our family. We have a lot of lovely trees in our garden, a few protected by Tree Preservation Orders. My brother Paul grows trees in Iceland and I made him a quilt to acknowledge/celebrate that. We planted a tree (well, a wildlife-friendly bush really) Viburnum Opulus, the Guelder rose, in Adlington Memorial Park where Dan’s ashes are interred. Dan’s nephew JT seemed a little disappointed at the bunch of bare twigs that the Viburnum currently is.  I know it will grow into a vigorous bush bringing snowball flowers in late spring and bunches of red berries in the autumn. I am imagining a future visit to Adlington when I take a photo of a bird feeding on those berries.

As you can see from the photo, Dan’s plot has a small footprint, and is near 2 magnificent oak trees.

2021 Christmas Card – click to view images and descriptions

For each of the last 6 years, I have created a card from photos taken that year, a snapshot of memories. This year, I included a favourite 2019 photo of Uncle Danny and his beloved JT, along with photos taken during 2021. Most poignant is Dan giving the thumbs-up from his intensive care bed for sending to all his well-wishers on Twitter and Facebook. The following day, baby O arrived a little early, in time for when we were visiting Dan, who was proud to show off Whatsapp pics of his beautiful new niece to the ICU nurses.  Dan was an inveterate practitioner of hope. A week later, Dan tried to pitch a website to the doctor who was performing a halo spinal traction procedure on him.  Several hours later Dan suffered a cardiac arrest, and died, despite best efforts to resuscitate him.

I have experienced grief in mind and body since Dan’s death. I always knew that we could come through it: I just wasn’t sure how. The photos taken since Dan’s death provide glimpses of how we have practised hope in difficult circumstances. There’s the quilt started the day after Dan died, with visitors helping me position the squares. It was completed by Dan’s funeral on 2 August and handed over to Baby O’s Mum and Dad. There’s the park where Dan was found injured and that we can walk through on our way to do other things. It’s still a place of beauty. We can still, despite our sadness, take pleasure in the company of friends and family, especially our delightful grandchildren. There are the memories of my trip to Italy in October to pick olives with friends. It took a monumental effort to get there but made a great contribution to my physical and emotional recovery, a process with ups and downs. For me, these  photos represent both memories and practices of hope. Earlier in the year, I made a pie of hope, a nod to the practices of hope demanded of us by the impacts of COVID. Hope is, for me, a daily practice that isn’t easy or natural but is, I believe, a good practice for those who are grieving.

I have come across the idea of growing around grief where our grief remains but that our lives grow around it. This also seems like a practice of hope to me.

As well as the cards, I have had canvases printed from the 7 card images and today, we re-hung them on the landing wall. We can see them as we climb the stairs.

Christmas cards on canvas

Inside our 2021 Christmas card, we included this quote

Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.
Rebecca Solnit

and this greeting

Best wishes to you and yours in a year of grief and joy. Let’s have hope for the future and do what we can.
from Frances and Terry

Note: Initially I shared this with a password to a few friends. I am sharing it openly now. Have a happy and hopeful Christmas everyone.


francesbell • December 15, 2021

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