In Memory of Peg Cherry
Mum died at the beginning of the first coronavirus wave. Without the usual frameworks for communing we were lost. Mum's friends and family lived throughout Australia and the world. Due to flight restrictions, quarantine restrictions and funeral restrictions, we had no access to our usual rituals to lay mum to rest. We all felt alone in our grief. We needed to create a new way of healing that would reach across continents.
My mother adored books and laughter. Her life as an English teacher seemed to be one long book club, reading, talking about books with children and friends. We decided to create the kind of booklet some people make for weddings — a celebration of my mum's life.
We asked a friend to curate the work. The making of the booklet became an evolving formalised structure that gave us community.
The process included:
- Creating a shared online Dropbox account;
- Reaching out to friends and relatives to provide stories and share photographs of mum;
- Deciding how to explore mum's life;
- Deciding how to curate, design and structure the writing (supported by a dear friend)
We decided to write paragraphs exploring mum's life as a wife, mother, daughter, aunt, grandparent, teacher, friend and student. We chose who was best qualified to write about each section. With deeply personal writing, we agreed a few close family members would not be edited by the curator, helping to support and guide the other excerpts.
We reached out to the appropriate people to help provide alternative perspectives of mum's life. We made sure her closest friends who were not writing themselves, would be mentioned by my sister or myself.
I created a writing ritual:
- I lit a candle that smelt of lavender, my mother's favourite flower
- I found hundreds of family photographs and laid them out on the dining table
- The photographs told me my mother was a happy person.
- I picked five photos, and I wrote a paragraph about each of them.
- I wrote with compassion for the elderly friends of mum who had lost a friend they had known for over 60 years.
- I imagined comforting people through my writing.
- I chose to honour mum's happiness and the great delight provided to her through other people.
Initially, I wrote down the memories that the photos sparked; I then shaped the stories and selected the moments that I could distil to best respect my mother's happiest moments.
People posted their submissions to the online Dropbox folder. Whenever I had told the same story as someone else, I edited that story out of my piece. The curator helped to choose the most suitable photos from those uploaded.
Originally, we wrote the booklet thinking we would distribute it when we could all come together at the memorial. Now, I think we will pick out a date, send out the booklet, and then go through it together seeing what memories it sparks, what conversations, it ignites. In our own separate houses, we can light candles at the same time, open bottles of wine and toast mum, as we gain shared insights and memories from a booklet made with love.
Writing my memories of mum was difficult but liberating. It helped me to shape my understanding of mum, and to enjoy my memories as I wrote them down. As I leant into the pain of my remembering my mother before she was bedridden, I realised what a happy, full life she led. Accepting my grief and shaping the memories into stories helped me to understand my own life.
I hugged my son and my husband, and I talked to friends. However, I still need that moment when all my mum's devoted friends and family gather together as a community and look at the grave, embrace one another in the place my mother loved most of all, our beloved hometown of Melbourne.
With increased social distancing restrictions across Victoria, it has been an extremely challenging time for our community. Finding new ways to come together and honour and celebrate a loved one in a meaningful way throughout these times is essential.
A special thank you to Kate Cherry for her support and vulnerability with sharing this article.
If you are struggling at this time and are needing immediate support and advice, we recommend the following support organisations.