letters from loved ones


Seven, f*&K ing Seven.

Hey Ma,

7 years. HUH. Well, I’m just going to dive right in here – this year I find myself jealous of the people who still have mothers (or those who had mothers for longer). Those who can go to tea or talk on the phone, who can give the advice, hold the baby or approve the dress. I am fathered, parented, loved but I worry I have forgotten what it is like to be mothered. Perhaps that is the 7 year itch of grief.

It is easier to recognise when you are sad, than when you are happy, did you ever notice that? Why do you think it is? Are we generally a melancholic breed? OR is it just January, that makes it feel that way?

It still catches me off guard. The Sad. Earlier this week I had a client who was wearing the perfume that you used to wear. I’ve avoided it for years, thinking it might be a trigger to a wave of something, some emotion, I would not be able stop. I didn’t notice at first, an itch you can’t reach, an ear worm you can’t place, and then a little bolt of shock. So I chose to let myself remember.

I chose to. I don’t always. Sometimes I don’t let you in. I feel guilty about that, but I’m not at the point where I can guarantee I’ll feel uplifted and I’ve got things to do. I’m sorry. I worry that is why I’m forgetting.

I like to think I’ve gotten better at recognising the happy though, generally speaking. To take a breath and, for want of a better word, to honour it. To turn my face to the sun and take a breath and be grateful for the feeling. Whenever I feel grateful, I think of you. Gratitude is your greatest gift to me and it’s so circular.

I see a lot of people now, different people, practically strangers. It’s been a busy year. The good mama juju I asked for last year  (along with the juju of all my friends and loved ones) came through in spades. Getting a business up and running – it doesn’t give you much time to think, or write or breathe. There is always something to do. I got overwhelmed before Christmas. I have noticed since my own brush with cancer, I feel easily overwhelmed and I am very protective of myself. I hedgehog, metaphorically speaking – internally I drop into a ball and scream to the world to stop. It never does. I’m not sure how you’d mother me through that. Generally speaking, we are a deep breath and carry on family. You had what is politely known as ‘a lot of grit.’ That’s hard to live up to.

Anyway, I see a lot a people now, grief has many faces, so many guises. It affects the body too, I didn’t realise that. Muscles remember.

The human body is a wonderful thing, but it can fail in a lot of stupendous ways, not just cancer. Which at first I found shocking. Cancer is all I knew about failure. The millions of tiny processes a body has to perform, of which  we aren’t even aware – they can fail, go off kilter, they just go rogue.

Is it weird that I find that comforting? It’s weird, I know it is. But very few bodies function as the manufacturer (or evolution) intended. We are all walking around with a dodgy chip, or a wonky bolt,  a chemical malfunction. Very often all three. Yet here we all are, living life the best we can. Walking, working, loving the best we can – getting massages even.

I have been told that I have walked with death much closer than most my age, this past decade I guess, perhaps thats why I find bodies so infinitely fascinating. I do you know, find every body fascinating. Like coming back to an area, somehow familiar, but with only a very old map. It’s the same but different. If I’m very lucky I can get those muscles to tell me their secrets, give up a little of the sadness they remember.

I remember washing you, the last morning you were here. I remember every freckle, and scar. Those massive clavicle dips, you would tease, you kept pepper in. At least, I think, I remember it all.

I’m not sure I’ll have children myself. Yet, for an hour at a time, I get to mother another human’s body, to comfort it. Not necessarily their mind but the rest of them. I coax it, nudge it, soothe it, so I guess something of the mothering has stuck.

Skin and muscles and tissue and blood and bone. The substance of life. So beautiful, and I get to work with it every day.

I love you. I remember what I need to, sometimes that’s just snatches on a whiff of perfume. Sometimes that’s all we get.

I hope the stars are fine this year.


ps. Whatever you do don’t watch the news – the world has gone crazy, don’t worry, the good people are working on it.


A letter to my Ma, written by her Parents, in 1944

I did not know my Grandfather, I was 13 when he died of Lung Cancer. He was not your typical Grandfather, for one thing he insisted that we called him Kenneth (which was, to be fair his name).

He was no longer married to my beloved Mimee when I was born, from the scraps of family history I picked up, my loyalty was to my grandma, which made for a difficult relationship all round.

I don’t remember much about our times together, to be honest, occasional trips to the theatre, Terry’s dark chocolate oranges, a stuffed Kermit the frog and some shiny copper pans, a scary hospital room.

For years all I knew about him was that he was a writer, a theatre critic.

My Pa showed me this letter yesterday and it floored me. I didn’t realise what a writer he was. For the first time in 37 years I wish I had known him better.

It felt so relevant, that I had to share it and I urge everyone to share it. This was a man, writing to his young daughter, towards the end of a war, he thought, would end all wars.

Lest we forget, and it feels amid the anger and the hate that perhaps we are forgetting and that should embarrass us and our world leaders.

To our Daughter,

Yours is the heritage of two great nations. Born of an American Mother and a British Father in the State of Maryland, U.S.A., you are recognised as a citizen by the laws of both the United States and Great Britain.

And even discounting the more usual charms which all parents see in their own children, we are inclined to think that this dual nationality makes you rather unique. Nevertheless, it is strange that such a communication as this should be addressed to you when you are but six months old.

The present, however, is the only time at which these things could be written, for they are our pledge to you and your future. You will be given this to read, god willing, on your twenty-first birthday.


You were born, dearest daughter, in such times as have never before seen on this earth. The Brutality, the suffering, the death endured among mankind has never been surpassed. Nor, indeed, and paradoxically, has there ever been such idealism, such high integrity of purpose, nor such hope for the future.

As we write, a new world is being born in the minds of good men, and its bloody travail is sweated out across the globe, from tiny islands in the Pacific to the beaches, hills and plains of all Europe and Asia.

It is a world, as you know, in which every nation has its right to a place in God’s undiscriminating sunlight; in which each race is accorded the respect of other races; in which no man, woman or child can starve amid abundance.


Now, in 1944, we are eager that you should soon read, so that you may know how much of the past has gone to make the present and the future which you enjoy.

You must read of the Magma Carta of King John, of the storming of the Bastille, of the Abolition of Slavery, of the Declaration of Independence, of the Bill of Rights.

Then, as you read this in 1965, you will know that there once existed such a world that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty at the New York gateway to the United States reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

At 21 there is no “wretched refuse” in your world, darling. But you understand, because you have read of the racial and religious persecutions of Europe in past centuries, and of a Ghetto in Warsaw and a gas chamber in Lublin which we have known in our time. And because you know, too, of Abraham Lincoln and of his oration at Gettysburg which you read even before you were old enough to understand and know that this great American in 1863 was speaking of the same “great task remaining before us” as Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke about in 1936 when he told us that our generation had a “rendezvous with Destiny;” and the same “unfinished work” as Winston Churchill meant in England’s dark hours of 1940, and which has seen completion only in your generation.


Your will remember how we told you of these things years ago; and how all our endeavours, our printed and spoken words, our lives, were never for anything but the fulfilment of these promises to those who have given their lives in the battle for the Liberty of Man, to those who are yet unborn, and to you.

You will remember how the great power for war which was in the United States and in the British Commonwealth, joined with their brother nations, was continued into the greatest power for peace that men had dreamed of………. but it was not easy.

These great decisions about your future were actually made by the ordinary men and women in those nations, by the exercise of their democratic will.

As we write this, the people of the United States are debating keenly the issues before them in a wartime Presidential election. We have implicit faith in their ability to choose well a President committed in the fullest measure to international co-operation for peace, together with a Congress which will tender him loyalty and support. And, as foreign and domestic issues can no longer be divorced from each other, we know also that such an Administration must also strive for prosperity at home among a people who are tolerant of everything but intolerance.

Such an Administration must necessarily be composed of persons whose courage and vision can be assessed on the basis of their known records.

For 1944, darling was not a time when the world could afford to wait when that time came they, too, chose wisely and well.

You remember these things, of course. We repeat them here only to ensure that you will not forget them. Never, never forget them, nor the millions of ordinary people whose lives were dedicated and even lost to the attainment of the ideals of war.


And finally, as you read these words in 1965, pause awhile to hear the world echoing at last in unison, the great American creed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Do you hear, our dearest daughter, do you hear it? – clear and sweet as the bell of Evening song across the English Country side – carried on the winds across the Atlantic, over the Western Plains on a Kansas breeze, sweeping low to the Antipodes, heard like a persistent drum in the dark Congo, soaring upward to the Himalayas and on up the Nanking Road to rise with the stars over the Steppes, whispering soft over the Mediterranean blue, riding the wave-crests crescendo in Biscay Bay – and on, on again.

Listen, for we know your hear it. It is the measure of our success.

God help us all, if we, if our generation, have also failed.

Your loving
Mother and Dad.


Five Years

Dear Ma,

It has been 5 years, 5 years! Time, it seems, flys even if you’re not always having fun. A lot has changed, life has moved us forward even when we’d prefer to stay rooted to the spot.

I got cancer, can you believe it? I couldn’t but I got it anyway. It’s a weird one Ma, I spent a summer feeling incredibly close yet incredibly far away from you. I wanted to ring you on so many occasions and say “Shit, I’m so sorry, I never knew quite how tough it was for you.”

It’s a bit like re-reading a favorite book only to flip to the last chapter and find a completely different ending than the one you are used to. An ending that reveals a completely different take on the story. I admired your strength when you were going through it all, I truly did but I didn’t understand it. I do now and that’s broken my heart on a few occasions. Thank you for keeping going with treatment for as long as you did. I understand now, what a huge gift of love that was too us all.

I can’t lie, a certain mother/daughter competion kicked in and I need to thank you for that as well. There were many times (*cough*, after every treatment) when I wanted to quit but I think it became a point of pride – You hadn’t quit, so I wouldn’t either. You win hands down in the stoic stakes though. I was entirely more grumbly and grumpy than you were.

Ma, obviously I miss you and I missed you greatly over the summer but I did have a lot else on my plate. It was strange too, it was this massive thing that I had to negotiate without you. I felt I had to let you go a bit, I hadn’t experienced anything comparative with you, so I had no idea what we’d have done. I guess I grieved for you, another grief in a summer of them. I grieved and I grew up too.

I think you may have gotten frustrated with me while the chemo was on going. I wouldn’t entirely have blamed you, I was frustrated with me at points. Now, though, now I miss your counsel.

I wonder how you lived inside your head after the first time around. My head is like living with a funfair between my ears, which sounds more entertaining than it actually is. It doesn’t settle. I want to yell “STOP”. Riding this Ferris wheel is fun but I can’t actually think for thinking, if you know what I mean. Was it like that for you? Like being overwhelmed with the responsibility of living?

Did you ever think “fuck it I’m going to move to Hawaii or Nashville or Paris and open a cafe?” Did you ever feel that butterfly feeling of having settled for too long on one flower, when there are so many beautiful flowers around? It almost feels there are too many possibilities, that my whirligig self is frightened to pick. Is that living with cancer? Or is that just what living is?

Did you feel all powerful? I have this massive “roar” inside me always on the cusp of escaping. A and Dad are going to hit the roof when they read this, but sometimes I scare myself when crossing the road these days. I stare down cars. It’s an odd reaction to death. It’s not courting it but it’s not all together scary anymore. There are bigger things that scare me.

I respect myself too (it doesn’t sound it with the whole car thing, I know) but it’s like I’m a separate entity. I’m looking at myself through a window and that me, that me that got through all of last year, she’s a total badass. I strut! I’ve never strutted in my life!

It’s not all been cancer, cancer cancer though. The M’s have added another mini M to their brood. They are great parents, far more patient than you or I. Oh, you would be proud.

You’d be so proud of Da too. He is an epic human, I can’t even explain but I guess you knew, you married him. He is the best.

A. and I moved. It was a while ago now, not long after you died. We stayed in the same building and I like the fact you’d still know where we are. We’ve had our moments Ma but we’re doing O.K. I don’t know any other people our age who’ve gone through what we have, we weren’t unscathed but we grew up. I’m kinda proud of us. I love him because even on the bad days he can make me laugh, plus as you always advised, the dude is practical and pretty handy.

I don’t want to stop writing Ma, because it feels like I’ve opened up a little portal between us again and it feels nice but it’s time to let you drift a bit further off.

I miss you, I miss your hands, your soft, soft skin and your weirdly deep clavicles. I miss ducking into bed next you of a morning and chatting. I miss singing musical numbers in the kitchen and how we’d laugh when you would say “probably” in a weird voice, that I don’t even remember why you did but was our joke. I miss you when I work on a show I think you’d love. I miss you when things go right and more when things go wrong.

5 years, I couldn’t imagine it at one time but time plods on and I did survive.

I love you Ma. Always.




Letters 3

So back with a bump from my sunny, sunny orange grove. I’ve the post holiday blues. Well actually it’s more than that. I meet the Chemo people tomorrow, it’s just a meeting but it’s the first step of the next marathon (as A. says “it’s a marathon you didn’t even sign up for though!”). I’m scared, really scared of this next bit. I’m sure I’ll be pithy and cheery soon, even about being scared but all I’ve got at the moment is this two line non-sentence. I’m scared.

I’m counting all the stars in my sky because I have people to help me forget these fears for stretches at a time but A. says he can still see it in my jaw, so I’m not fooling anyone.
Until tomorrow, when I can turn the light on and see that this Chemo Monster is really just a coat in the corner (fingers crossed), I leave you with my Mother’s wisdom.
I keep finding her letters at opportune moments, I was meant to be tidying when I found this one – let’s not tell A.
I like the bit about making friends, I’ve heard it can get chatty in the Chemo wing. Presently, I’m not very good at making friends in the C-Club, it reminds me I’m going through cancer (if that isn’t the silliest reason) but I think I need to get over myself and learn from their wisdom. I’m very grateful to Miss B, my FB C-club friend, she’s a little life line – thank you Miss B! 
For the record 1) Yes I was really that unhappy for a whole month my first term at uni – I am a big scardy cat, I got over the homesickness and then Mum was diagnosed the first time, 2) can we forgive my Mum for thinking that I am awesome, I think that’s a Mother’s duty and it works better for a pep talk, 3) Sappy as it sounds -parents write to your kids, actual letters, they will find them useful someday, 4) Kids keep those letters, they will come in useful someday…….

Dearest P


Well darling I hope you’ve recovered from the bout of homesickness you had on the phone last night and that your lectures were a bit interesting. 

As I said just take one day at a time, look your best, smile a lot and I’m sure friendship will come your way. Being a lively member of the group (any group) is always attractive – your natural bubbliness and sense of fun will pull you through and your sensitivity to others will keep you interested and interesting…. No situation is ever perfect for long – that’s what keeps us all striving and no bad situation stays that way – that’s what gives us all hope. 

Remember that ‘prayer’ ( I don’t think its a particularly christian one) – “may I have the strength to accept what can’t be changed, the courage to change what can be and the wisdom to know the difference” I don’t know if it’s relevant right now, but it’s a good maxim to know.


Eat well, exercise your body and mind and relax before sleeping. And for goodness sake – go to a counsellor and tell them your fears.


As I said everyone has fears at this stage – it’s a learning stairway – you’re discovering it early in life and you’ll learn to recognise it and accept it and control your terror very soon. Good for you. 


Nothing worth knowing is easily learnt. Nothing worth having is easily acquired – at least, not in adulthood, I’ve found – I sometimes think walking was the only thing I learned easily – the rest is struggle!


M is having a hard time enduring the music of the Whitebear. Dad is busy with lectures and tutorials and I’m like a headless chicken already – no fun here!


Love you very much




Letter 2


Today would have been my Mama’s Birthday. It’s horrid to admit it but for the first time in 3 years this wasn’t my first thought when I woke up today.

I wanted to mark it though. My Mum’s advice filled letters punctuated my life until she died. I miss them. I’ve been realising how bossy Little Blog can get and this note, from my early Uni days, sheds light on where that tendency comes from….. Often I didn’t realise it, especially in my youth and when the advice ran contrary to what I wanted to hear, but my Mum’s advice, as mine does now, came from a place of love – whether you want it or not.

Well, we arrived home at 10.30 having stopped at a supermarket nearish Bath to shop! Felt very virtuous. It was lovely to see you, but hard to leave. I’m so very glad S. came when he did – what an easy – going chap! I’m sorry to ‘get’ at you to introduce us  but it should start to be a habit now that you are moving in your own circles – there has to be a moment of just saying who everyone is to make everyone fell included and comfortable. You can have all sorts of different ways of saying it but “hey everybody – this is E. ” isn’t actually very comfortable making for E. E. will need to know ‘everybody’ too – you can make a joke of the big group loads of names thing but you really must do it or it leads to people feeling not quite sure and lonely and isolated or not good enough. It’s very simple. costs you nothing (in fact it makes you feel good to bring people together – and in control) and really, truly makes a HUGE difference. Believe your old Ma. Oh yes, and if anybody forgets to introduce you to a new person or group (or whatever) you can just say “hello I’m Polly…I didn’t quite catch your name…” or (after a while) – “oh, by the way, I’m Polly – how do you do!” (joke, joke – cos now you are half way to the cinema)
OK lecture on introductions over.
When I was a girl…. there used to be a comic called Girl (like Eagle) and on the back pages it used to have a drawn comic strip about social skills and things like that – it was really good. I guess there are somethings that don’t change- or that it would be silly to drop without replacing them with equally comfortable -making devices. That’s what social skills and good manners are about, making other people feel included, acknowledged (if they invite you somewhere or send a present etc) and appreciated. Social skills go a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g w-a-y and actually make the biggest difference to first impressions. a lot of this you know about, of course, and a lot comes naturally to you (and that’s a blessing to count) but there are still many/much that we all have to learn and continually learn. When people go to work in Japan they have to go to special classes because social intercourse is so different there – a;; the signals are entirely different and sometimes opposite – and they are very complex and super important. Americans find it especially hard because they have fewer ‘rules’ than the English and can’t quite get to grips with all the bowing and self effacement! Did you ever see “Shall We Dance?”
Well – I’ve rambled on and not said anything yet about how impressed we were at how incredibly well you’re settling in – I know you still feel terribly torn ( and believe me, so do I darling) but I think you are doing a brilliant job of making friends and being a friend – and also hand washing you smalls and signing up for getting involved! All these are achievements for you Polly and should make you feel really good about yourself! You really do seem to be setting out on a very positive road to adulthood and independence – or rather inter-dependence. I really feel that is the right word – more co-operative sounding and it also make me think you aren’t cutting yourself off from us just because you spend important time away in your own sphere.
And it was brave to let us go last night. The door is always open, you know that and it is your choice, but I hope you begin to see now why we encouraged you to take the opportunity to go to College this year. Next year, you’d be miserable going away after a year at home but at 19 going on 20 you’d have had fewer people to share your sadness with – you’d have to be horribly brave. Of course, I hope that the courses cheer up for you – that’s a BIG part of it. Can you hear OK in lectures? Have you told them about your ear? Can you get a seat close to the “teacher” and on the right side? I forgot to ask all these questions.
Well M’s just returned (1pm) so I’d better get going and get lunch. Dad’s at work – I’m starting when I’ve had lunch – then I have to go to Bath tonight. Yesterday was a lovely treat and a good break for both of us. M will have to start at the White Bear tomorrow 11am – 7pm – 4 days a week. Actually not bad hours but not great money (£3.30/hour!) – but something to get up for and it’ll be pocket money to tide him over.
How did your friends like “….Mary” I’ve heard it is outrageous – but fun. I’d like to see it.
I’ve put a pencil mark in for Oct 26th by the way – we might have to leave early so I can be back for 7.30pm – a dance thing in Bath that I long to see.
Love you so much and miss you loads
Mama (and Pa)


I wasn’t going to post again today but then I found this letter, written by my mother, years ago now, before she was even diagnosed. I typed it up a while ago with another purpose in mind. I have absolutely no idea what she’d say about this new situation and while the below was written about homesickness, I find it rather apt and incredibly comforting.

Nearly Thursday


This is the only paper around so this will be a RED LETTER DAY for you (even if you are feeling rather blue). Actually, since, with any luck you will receive this on Saturday it will be rather special because Daddy will be coming down. It may not be in the car though because the poor old thing is rather sad and has to be hospitalised … It could be a lengthy operation. Oh dear.

It’s 3am and I’m writing this in the kitchen. I went into your room but it was too sad to sit in there. I woke an hour ago thinking and wondering about you, hoping you have managed a nights sleep yourself. Daddy said you called at 10ish – unhappy again and had found the disco rather loud so had come back early. I hope you managed to get thru to E and that speaking to him may have settled you down a bit.

The telephone at your ‘house’ was busy when I tried, so I left a goodnight note on your pager (a somewhat embarrassed young man was taking the message so I couldn’t be too soppy!) M also left a message when we arrived home, so you know we’ll always be thinking of you – as much (or more) than you think of us. Really, truly.

P, darling, I know your thoughts and feelings are awfully muddled just now – mine are too – of course I don’t want you to be unhappy and would much rather you had been looking forward to starting as you thought you would when you first saw the brochure.


I hope and (actually pray) that you will begin to see a light at the end of what must seem at the moment like a very dark tunnel, and that you can hang on to all sorts of little positive catch phrases like – imagine it’s this time next year, how far away all this will seem and try to help someone else – it’ll help you too and keep active mentally and physically – retreating from life makes it harder and people out there need you – need your sunshine to warm them and your smile to comfort them and your hugs to keep them going. You are blessed with so many gifts of love and tenderness, the world is a better place with you in it. You have so much to give.

(PG here, obviously she’s my mum so thinks I’m pretty great. Apologies for own horn tooting)


Everything that ever works best for people is what they’ve actually turned it into. It’s the creative part of living – not the pieces that are handed to you, you just smile and say “thank you” for those (and hold them dear) they are the passive gifts; the active ones are the ones you are about to receive by your own making – little things, like spending the first night, that’s an achievement. Coming back with M and me or even having us stay the night would have given you nothing to be proud of. Now you’ve done it! You never thought you would and you did! Just keep quietly patting yourself on the back for things like that a and you’ll realise bit by bit what I’m talking about.


We do miss you already and love you to bits.

Hugs and oo’s and kisses Mum