I Am By Your Side


Here’s a painting I finished to mark ten years since my mum died in Room 16 on the ground floor at The Christie Hospital at 7:45pm on Saturday 17th February 2007. The bottomless sadness at seeing her slip away from consciousness, ramble on about nothing, hallucinating and then to heaving the final breath seems to override many of the good times. Footage of the day or two horrific days we watched her kidneys stop working plays in my head even if I don’t want it to – usually in the middle on the night. I have to say “No!” out loud and force my mind onto something else or put on the bedside lamp and open a book.


I learnt there is a sort of assisted death. At Christie’s we’d gone into another room for a coffee while the nurses sorted out my mum who was getting agitated. One of the nurses came in a said, “Jean would like to see you now – go in now,” and they’d obviously given her an injection she couldn’t handle and she died within minutes. We’d dreaded this moment for the 15 years it had taken to arrive at it. Since then life has never good as good, colours have been bleached out of life and I’ll never been 10 out of 10 happy again.


I’m not a jealous man but when I hear people of my own age talking about their mum I feel a twinge of jealousy. I’m not a religious man either but when I hear about people wanting God’s forgiveness I always think forgiveness is a two-way thing and I still haven’t forgiven God (if there is one) for robbing my mum of 20-30 years of life. When I’m out jogging and struggling to run up I hill I draw on those seams of anger to act as an engine to drive me up the hill. How people feel about this kind of thing when they lose a 6-month-old baby is beyond the limits of my understanding.


Sometimes I have dreams about my mum and the moment I wake up and know it was just a dream my mood plummets about 1000 feet within half a second. The day that follows is a bit of a blurry waste and I want it to be over.


When I was younger I seemed so sure about things but now as I get older I’ve no idea about the afterlife and if there is one. My thoughts on there being some kind of greater being doesn’t change day to day but hour to hour and minute to minute. Most versions of Heaven mean living forever but it’s my version of Hell. I wouldn’t want to be 234 million years old; I’m not keen on this life sometimes. When it’s all over I’m not bothered about popping up somewhere else but it’d be good to meet my mum again.


This odd painting relates to my ever-changing opinion as to whether my mum is nearby. I’ve seen a few paranormal things which make me wonder if the undead are present. After my grandad Outram died I used to see him asleep on the couch in the front room for a split second. I thought I saw a ghoul as I looked down into the back of a computer shop within a Victorian Building. I mentioned it to the owners and they said others had seen it (but they hadn’t.) When I was walking to a classroom for an exam I felt something touch my shoulder a voice say into my ear, “You’ll be fine.” When I turned round there was nobody there. I saw a man in a faded black suit sat in the corner of a room once and when I looked again there was nothing there. That’s it – nothing else in 40+ years. I’m sure I’d just been sucking too many aniseed balls and it was my brain toying with me.


Anyway about a month after my mum died I got on my knees and put my hands together and asked her to get in touch with me using feathers as a sign. About a week later I noticed some soot around the fireplace in the back living room. I didn’t do anything about it but the night after I heard noises behind the fireplace. When I pulled out the gas fire I saw a pigeon staring at me. Pigeons are full of feathers. I left the patio doors open and went out for a walk and when I returned the pigeon had gone. I ignored this and thought it was coincidence as they do happen.


Within a week something else happened. My mum sat in the same place on the couch every morning and then she moved onto the couch in the front room every evening. We had a canary called Bertie which flew between the two lounges and one say I found a single yellow feather on the arm of the couch where on which she leant an arm reading the newspaper. It’s not very convincing evidence of her presence is it but it got me thinking. Since this happened I’ve found feathers in odd places but birds are flying around shedding them every day so I try to ignore the feathers. Once I was walking passed The New Southlands Hotel in Scarborough and looked up at the two windows of the rooms we’d stayed in once. I even said out aloud, “Remember when we stayed there, Jean?” (I called her Jean.) I could barely believe it when I saw a white feather at my feet directly under the windows of the rooms we’d occupied. All a coincidence I’m sure. Once I was walking on some hills in the countryside and thinking about my mum with watery eyes. I put on the radio and the first song was Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone.” Another coincidence.


Painting my mum would be too painful so I did this strange painting of a being in another dimension pushing its hand up against a window pane. There wasn’t anything to go wrong so it was finished quickly.  I started it about two years ago but thought I’d better finish it for the ten year anniversary. I don’t half miss the old girl and the mixture of sadness and missing someone has reached a sort of plateau. I suppose the feeling a major organ is missing will last for the rest of my life. I suppose the cost of loving someone is long-term grief.


Every night I look at a photo of my mum before I go to sleep. If I’m stopping away I take a photo and do the same. Whenever I see a white feather floating down from the sky I smile to myself but have no idea if there’s anything there.



This painting is so dull its driving that man to sleep…




Birds eye view…



I found one of Bertie’s feathers on the arm rest just where my mum’s elbow is.


My mum liked Cilla Black. When I spotted Cilla’s grave I got out of the car and spotted a white feather directly above the photos I have on my mum (in front of the mile-o-meter.)


As I passed this hotel I looked up at the rooms where me and my mum had once stayed. I spotted a white feather on the pavement under them…


A white feather which floated down as I was having a coffee outside my weekend house in Todmorden


When I reach the weekend house on Friday evenings there was often a white feather on the doorstep…


I miss Bertie too…