Thursday 22nd November, 2018
My Mum died in January 2015. She was 66. I don’t know what her death certificate says but she died of Alzheimer’s. The Mum I knew and loved died some time before her body did. That’s the cruelty of dementia, it is a protracted grief, you watch the person you love disappear slowly over time and you have to mourn them while they are still alive. I thought I had dealt with that grief, that I had somehow managed to absorb it and move on. It stays with you, of course, but becomes part of your life, like wallpaper or background noise and you stop noticing it so much.
The past couple of months have been really hard and I have missed her more than ever. My baby, and I was her baby, has started Secondary school. I took the traditional first day picture in front of the wardrobe and I had no-one to send it to. More than anything I wanted to send it to my Mum and say look, he’s all grown up and handsome and have her share in the sense of pride I felt.
I’ve been unwell the past couple of weeks. That’s tough as a single parent. When you have no Mum to call on, for practical or emotional support it’s even harder. I was a sickly child and Mum provided comfort, fed me Heinz chicken or tomato soup (the only time we got brands was when ill) and tucked me up under blankets. Now I have to do all that myself and I don’t even get to hear her voice telling me it will all me alright.
I took a trip to Brighton not long ago and had a little stroll on the beach. I looked down to find pebbles for her, she collected stones. but could find none quirky enough to meet her standards. In that moment I missed her more than I ever have.
I have no contact with my older brothers, they didn’t even come to Mum’s funeral. I have little in common with my Dad. He lives in a rural village where time seems to have stood still and I live at the heart of a cosmopolitan City. I feel there is no-one to talk to about Mum. No-one to tell stories, laugh at familial jokes, remember her with.
The last time I was at Dad’s house was the day after Mum’s funeral. I don’t drive so getting to him is nigh on impossible. Even if I did, that place was never my home. They moved there many years after I had grow up and flown to a life of my own. I know no-one there and have no connection to the place.
There are no old friends from my childhood who remember my Mum either. I have no sense of connection or roots to my past. There is no grounding, no anchor and no guiding light. It is a very lonely place to be.
The irony of all this is that my Mum lost her Mum at an even younger age, she was newlywed and a new Mum when her Mum died. So she would have completely understood the pain of losing your Mum when you need her the most. She rarely talked about her Mum and for a variety of reasons we didn’t see much of her two sisters. I know she had an unhappy childhood, her Dad gambled and drank, there was violence and that he upped and left when Mum was about 12. It was 30 years before she saw him again. She shut down, staying quiet and compliant.
I’ve been carrying this fresh wave of grief for a while and this morning it has crashed over. I’ve been upgrading my photo editing software and in the process lots of old photos popped up of Mum. I couldn’t look more like her if I tried. I hated it when I was young, we all do, but now it is a very particular pain. Looking in the mirror to see not yourself but your dead Mum’s face staring back at you. Christ on a bike that hurts. The same thick, unruly hair that every hairdresser tells you is the densest they’ve seen “it’s not that it’s thick, or that there is a lot of it, it’s both!” The same strange change of colour, not grey or white or silver but an odd blonde, with flashes of pure copper hidden underneath. The same tired looking blue eyes peeping out from large glasses to accommodate the varifocals. The same blank expression as you can’t work out what your face is supposed to be saying so you let it rest into nothing. The same mannerisms, movements and posture. Those cursed calves. The same height and shoe size. I was made in her image. That would be beautiful if she was still here, that we could go out scouring charity shops together (we would often share or swap coats and jackets) and have everyone know this was a mother and daughter. But no, we were robbed of that. Now I have to look like her with no-one but me to notice. I am the age now I remember her being clearly, and as I age I shall be doing so as her, but without her. I know what I will look like at 50, at 60 even, but beyond that, that will be when I finally get to look like myself I guess. I’ll have no guide beyond 66.
My boy’s first Secondary school photo came back the other day and he looks so like me and my Mum in it. I cry, not for myself, but for him. He will never know her. Or how much she would have loved him. Did love him. She would have doted on him and spoilt him rotten. They would have laughed together, of that I am sure. He enjoys charity shop shopping with me and I can imagine the 3 of us heading out together to do that, with Dad grumpy that his grandson would prefer that to watching football with him! That her love of animals is alive in him, that they would have gone off walking the dogs together. So many images that cannot become real memories.
I miss her more now. I need her now more than I have ever done. She was stolen from me and I will never get her back. I hear her voice in my head saying “life isn’t fair, Em” but I am still angry and raw that I had to lose her.
Grief is mercurial and tricksy and a right bloody bastard. That is pretty much all I have learned in the nearly four years I have been mourning my Mum. I also know that it is a pain shared by so many and that we don’t talk about grief. Writing helps me process and it helps me keep her alive in my memory. I guess this blog post is for me, but it is also for all those who mourn. However long it takes, and whoever it is that you grieve. We need to talk about them and the pain of loss more.