When it happened, a year ago, I thought about today. I pondered, ‘This time next year I’ll be wondering where that year went.’ Sure enough, I’m writing this now thinking, ‘Where on Earth did that year go?’
Going back home is an entirely different experience since Mum died. She used to reinforce that wherever they lived, no matter what, I always had a home there; and although I wouldn’t hesitate if I ever needed to return, it isn’t home anymore. With respect to my Dad, it was Mum’s presence that made it home; without her it is simply bricks and mortar. In fact, for me, being there still feels like we’re waiting for her to come home from the hospital; it’s a place in limbo. In the past I’d complain to her that the heat in their 3-bed-coastal-town-semi-up-North was practically non-existent. Her internal heat meant having the radiators on was too much for her to bear; windows were opened to keep her cool while I froze in a myriad layers of clothing…under a blanket…with a hot water bottle and my Dad’s secret stash of Bell’s. (Shhhh.) Now that she’s gone the heating goes on full, but the warmth has gone.
Mum loved her life; she was the embodiment of happiness and simplicity; she took joy in baking and crafts; she didn’t strive for more than she had because all that she had was more than enough – despite the agonising years battling cancer. This constantly astonished me. She was the happy kind and I envy that. She was also a true matriarch, she had it down to a fine art; cooking, freezing meals, baking, organising the home, I mean a proper domestic goddess. I wish I was even half as accomplished as she was at juggling work and home, let alone simultaneously, overcoming her illness. Even as a single, homely-type of woman I scarcely do her justice due to my lack of kitchen abilities and domestic prowess. It’s what I love about a homely woman – the compassion, the warmth, the care, the provision; Mum had it all in abundance. Arriving home was like being wrapped in warm mixed-spice-infused cotton wool with big fluffy unicorn slippers on your feet, a favourite black and white film on the tele, a brew and a wedge of homemade cake on the side – and plenty more where that came from. I really bloody miss how she greeted me and looked after me when I was there, but I will never have that again. Mind you, I can’t forget that there would always be a massive side order of guilt for not living closer shoved on my plate – you know, for balance.
I have read that the second year is often worse than the first – all the amassed sentiment, the profundity placed upon every first that has since passed (birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries) loses its initial significance; two will become three, three/four, four into five years, and so on for the rest of our lives. Yet for all those years left to pass I don’t see any time when the disbelief of her early passing is no longer present. This blurry, erratic, torrid, first year is over and it feels like the next level of closure – like that period of time between death and funeral – we’ve been in a bizarre healing bubble for twelve months; experiencing every high and low imaginable and now it’s time to settle down.
I guess I’m glad that this first year is done with. Perhaps it was just me, or perhaps it is textbook grief, but I felt compelled to make every ‘first’ poignant, well remembered, acknowledged. I bought (and wrote) her a card and flowers on the first Mother’s Day without her; I couldn’t stop myself, it felt so wrong to not get her something. I bought her a cake on her birthday and asked my work colleagues to have a slice on her behalf and they all did….one by one they came to me with cake and whispered, “happy birthday Joey’s Mum,” in my ear. That was pretty special and I love them for doing that. This morning I will go to the cemetery with my Aunt (Mum’s Sister-in-law) to clean the gravestone and place fresh flowers; later I will spend the evening with some family (Mum’s youngest Brother and his wife) who were present the night she died. We’ll all reminisce, laugh and probably cry too. Mostly, I am sure, we’ll laugh as there are so many good memories to cherish.
However can it be that we’ll not see that smile, hear that laugh, smell that baking, listen to the daft things she would utter before making herself cry with laughter? How can I never buy her something she wanted or receive a note and parcel from her in the post? How was the last thing she ever made me the last thing she’d ever make me? How did we talk so much but now I can’t call the number that is still in my phone? How did she leave us so soon? How does our world still turn? Oops…tangent alert! That was the disbelief kicking in again. Death is a part of life, we all know this, but when it happens to you, when your loved one is taken unjustifiably too soon, when they had so much left to enjoy….and when you have (potentially) so many years to live without them…well it’s the biggest cruelty of human existence. You accept the practicalities of their departure, but the dull ache in your heart never subsides. Yet for all the fist wagging at the Gods, it was an honour to have ever had that love, to have known that person…
It was an honour, Mum.