My mum died nine months ago after a rapid decline. Diagnosis to death was about three short weeks. She died on New Years day just ten days short of her 79th birthday.
“It’s a good age” “It’s a blessing she went so fast, she wouldn’t have wanted to linger” “Oh (wince) New Years Day – how terrible”
1 – No, not good enough.
2 – I wanted her to linger, forever would have been fine by me. She didn’t even have to be conscious. Just breathing.. Just here, not gone. Leaving behind her just relentless absence.
3 – New Years Day was good. I am glad that she died on a day that was sufficiently special, the only better day could have been her birthday, the symmetry of that would have also made me content.
My sister and I and the rest of the family struggled for those three weeks to keep chirpy for her, manage her at home and keep up with the rapidly changing need for pain relief and mobility aids and watching her shrink and fade. Her adult grandchildren helped move her with a patience that brought tears of pride to me and my germ phobic 12 year old girded his loins and spent a large part of her last conscious day rubbing hand cream into her hands and arms with an obsessive attention to detail that made me wonder if he thought that if he held on to her tightly enough, she would never leave him. Christmas was wistfully pleasant against all the odds and then she slipped gently into unconsciousness before dying at home as she wished and not alone as she feared but with my sister.
Then we planned a funeral and people were lovely about her, because she was lovely. And funny and smart and wise and kind and fierce. She loved her family unwaveringly – even those that didn’t deserve it nor appreciate it. And I try to live up to that because it is her legacy if anyone needs one. Though I’m not sure anyone does need a “legacy” – their value is in the space they occupy in others lives and the pleasure they take in their own. There needs to be no justification for grief, just the hollow ache of not being there is sufficient for us to mourn a loss. You do not need to be special to be missed.
In fact I struggle with the idea that I am pathetic for feeling the loss of my mum so deeply when I know intellectually that most people must feel the same. But every time my intellect thinks that she wasn’t really extraordinary in any way, my soul rebels because it knows that she was. She was the most extraordinary ordinary woman I have ever met.
But really this isn’t only about my mum and my thinly veiled need to shout like a 6 year old “MY MUM’S BETTER THAN YOUR MUM!”.
This is also about my sister. Or my sister and me.
My older sister had a different relationship with my mum than I did – older. feistier and more difficult, more challenging. So like my mum in many ways with the temper that supposedly comes with the red hair they both had and an ability to have fun without over-analysing that is unmatched. My sister has stepped up to the metaphorical plate and been present for me in ways that I appreciate more than I am able to tell her. The never-ending task of clearing mum’s flat, slowly erasing the evidence that she ever existed in the real world, making decisions with me and sharing the mental load. And being at her death as she knew that my mum was scared of being on her own. She has shown a strength that shows her to be truly my mother’s daughter, of knowing what the right thing to do was and being able to do it.
So here we are, grief still fresher than anyone seems to openly acknowledge and still the days go on without her, just laying one place fewer at the table. Of blissfully forgetting before reality comes crashing back in like a soft but firm punch to the diaphragm that is so real it produces a short outward gasp and an uncomprehending frown that this is real. My biggest comfort is in knowing that my mother too dealt with this, she dealt with the grief of her mother’s loss and went on to live a long and happy life afterwards and I so regret never having said to her “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what you lost, I’m so sorry”. And I can only look at my son and worry that he too will have to deal with this. When I get too sad about this thought, I remind myself of my mother’s words in her last weeks:
“At least it’s in the right order”
And I know she is right. Whilst I can’t feel it now, she was right – we are very fortunate to be able to grieve for our grandparents and parents. So my sister and I talk more and I stay in touch with wider family who also lost her and try to hold us together as hard as I can, because this is who we are now – a slightly unfocussed family without the glue that binds and yet somehow stumbling along finding our feet in this new regime. And we will get through and hours get easier and then whole days will go by without despair and one day we will have accustomed ourselves to the new world order without her.
And I will be kind to people who lose their mothers, despite them foolishly thinking their grief is in any way comparable to mine. I will continue to be kind to them because my mother would have been and as I have discovered – in a different way, I too am my mother’s daughter.