Lest we forget

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Today is two months since mum passed away. I imagined myself writing this blog more frequently because I thought I’d find it so cathartic. The reality, is that it’s too painful at the moment – to write about her (at any length), to talk about her (in any depth), to remember her (ultimately as she deserves us to). The result of making myself so busy that I don’t have time to think about any of it, are some nasty involuntary reactions; emotions that come quickly seeping through the surface when I’m least expecting them. In the last week alone, I have felt isolated, angry and let down. I have irrationally lashed out at my other half, Chris, and drunkenly burst into tears in a Soho restaurant; I have ignored phone calls from good friends and cancelled plans, last minute, like a big fat flake.

Enough time has elapsed for most people to have stopped asking “how are you?”. And I can’t blame them because on the surface, to the outside world, I do seem like my normal self again. I’ve started taking on more freelance work, going to meetings and film screenings and putting on a ‘professional’ front. I plan weekends away, cook nice dinners and (try to) go to the gym. But that’s only the bare bones; the days are long, and the nights are… even longer. I dream about her, without fail, every single night and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken myself (and Chris) up with a thud; swearing at the top of my voice, my sheets drenched in sweat. Sometimes I have to go into the lounge and watch Gilmore Girls at 4am, even though I’ve already seen all seven seasons, because it’s the only thing that makes me feel remotely calm.

I am desperate to go back to her house, our home, in Hoylake, on the Wirral, where she died, and where all her things still are, but I am equally terrified. I’m not sure how much of a sense of calm I will feel when I open the drawers to her favourite jumpers or touch the keys on her beloved piano. I can’t work out whether it will be comforting or confusing to find her dressing gown still hanging in the bathroom or her perfume by the mirror. A week before she died, I went home to London for a couple of nights before returning to mum’s, and I remember sitting on the sofa with Chris and properly weeping as it dawned on me that the end was definitely, devastatingly near. “I don’t ever want to forget her smell,” I feared. “I wish I could just bottle it and keep hold of it forever.”

Today, I am thinking about that Thursday, exactly two months ago, when she fell asleep in the morning and passed away at 11.45pm in the evening. The four of us took it in turns to lie on her bed with her, playing her favourite songs (Bowie, UB40, Beach Boys…. most music I can’t bring myself to listen to at the moment), talking to her, squeezing her hand and kissing her neck. I can still smell her skin now, when I think about her. I’m thankful for that, because I don’t want to ever forget; I just wish it didn’t hurt quite so much, right now, to remember. 

It’s better to have loved and lost…

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I used to think I knew what it meant to “lose” a parent because my father died when I was 12. It turns out, I didn’t really have a clue. The above picture (dad sitting me on his lap, his arm around my older brother) is one of the only photographs I have of us together. He was largely absent due to a bipolar disorder so debilitating he couldn’t hold down a job or a flat, let alone be a husband or father to his four children. Mum always said he was the nicest man you could ever meet, when he wasn’t unwell, but sadly I don’t recall very many of those times. The grieving process was complex and dogged my teens, my twenties… and in fact it’s only now, in my thirties, I’m beginning to understand that I didn’t “lose” a father; I never really had one to begin with.

What I did have, was a mother who was extraordinary. She wasn’t merely a parent; she was so much more than that. Her love knew no bounds and was accompanied daily by an endless supply of laughter, wisdom, strength and self-worth. She was like your best friend and your favourite teacher rolled into one. She was as comforting as a warm duvet on a cold morning; the only voice you wanted to hear on the end of a phone after a bad day. She was whip smart, wonderfully modest and hilariously cynical. In fact, I can say with certainty that she would roll her eyes at the paragraph I’ve just written. “That’s a bit over the top, isn’t it, love?”

I had all that, and yet I spent years fixated on the notion that I only had one parent when I should have had two; years feeling cheated that I had “lost” my father and was therefore hard done by. I had all that, and yet I was foolish, for not realising that some people go through a whole lifetime without experiencing love like I have.

I’m 35 now and I want to say sorry to my mum, who died last month (after a year-long battle with ovarian cancer) for not realising that, in fact, I had it all – because she gave it to me. She was everything to me, and to our family. It’s only now she’s been taken away that I can comprehend what it really means to “lose” a parent. It’s probably why I’ve found myself awkwardly apologising to other people who have lost their parents, as well. I once thought I identified with them but it’s only now I appreciate the magnitude of their grief.

A few people have said to me that when you lose a parent you join a club; until you’re a member, it’s impossible to understand the rules, the etiquette, the right things to say… and I agree. While somebody you’ve known for years might stumble over stock phrases of condolence, a near stranger will just get it.

Of course I’d rather not be in this club at all but grieving is a lonely journey; its destination unknown, and I for one could use the company.