Another six months have passed. Another Christmas without her, another birthday… another anniversary spent in Wales tending to her grave, arranging fresh flowers and seeing if the shells from the beach that her grandchildren left last time are still there. It was two years in April, so up the steep hillside we climbed to the spot where she is laid to rest.
I never seem to have the right shoes on; we always drink too much wine the night before. It often rains. The ‘G’ for Gwendoline (her middle name) looks like a ‘C’ because it’s not filled in properly (as a writer, that particularly annoys me) and I always regret not finding a bigger, better bouquet. It’s a day of heightened emotions and little niggles, and yet, this time, the sun shone brightly.
We lay on the grass and made daisy chains. I cried for the first time in months. I let myself let it out; I sat, consciously, with my grief. It was a release – a fundamental part of the process – for all of us, I think. But it was extra poignant for me to spend time in mum’s homeland on 6 April, taking in the lush green countryside and breathing in the fresh sea air. Because I was just weeks away from moving to America.
Chris and I have been in LA for two months now. It feels strange sitting at my new desk at our home in Venice, looking out the window onto palm trees and Californian sunshine yet thinking about the sheep-studded hills of Wales. But it is necessary. For the last eight weeks, I have been compartmentalising in order to cope. I am now the same age as Mags was when she gave birth to me but my memories of her have been locked in a box in my brain. The fear being if I open it, the situation – me living in LA, not knowing anyone and desperately missing my mum – will be too overwhelming. That I will flounder; or worse, fall completely off the edge.
A lot of friends have commented on how smoothly our move here has gone, how well we’ve thrown ourselves into a new country; how settled we seem already, how calm I am about it all. They are surprised by the latter in particular; I joke that the emotional meltdown is yet to come. The truth is, we’ve been living in a bit of a bubble so far. A lovely, happy bubble – with a heated outdoor pool and a sandy white beach down the road – but a bubble all the same.
There have been sharp reminders; painful tests of endurance, attempting to burst it. When I registered with a new doctor and I had to fill out an arduous form of family history (unlike anything I’d ever seen in the UK!). When I ticked the deceased box for mother and the deceased box for father and then recorded their causes of death. When all of a sudden it was like I’d been winded. Because even though you know they’re no longer alive, seeing it in print is like a jolt in the stomach that you never, ever feel prepared for.
Just weeks before, I was all tensed up in the SSA office because the administrator processing our forms was asking details about my parents like they were still alive and I felt like I needed to correct him. I didn’t – it was of no relevance to the form – but I turned to our relocation specialist (who had accompanied us) and mumbled something about how my mum had died.
I don’t know why I did that. It’s a bit like blurting it out to someone you’ve just met (God knows, I’ve done that enough times). Maybe it was because I knew it was of no relevance that I wanted to give it – her, Mags – some relevance? Maybe it was my own way of announcing that she is still so important to me. That people should still ask about her, like they do of other people’s mums who are alive…
That I still think about her and miss her everyday. That that will never change. That she is still my favourite person, even though it’s been over two years since I last saw her.
That even though I am now living miles and miles away from where she or I, was born… she’s still with me. Because she has to be.