I’ve thought writing this post before, but I usually put it off because it’s hard.
I think it will always be hard.
My mum died from lung cancer in 2005. She was 35 years old. She’d gotten out of another abusive relationship just 18 months before, and she was learning to be happy again. She listened to Celine Dion and Phil Colins, loved see through-tops and a pint of lager, danced to UB40 and she was always the first person on the dancefloor. She was imperfect in an honest kind of way, and she gave me life.
I’ve spent many years feeling lost at Christmas because my mum wasn’t here to spend it with us. It felt weird for the longest time. No matter how much we tried with family get-togethers and holidays and Christmas dinners, it never felt right. My sense of belonging and connection to this world died when she died. She was the glue and without her, we all fell apart.
I fell apart.
I’m 33 now and I’m still picking up those pieces, still learning to step into grief and embrace it, still finding ways to cry about a loss I will certainly never get over.
When I became a mum, my experience of Christmas changed. Now it was my turn to be at the head of the family, to make the decisions, to worry about money, to buy and wrap the presents, to make up the stockings and to hear my children giggle on Christmas morning. The older they get, the better it feels. I’ve indulged in their excitement and happiness, felt warmed by their laughter and cuddles. Even when I have felt sad about her, at least I know I’m not alone.
Because my life is different now and I think that helps.
In the last few years, a few friends of mine have lost their mums too. I never know what to say. It’s a heartbreak I wouldn’t wish on anyone and I don’t know how to mend it. I’ve wanted to be the person who says “It will get better with time” and “the pain won’t last” but it’s not the truth. It’s going to always hurt this much. It’s going to strike you when you least expect it. Sometimes the pain will take your breath away. Sometimes you’ll cry yourself to sleep. It can be two years, ten years or even twenty years, and you’ll still feel the void left when your mum passed away. No two days are the same and sometimes you’ll sob like you’re at the funeral again.
When she dies, you won’t see the world the same way again. Even the people you thought you knew have changed. You have questions which can’t be answered, revelations which can’t be proven, and she’s not here to help you with any of it.
She’s not here anymore.
For years, I blocked the pain away and felt like I’d won at the Grief Game, and believed it wouldn’t affect me anymore. But then I’m reminded again of my loss on Mother’s Day and the pain roars out all the same. I’d wait until the anniversary of her death or her birthday until I’d visit the grave, and then barely spend 10 minutes there because I couldn’t cope with the heartbreak.
There’s a song I can’t listen to because it was played at my mum’s funeral. She picked it herself, put it on a tape and dedicated this song to her children, because she knew she was dying. When she died, it felt like the song was everywhere. Many years later, I’d forgotten about it until I was attending an assembly at my children’s school. I was watching a performance by the school choir and then they sang that song. I couldn’t move. Tears came but I couldn’t cry because my children were there, waving to me. Instead I waved back, listened to the melody and let my mind wander towards the memory of that song filling the inside of a church.
No matter how much you try to control it, the world around you has a way of triggering grief. A song, a scent, a sentence or even a colour, there will always be something that reminds you of the person you lost. For me, there are just some conversations I can’t contribute to, some experiences I don’t share, some things I just won’t know.
My sister messaged me the other day, having realised she’d spent almost half her life without our mum. That makes me feel so sad when I type this because I swear, there is nothing that hurts more than that painful truth. I was on BBC Radio recently where I was asked about the loss of my mum, and I described it as “the single most painful thing I’ve been through in my life.” There are no words to sum it up, no sentence that can fully convey the grief that plagues me now, nearly 15 after I said goodbye to my mum.
Since mum died, we have battled with demons from our childhood alone. We have fought through the hostility of people who were meant to care for us. We have become women, partners and work colleagues. Since mum died, we have become mothers. We have walked that path without a blueprint to follow and tried not to make the mistakes she made. We have learned to have compassion and understanding of the traumatised woman who gave life to us. We have built a stronger connection to each other, created our own little families and teach our children about a Nan they never got to meet.
We have learned to live without her, to exist in each day with pain from the past and hope for the future. We have grieved the loss of her life, while we gave birth and raise new life in her absence. I didn’t think it would but life went on without her.
She’s not here anymore.
I wanted to write this post for those of you who are without mothers too. For those of you who can’t pick up the phone and call her, who can’t arrange a catch up over dinner, who can’t invite her over, who haven’t heard her voice in the longest time. For those of you who can’t sit next to her or hold her hand or play with her hair or hug her. For those of you who dread Mother’s Day, who resist the urge to look through old photo albums, who feel like Christmas or any family celebration is missing an important piece.
I see you. I’m living with grief too. And while I can’t promise it will get better, because I don’t know if it will, at least let yourself cry when you need to cry. Let the pain roar, let the words fall out. Wrap her jumper around you, fall asleep with her photo, listen to her favourite music, write her name on the inside of your journal, speak to her spirit, reminisce with family, laugh about her with your siblings, teach your children all about her, and most of all, learn to live a life without her.
You are still here. She will live through you and everything you do and become, and she will be proud of every bit of it.
We can still be in pain and be great.
Just don’t deny the loss.
Let grief in.