The words that I whispered into my dad’s ear as he struggled through his final moments.
The last stage of grief is acceptance.
Next week will be the third anniversary of Ma’s passing.
Dad’s death was hard enough but his illness was terminal and we had time to prepare. Mum’s came as a complete shock – dying without warning of natural causes.
I experienced pain like I’d never known. The woman who had carried me in her womb, arms and heart was gone.
No last “I love you”.
I couldn’t comprehend that Ma, who would reduce workmen to quivering wrecks with her Hyacinth Bucket approach, had succumbed to death like this. I’d imagined that she’d be immortal, like my auntie B (90 odd now) and giving death the V’s until she was ready to go.
Not so. Death came quickly and broke our hearts.
As if losing her wasn’t devastating enough, we had to clear and sell her house – our family home. Anybody who has gone through this will know just how hard it is to put your loved one’s life into boxes and plastic bags.
My brothers and I started this task with heavy hearts but the process took us on a journey of remembrance. There were tears of sorrow and laughter in equal measure. There was no fighting over who should have what. We instinctively knew. Also.. Ma would have flounced down from heaven itself to clip us round the lugholes if we’d have argued.
I took a lot of Ma’s personal stuff such as her clothes. I was always nicking them when she was alive, she had great taste did Ma. I needed to have things that she’d touched or worn. (excluding undies – I’m not weird!) I needed to feel close to her, as close as it was possible to be..
How could something as mundane as a hairbrush become so important?
It was a plain hairbrush but a few silver strands of hair remained within the bristles.
Whenever I went home to see her, I’d always use her hairbrush and she’d do her nut. She hated anyone using her brush – she had a thing about nits. But I’d finally got my hands on the hallowed hair brush without the risk of being bollocked, although a part of me expected it to fly out of my hand.
The most precious items were the brush, her engagement ring and a scarf which was infused with Eau de Ma, the unmistakable aroma of perfume and fags.
Whenever the sadness got too much, I’d take out the scarf, bury my face into it and cry my heart out.
I was angry at her for dying. I was angry at myself for not being there.
I know now that this was a necessary part of the grieving process.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are the stages of grief but everybody’s experience is unique to them.
I experienced all but the bargaining stage with my mother. There was nothing to bargain for as there was no forewarning.
Sadness took the place of anger and it all but consumed me. But, day by day, I got through it by talking and writing about her.
Gradually her clothes have gone into charity bags until only a few special items have remained.
Three years later, the smell of perfume and Silk Cut on the scarf is all but gone but it won’t gather fluff in the bottom of the drawers. I will wear it on a winters day and remember how beautiful she looked wearing it, walking towards me in our little cafe in town.
I am no longer broken. I am no longer lost. I am just on a different path.
I will never be the woman I was before she died. How can I be when she was part of me and I of her?
I was very close to my mother and the depth of my grief is because I loved her so much. Grief, after all, is the price that we pay for loving someone.
Death is a given, yet we’re not comfortable with it unlike a lot of cultures. We fight against it. It’s still taboo.
Ma had 70 years of good health, despite a liking for gin (and whiskey) and puffing on 10 fags a day (slightly more when the gas bill came in) She lived a full and happy life! But she’s back with my dad, most likely getting 15 years worth of nagging in.
Letting go isn’t easy but it is necessary in order to move on. You never get over the loss of someone you’ve loved with all your heart but most people learn to live with it. There are no rules with grief. Some people take months, others take years. Sadly for some, moving on is impossible.
It’s taken me three years to pick myself up but I’m there and on the 27th, I will raise a glass to my wonderful Ma in remembrance of a life lived with love, laughter and dignity. Despite a few moody adolescent moments of me calling her a cow, (then legging it as fast as) I am so proud to call this exceptional lady “Mum”. She couldn’t have loved me any better. I couldn’t have loved her more.
“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”~ For One More Day Mitch Albom