Two years have passed since my mother died. This time around, her anniversary has fallen on the eve of Mother’s Day – a fact that sounds really nice and symbolic, but kind of isn’t. It’s quite convenient that her anniversary mass coincides with Mother’s Day itself, simply because it neatly condenses two sad occasions into one, but it doesn’t really make it more sad or poignant than if it fell on, for instance, Good Friday, as it did last year.
Grief hasn’t been what I expected. It hasn’t started to abate, as I had naively thought it would, with the passage of time. Those moments of total bereavement are no less intense or unbearable now than they were two years ago. Contrary to what I had previously assumed, grief isn’t this safe, predictable, linear process that starts off terrible and then eventually fades away. For me, it comes in waves, sometimes when I least expect it – when a random memory pops into my head for no discernible reason at all, or when I stumble across some new television series or film that I just know Mum would have loved. Other times, I find myself actively seeking it out, like some kind of weird mourning-masochist, tearfully thumbing through old photo albums and immersing myself in memories of an idyllic childhood.
Mum was usually the one holding the camera, so we don’t have that many photos of her. Unless, of course, you count the ones where her finger was covering the lens (she was, by her own admission, never a great photographer). We have a couple of videos of childhood birthday parties, but I can’t bring myself to watch them just yet. Photographs are one thing, but actually hearing her voice (particularly her legendary rendition of the ‘Hokey Pokey’) is probably a step too far right now. Still, it’s an incredibly nice thing to have.
Faced with the likelihood that nobody else is ever again going to offer me that same unconditional love – the type that you can only get from your mother – I feel helpless, like a scared, lost child. In a strange way, it’s like a magnified version of that ‘first-day-at-school’ feeling. Instead of clinging onto her leg, whinging and begging her not to leave me in this strange, scary place, surrounded by other children also whinging, begging and clinging onto their mothers’ legs, I find myself hopelessly, powerlessly and – let’s be totally honest here – quite selfishly and pathetically wishing that I could go back in time and maybe even make her proud. A world without her feels like a strange, scary place.
My mum was a kind, warm, gentle soul, who trod cheerfully through a life that wasn’t always very kind to her. She lost her own mother when she was sixteen, and her father when she was twenty-two. She endured an unfair amount of rotten luck throughout her life, especially in her final years as her health began to deteriorate, but whenever anything went wrong, she had an amazing ability to just pick herself up and carry on. Her stoicism was extraordinary – and her ability to tolerate physical pain was bordering on superhuman, and probably quite dangerous. She once reacted to a minor heart-attack by taking two Nurofen, before eventually going to the doctor… three whole days later.
It’s something of a cliché, when a person dies from cancer, to say that their illness was ‘borne bravely’. In my mother’s case, it couldn’t have been more true. Terminally ill at the age of only fifty-eight, she had every right to be angry about her situation. But she had no time for that kind of carry-on. Even throughout her month in Blackrock Hospice, she remained determined to extract as much fun and enjoyment from life as she possibly could. She was obviously scared of what was happening, but she hid it well, always showing more concern for everybody else than for herself. Always apologising for something that was completely beyond her control. She had an ability to accumulate friends wherever she went, and had so many visitors that the hospice staff were genuinely worried about crowd-control. I hope so much that she knew how many people loved her.
I wish she was still here.