It’s been quite some time, years probably, since I felt truly compelled to talk about the loss of my Mum. Each year, on the anniversary of her death, I try to acknowledge it somehow; but for the most part, it’s a cross I carry in silence. She’s been gone almost 18 years now, well over half of my life. By most, she’s been forgotten. There’s only a small number who probably still think of her and even less who do so regularly. When she died, there was this mantra of grief, “it gets easier” and I would long for that day. I was only 14 and all I knew was that I’d never felt a pain like it and I just wanted it to stop. It never did, but it did ease. Even now though, there genuinely isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of her, however fleetingly. She is still an enormous part of my life, just one that exists solely in my mind.
The thing that prompted this post was a seemingly innocuous conversation and one that I must’ve had a thousand times over the years. Small talk with a stranger. Once we’d covered the essentials (the weather, kids, age sex location), the inevitable, “Where are you from? Are your family still living there?” Then, somehow, it always leads to a question about my Mum. “Do you see much of your Mum? Are you close?” I’ve spent nearly two decades fending off these perfectly normal questions and even now, I simply don’t know how best to answer. For the longest time, I would awkwardly say “I don’t have a Mum”, but of course, that did her a great disservice. I do have one. She’s just not here anymore. With age and a slight increase in wisdom, I became better at saying, “she died when I was a child.” But even that, even now, creates such an atmosphere of intense awkwardness, it began to exhaust me. I can talk about her with no qualms. In fact, I like to. She was a fantastic character with so many stories to tell. The opportunity to recant them, I relish. Anything to reignite those embers of memory. But drop death into a conversation and even the most eloquent find the right approach unfathomable. So the other week, in a random and harmless conversation, when the subject of my Mum came up, I lied. A split second of indecision and the realisation that I’d probably never speak to this person again, I decided I’d save us both the awkwardness and tell her that yes, my Mum did still live in my hometown; she did indeed love being a grandma; I’m sure she would love to spend more time with us, but she works; and yes, we did speak on the phone regularly.
I felt the words rolling off my tongue and tried to imagine that I was talking about my Gran or my Step Mum, but of course, I wasn’t. I don’t know why a few minutes of polite conversation are now bouncing around, waving their arms about at the periphery of my mind, weeks later. I don’t know why it’s still bugging me so much. No harm done and a cringe inducing silence were avoided. But I guess I just needed to address this in a bigger way than those imaginary conversations we have with ourselves in the shower, wishing we’d said something different or approached it in another way. I guess I just wanted to admit that in the 18 years since losing her, I still haven’t’ figured out how to say that out loud in a way that doesn’t automatically darken the mood. So I don’t think I ever will.
Not having a Mum is and has been my life for an incredibly long time now. It’s my normal. So why is it still so abnormal to confess to that? I suppose we, as humans, don’t enjoy being faced with our own mortality. We don’t like to talk about death and loss. It scares us. We know it will happen to us all eventually, but when it happens prematurely, well, it’s terrifying. It’s taboo. We just don’t like to talk about it. Additionally, we’re British. We have the whole stiff upper lip thing going on. We don’t do public displays of emotion. We do not cope well with another’s tears. So we don’t want to upset anyone and if we do, we don’t really want to deal with the aftermath. And let’s not forget, we’re judgemental. If we do inadvertently end up in an awkward conversation about bereavement, without even meaning to, we will judge the bereaved’s reaction to it. I remember still, all this time later, returning to school after my Mum died and being called “heartless” by a fellow pupil because I wasn’t crying. Even teenagers have strong opinions about how others must deal with their losses. How severely it should be felt, how long it should be felt for and the appropriate number of tears to cry. The whole I couldn’t even get out of bed, if it were me attitude. I’m a dark humour kind of gal myself and let me tell you, that really grinds the gears of the mourning police. The truth is, we’re all different, we all grieve differently; but the one constant is that we all feel awkward AF when someone drops the D-bomb.
Loss, of any kind, I’ve come to realise, is a permanent affliction. Once you’ve experienced it, it never ever goes away. That missing piece will always be missing. Over time, it becomes easier for life to function around that gap and eventually, you barely even realise the small abyss is there as you nonchalantly side step it during the day to day. But there are times when you’re reminded just how big a part of you is missing. How, even when it’s just something you’ve become entirely used to, when someone else notices that hole for the first time, they may find it alarming because initially, they didn’t even realise it was there. A lot of the time I consider that I’m “over” the loss of my Mum, but occasionally I realise, as obvious as it sounds, that I never really will be.