I read an article this week in The Guardian that put, very eloquently, the feeling of grief you experience when you lose your mother. In it, the journalist, David Ferguson describes how losing a mother is, actually, a poor description of what it feels like when your mother has died. He describes it as a violent, raw pain that “reaches all the way down to your ligaments and bones.” He tells of sudden, overwhelming “explosions of feelings” that come out of nowhere and take you by surprise. It is a great article and one I strangely, enjoyed reading. My mother is still with us physically, but what he described, that loss – I felt like he had nailed it. A painful grief that is so bad some days you literally can’t get enough air in your lungs and you feel weighted down by a heavy fog that just won’t lift.
Most of the time I feel fine. I really do. Life carries on doesn’t it and with 3 children and a business to juggle, along with the after school activities and all the other things we mums try and squeeze into our busy weeks, there is not too much time for reflecting on my grief. It is just there, tapping me on the shoulder every so often, nudging me gently to remind me of its existence, and I am learning to live with it. But, then sometimes I make the most dreadful howlers, and I wonder whether it is the strain of my family’s situation, or whether it is not that at all and it is simply that I have too many balls in the air and every so often, one falls. Or, sometimes I worry whether it is something worse?
I was supposed to go to a friend’s for coffee a couple of weeks ago. I had it all arranged – I would go before school pick up, so would aim for around 2pm – it would give us plenty time for a catch up and a cuppa. She text me that day, at around 2:45 asking if everything was okay. Had there been an accident? An incident? Had I been called in to work? No. I was at home, on my laptop working. I was mortified. I had simply forgotten! That is so not like me it actually frightened me how it had slipped my mind so easily. I apologised profusely and we rearranged for yesterday. Same arrangements – 2pm and I expected she would bake, (she is one of those talented mums that can bake and sew and do lots of other crafty things, and she puts me to shame all the time) so yesterday morning I was looking forward to seeing her and enthusiastically stuffing some delicious home made coffee and walnut cake down my neck. At 3.30pm I pulled up at school and it hit me like a freight train…..I had completely forgotten to go for coffee… again! I sat, open mouthed in my car, shocked at my own forgetfulness and absentmindedness and utterly horrified. How would I explain it the second time? Would she believe that I’d just forgotten? Oh my God! Would she think I had done this on purpose? Was I showing signs of early on-set dementia? Bloody hell!
So, I text her, a few times and tried to convey my sincere apologies. I took some flowers round and left them on her door this morning (I knocked, she didn’t answer) and I have text her again today. I am mortified as I hate upsetting people I really like (not so bothered about people I don’t) and I know my friend has been very poorly for the last few years and maybe she could have really done with a good natter and a giggle and a slice of cake. Thankfully, she seems to have forgiven me – I just have to make sure I don’t do it a third time…..then I’d be booking myself in for an SPECT scan to check the blood flow to the different areas of my brain. I may joke, but deep down it does play on your mind. My sister and I joke about it….which one of us 3 will get it, we laugh! “It’s bound to be me” says Emma. “No way” I laugh, “it’ll be me!” Then my brother will forget something and we’ll all fall about laughing and pointing at him…. “It’s definitely going to be you!”
It’s easy to laugh about it all sometimes – in fact, some days it’s the only way to cope. We text each other regularly, checking who has spoken to ‘The Crazy’ today. Usually, it is all 3 of us. More often than not, we all check in at some point to see that dad is coping and he is getting some kind of enjoyment out of the day. That she is not being too mean to him, that he has managed to get out and walk the dog and is eating.
I have looked back at some old emails today, emails from last April, when our lives started to change and Mum’s delusions and confusions were so very new to us. In the early emails, between my dad, my sister, my brother and sometimes my very lovely aunt there is obvious concern but there is hope. Hope, initially, that it is a side effect of the drugs she was taking for her depression. Hope that her behaviour and memory loss was linked to a trauma long-forgotten that was causing her brain to block other things out. Hope that it was possibly tiny strokes that were impacting on the blood flow to the brain. Then later, hope that it was perhaps a blockage, or a tumour, as this was potentially curable. Then, slowly and almost imperceptibly, the hope runs out and the tone of the emails between us changes. We no longer ask about the tablets she is on, we no longer invite my dad down to visit so that we can try and help with his daily struggle, as we know she can no longer be anywhere else, she can no longer go anywhere else. We no longer try and look for hope in new techniques or try to encourage Dad to get her more involved in the gardening, dancing or cooking. Those days, we gradually realise, are behind us forever.
I bumped into a friend this morning (whilst out buying flowers for the other friend I had completely let down) and she said that it would possibly be better to have cancer. I think there is certainly an argument for that, because then at least there is hope and I suppose even the tiniest bit of hope is better than the alternative. The alternative, let me be absolutely clear, is shit. It is a dark and depressing pool of festering sludge that you suddenly find yourself toe-deep in, having to force yourself to step back and away from, as if you step any further in, you’re not sure if you’ll actually find your way out. So instead, you build a barrier and you guard against that deep pool of grief seeping in. You keep busy, you focus on what you can do to help and what needs to be done, rather than on what you have lost. You turn your back when the dirty water laps up against your knees and threatens to splash your face, tainting you with its blackness and its darkness, hoping it will wash off again soon. But the dark pool of sludgy water is there all the time, lapping at your feet, trying to get at you somehow, trying to dirty you, even a little.
But, grief is not a competition and even if it was – no one would win. I lost a gorgeous aunt last year to breast cancer. She was just amazing and I absolutely adored her. She left behind four very handsome and accomplished boys, who I am sure miss her terribly. I think about her often and have a photo near by bed of her and my mum from about 10 years ago. Both of them looking beautiful, young and happy. Would I rather lose my mum to the Big C? No. Would I rather she dies suddenly in an accident, no suffering involved? No. I don’t want any of these things. I don’t want to ‘lose’ my mum…ever! I want her to be with me always, supporting me, laughing with me, pissing me off sometimes. I don’t want to feel this dreadful ongoing grief. I don’t want to feel this “suffocating cloud of sadness” all the bloody time. But, that is not reality and even if she wasn’t so very poorly with dementia, inevitably, I would lose her at some point and this is what the article in The Guardian showed me. That we will all go through this, at different times and in different ways, but for each of us who have been lucky enough to have had a loving and wonderful mother, of course we will experience the “bottomless” pain of their loss. So, I really like this journalist’s advice and would second it….. “brace yourselves” my friends, for the ride is treacherous and the feeling of loss is of a magnitude so great, it is deeply overwhelming. But, the pain is also a testament to the love we were lucky to share and, I am “so, so lucky to have loved and been loved that much by anyone.”
So, the more you love and are loved, the more painful it is. If my mum hadn’t been so bloody wonderful, then this would be easier to bear – it wouldn’t hurt quite so much. If my aunt hadn’t been such a wonderful mother and such a bright, spark of a woman, then her loss would be easier for my cousins to cope with. Well, bring on the pain then – I am ready to embrace it. It is a testament to my mother’s love and I am grateful for it. The alternative – a pain more easy to bear, because the loss is somehow less, is really not worth thinking about. Thank you Mum, it hurts so, so much – but for that, I thank you.