Life Chez Dee Episode #121: Mum
I haven’t written for a such a long time. I’ve wanted to say so much, and yet there just seems to have been so much stopping me, so much getting in the way. It’s ironic, given that when so much is happening, when so much is in my head, this is the first place I turn to … but it’s a little different at the moment. I've been bogged down with so much, struggling with life, grief, college, thinking of Oliver in his final year at primary school, thinking of William now at University, grieving his absence from home, worrying about Oliver that he's the only child at home, missing his brother at University, missing Edward so much. I think how Edward should be here living life, angry that his life was cut short, angry that we all live with so much pain, angry at all that he's missing, and all that will never be for him, or us. And of course Mum has had such a difficult time of late (so much more than usual) which has caused much difficulty and distress for us all, Mum included. Usually I sit down, and the words just pour out in a torrent, a cascade of thoughts, feelings and emotions, which sometimes gush, sometimes crashing with power and turbulence, sometimes more gentle and meandering. At the moment my thoughts have gathered, they’ve poured out, but they’ve filled up as a reservoir, deep thoughts, safe, dammed, blocked from being released. Today I am opening the dam, and I am allowing this enormous pool of thoughts to pour out ... or at least, begin to.
The last few months have been enormously difficult. Quite honestly the last few years have been enormously difficult. But I think back and the last few decades haven’t been easy either.
My mum was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis about 30 years ago. She lived with the pain and disability of this chronic illness all this time. If that weren’t bad enough, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer 10 years ago and has been battling this, and enduring several rounds of chemotherapy. It’s been tough for her, but Mum was a fighter, and fought both these chronic diseases with dignity and determination.
Mum’s job, vocation, and love, was teaching. She taught all her life, never giving up when she had me, although she took a break when my sister was born, but went back into the profession when my Dad was made redundant. The difference in Mum when she returned to full time teaching was incredible … back to doing what she loved. My sister followed in mum's footsteps, also having a teaching career, and I know their shared love of teaching was very special to them both.
I know Mum delighted in the boys, and she took enormous pride in their talents. Mum had a fabulous general knowledge, a love of history and reading, and I know how proud she was of William, recognising his capability even at a young age, and how thrilled she was being able to see him fulfil his dream of studying Classics at University. Music, art and theatre were also loved by mum, and she loved listening to William and Oliver playing piano, being a pianist herself.
It feels like the end of an era. Mum has been a constant in our lives, always there, always pleased to see us when we descended on her with our noise and chaos and tales to tell. Nothing delighted her more than us all being together, whether that be Christmas, holidays, or any other time.
I know Mum was enormously upset by the death of Edward, and equally I know how much of an impact Edward’s death had on me, Justin, William and Oliver. Edward’s death changed us beyond recognition to others, and indeed to ourselves.
We have struggled in ways that even I cannot even begin to put into words … and I know that is saying something. I know the boys still process their thoughts and feelings, and I know that both Justin and I are still trying to make sense of it. Not a day goes by that Edward doesn’t feature, and even now, as I watched my mum die, and I come to terms with her death, I still try to come to terms with Edward’s death.
Mum had so many difficulties in life to face, and she was so very poorly these last few months. Mum’s death will leave a huge hole in our lives, particularly my Dad’s, who has been a constant for her... husband, friend, rock, confidante and carer for my mum, he has been with her for 62 years. Dad was devoted to Mum, they were barely ever apart; there was banter, they bickered, they liked very different things, they were very different people, and yet they were so very much together. Together since they were teenagers, Dad was everything to Mum; Mum was everything to Dad.
Mum was 76 when she died … she wasn’t that old really, but had lived her life, Mum had grown up, married, had children, a career, enjoyed her grandchildren, and shared so many experiences and made many, many memories with my Dad. Losing Mum has been difficult, and even with knowing this was coming, it has been difficult. Losing a parent isn’t easy, at all, there are so many happy thoughts, sad thoughts, pride and guilt which come with this. Losing a parent is like losing a part of self, part of your identity, and yet your identity carries a part of them with you forever. They live on in your looks, your character, your thoughts, values and beliefs; they live on in your memories and in your heart. Even though death is the inevitable part of life, it isn’t easy when this time comes. But hard as it is, this is the natural order of things. Losing Edward was, is and always will be, the trauma we carry, and the pain which I feel in my heart still from the wound which will never heal, is presently also struggling with the grief I am feeling of my mum no longer being with us.
I’ve said a lot of goodbyes to mum over the years. So many kinds of goodbye. Yes there have been plenty of see you later kinds of goodbye, but also the many goodbyes to the versions of both of us, as she, and indeed I, changed from the people we once were, as we lived, grew older, and faced enormous personal challenges. I’ve said goodbye to mum over the years as she has become more ill, and I said goodbye to mum so many times as we cared for her in these last few weeks. I said goodbye to mum as she died, and I said goodbye as she lay resting. Finally, it was time for my last goodbye.
At mum’s funeral yesterday, so many people gathered to say goodbye. So many friends and family came together to remember her, her life, and share memories.
We arrived in our own car, and therefore we had a long walk up the driveway to the crem. My thoughts gathered as I took each step. Thoughts of mum, and of the occasion; thoughts of mum being reunited with my grandma and grandad, and my nana (mum's mum and dad, and her grandma); thoughts of the boys and how they were feeling, and thoughts of Edward too. As I looked over in the direction of Edward, I found myself having a few words with him too. As we approached, I could see family and friends gathered, waiting to be allowed to go inside. I didn’t try to look and see who was there at this point, I needed to focus on the occasion, where I was going, making my way to stand next to Dad and my sister as my mum was carried from the hearse.
The celebrant told the story of mum’s life, which although beautiful, could never capture the many, many things that we could all say. My sister talked at length about what mum meant to her, and whilst I listened, I reflected on all the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories of my own, and of what mum meant to me. I thought about the numerous days away, coach trips, shopping trips and lunches out I had with mum. The holidays; the celebrations; the every day chit chats over a brew; the delight on her face when she spent time with the children, or just as she heard me talking about them. I said a few lovely and poignant words, written in the poem “Let me go”, which I deeply felt with every part of my being.
The celebrant explained that we were going to play the Frank Sinatra song “That’s Life”, a song which Mum liked. She resonated with its meaning of how even when life knocks you down time and again, you get up and get on with things. The service had come to an end. I soaked in the words as I walked to Mum, put my hand on her coffin and said goodbye.
It was so lovely that so many people came to the funeral and it was lovely to chat to them. Some people I hadn’t seen in a long time, and with each conversation came memories, transporting me back to the places where those memories were made. It was really special.
There are so many thank yous to say... to all who have sent thoughts and messages, to those who came to share this day with us, to pay their respects to and remember mum, and I want to add another thank you at this point to Dawn at Roland Whitehead and Daughter Funeral Directors who looked after mum and provided an exceptional and professional service; and a personal thank you too Dawn for your ongoing and never ending support. Lastly, to my friend Laura, thank you for always being there for me, without fail - you are so much more than a friend, and I know I couldn't have got through every day, facing the most tremendously difficult times in my life, without you.
It’s sad that many of the people here today we have only really met up with in recent years, when we have come together under sad circumstances to remember those we have lost, but I think of the memories and the love that we all share, and that on these occasions we are reminded of and feel that love.
I returned home to the most beautiful message. Amongst much more, it said:
“Was glad to be there … a lovely tribute for your special mum … your words were lovely Liz – just right … after listening to everything that was said about your mum she was a very special lady … don’t forget you are your mother’s daughter too and all of those qualities that defined your mum – intelligent, talented, determined, courageous – you have them all.”
Mum, what once was, is no more; because of you I am who I am, and you will live on in me and the boys forever. I will always miss you, and love you Mum. Goodbye and night night xx