My wonderful friend and colleague Lucy McRobert reflects on the decade since her mum passed away, sharing her experience of finding joy and happiness in life despite her loss.
Ten years ago, today, my mum passed away.
Wow. A decade. That seems like such a long time, and yet no time at all. In some ways, my life has changed beyond recognition from the sixteen-year-old that said ‘goodbye’ to her beloved mother; in other ways, I am exactly the same.
A three-year blank spot
There are three distinct bits of my life: before mum got ill; the illness itself; and after she died. The middle bit I can barely remember at all: it’s a three-year blank spot with only flashes of understanding. No emotion, no sadness, no anger. Just blank.
The third chunk, my life in a post-mum world, is far easier to understand. I didn’t realise until I was much older, but it took three years for the grieving process to start properly. Most of it happened, I think, in my third year of University; that’s when I reached my lowest point and really started to come to terms with the loss I was feeling. From sixteen to 21 I occupied every second with education and work. I only missed one day of school following my mum’s death and that was for the funeral. My poor friends and teachers – what torment must they have gone through as they watched me carry on, seemingly as normal?
“memories are triggered by smells, tastes and places mostly”
That was one of the hardest things to cope with in the long-run; when you’re first coping with grief, everyone around you wants to provide support, help and love. There’s an inbuilt expectation that after a year or two, you’ll be on the road to recovery. I hadn’t even started to grieve. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to let people know how much you’re still hurting and the more isolating that feeling can become. It seems like you’re milking it, so you start to feel guilty about digging up the past and occasionally, for no reason, bursting into tears. As Beth said in her last blog, it’s like getting hit by a train. As time passes, the trains get fewer, but when they do hit they come at you with all the force that they can muster: it’s still like getting kicked in the stomach. For a few minutes or hours, very occasionally longer, the world becomes muted and grey. Luckily, I have been surrounded by family and friends who have supported me no matter what, though I have no doubt tested those bonds at times.
The first bit of my life is harder to define. Many of the memories of my mum have faded, like a book cover left out in the sun. Details have become cloudy, partly with age and partly through self-preservation. These memories are triggered by smells, tastes and places mostly. The scent of lilies takes me back to the hospital; hairspray to her bedroom as she got ready for a night out. The taste of Guylian seashell chocolates is Mother’s Day. The fields behind our old house are lazy walks with the dog. What I’m left with is a deep impression and a few very strong, rich and complex feelings that are almost dreams, but enhanced and in high-definition.
Ironing socks and scraping dad’s car
She loved Formula One. She loved red wine (probably too much, in retrospect). She was constantly on a diet that never seemed to work terribly well. She loved seafood. She had a phobia of birds. Her favourite song was Bill Withers, Lovely Day. She did an epic job with Christmases and birthdays (Halloween parties were her speciality; she delighted in terrifying my friends). She had a thing about cleaning and a thing about ironing. She even ironed socks. She was a terrible driver. Once, she scraped my dad’s car down the side of the trolley park in Morrison’s car park. To hide the crime, she parked the car so that the scrape faced away from the house; unsurprisingly, dad discovered it within hours. On another occasion, she backed into a lamppost, and then afterwards claimed (with total sincerity) that it hadn’t been there when she’d started the manoeuvre. I think that was dad’s car, too. She was great at helping with homework. She had the most musical laugh. She was fiery and flirty; fun and occasionally fierce.
“she was so soft and gentle. It’s a memory overflowing with love, safety, comfort and happiness”
The strongest recollection I have of her is a mish-mash of different memories, all compressed into one. It’s the happiest memory I have of her. Every Friday night, my parents would disappear off to the local pubs in the village, leaving me with a babysitter. We’d watch TV and play board games. I was meant to go to bed at nine, but inevitably time would slip by. Suddenly, I’d hear the key in the lock and I would catapult upstairs, diving under the covers and shaking with laughter and rebellion. A couple of minutes later mum would come in, come to my bed and kiss me softly on the cheek. I don’t know if she knew I was awake. Her skin was always cold from the walk home, cool against mine; she smelt of an intoxicating mix of Chanel No.5, L’Oréal Elnett hairspray and the musty smell of the pub. She was so soft and gentle. It’s a memory overflowing with love, safety, comfort and happiness.
Left with love, joy and laughter
“the trains will come and they’ll come with a vengeance, but they won’t come as often and they will pass by”
I don’t know how my life would have turned out if mum had got better. I’m insanely happy now and I have been for many years. I am surrounded every day by wonderful and inspiring people. I don’t feel any anger and have very few regrets. It’s a natural process to lose a parent, even if it was far too soon.
I’ve felt deeply moved by the other stories on this blog; most of them are much more raw and recent. That’s why I wanted to write this down: it does get better (or at least, it did for me). Sadness is a totally necessary emotion: if we never felt sadness, we’d never feel happiness either. We’d never value those things that bring us joy. The trains will come and they’ll come with a vengeance, but they won’t come as often and they will pass by. It’ll hurt like you’ve been slapped, but it gets easier and easier to get back up again. And if you’re lucky like me, you’ll be left with memories that are full of love and joy and laughter. That makes it all worth it.
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