Passing through

This morning I had to pay mum’s old paper bill. As I’ve become accustomed to I explained that she had passed away and the service was no longer required or applicable. As on pretty much every occasion I was offered polite commiserations; and as on every other occasion I felt uncomfortable responding to them. Everyone is nice, their sympathy genuine. I appreciate it, but any response of mine seems inadequate. Rather than saying anything I now respond with a nod of the head.

It’s feels so odd to tell people that my mum is ‘deceased’ or has ‘passed-away’. They seem such mealy-mouthed phrases, acceptable cliches to denote death – but, as I’ve come to understand, so much easier to squeeze out than to express the blunt truth that mum is ‘dead’. It seems to me a ritual we fall into by conventional habit to manage an awkward situation. We skate across the surface of things with words like this, but there seems a touch of the absurd to it when I stop to think about it. They are like scripted lines, I say mum has passed away, the other responds with conventional platitudes, and I am left as I walk from the newsagents recalling the famous skit from Monty Python about the dead parrot.

Of course there is something stranger than the mere expressions of sympathy. Odd as the words are, they seem occasionally to be incredible when I utter them in relation to my own mother. Is she dead? Really? Really? Though it has been 2 months now it often seems unreal still. It’s such an enormous concept that it’s hard to grasp that the person who was ever there will never be there again – and in fact has gone, deceased, passed away.

There are times it feels very real. Over the weekend I decided to go through some of mum’s cupboards and drawers to begin the slow process of dismantling the story of her life. There were a lot of memories there. At one point I picked up a pile of old cooking magazines and sat down to go through them. I discovered that in many mum had made little notes. Perhaps in every second magazine there was a sheet of a notebook taped to the inside cover with a list of recipes she fancied alongside the corresponding page number in mum’s distinct and flowing handwriting. I sat and looked at the words, so banal really, while somewhere in the back of my mind I pondered at the time and situation mum first scribbled those lines. I felt a kind of controlled sadness, and a sense almost of waste. Mostly I carry on, but there are regular moments when I feel the grief spill over in me. At times I feel like a little boy who has lost his mother in the crowd.

At times I am different, almost blunt. The phone rings, it is someone trying to sell something. They ask for mum. She’s not here I say. Sometimes I tell them that Mrs Davis doesn’t exist. They get confused. When will she be back? They ask. She won’t be back I tell them, she’s passed away. Mostly they apologise and go away, though one then tried to sell something to me. No thanks.

Besides the grief there are times I feel guilty. I try and understand what it is I feel guilty at. Could I have done more? No, not really. I did all I could in the end, and she appreciated it, but before then… I realise finally that I feel guilty that I didn’t appreciate mum sufficiently while she was alive. And guilty that I had no real conception of what it would be like to lose her. These are not things I can change now, and are sufficiently human I think to be forgiven at some point – I’m the lose after all. It’s for this reason though I get so angry at the shenanigans related to her will. They seem so small, so petty, in perspective to mum’s death, and so disrespectful of her.

When I look back, as occasionally I do, I see people disappearing from my life like so many green bottles. Grandparents, then aunts and uncles, and now my mum. Once upon a time I was in the middle of a loving family. I felt loved, even adored, and sometimes spoilt. One by one they exit, until there are so few left. With the passing of mum I know my greatest supporter has gone, and the person who loved me best in all the world. I feel guilty at not properly acknowledging that, and miss it now that life feels so trying. Time goes on, these wounds will heal, I’ll find others to love and be loved by, but for now, sometimes, I feel isolated and more alone than I ever have before knowing that there is one less person pulling for me.

Grief is personal. We pine not for the person who has gone, but for what we have lost in their passing. It’s a process of perfectly understandable selfishness and, I guess, a process that must be passed through.

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