On mother’s day without a mum

Mother’s Day is one of the few days in the year that I feel keenly the absence of my own mother – and by extension, the absence of close family.

It’s there at birthdays and at Christmas, and at odd occasions throughout the year, such as Easter and so on. These are family times, and when mum was about occasions that were extravagantly and joyfully celebrated. I remember sometimes back then reluctantly taking myself off to yet another of these occasions when mum was still about. You know what it’s like. Sometimes it’s a drag. But then you lose it and you realise how deep the loss goes. I miss those excuses to get together and celebrate, miss the food and the laughter and the warm presence of family about me, and of course, miss the love and affection of mum.

While I feel it most keenly on days like today there will often  be moments of remembrance and regret. I’ll see something on TV and remember how once upon a time mum and I might have talked about it – music mainly, the occasional movie, moments in time. I’ll think of questions I wish I had have asked mum while I still could – that chance is now gone. And of course I miss having someone to turn to give me the unconditional love of a mother.

I’d hadn’t lost a parent till mum, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel, or how it plays out over time. I find myself surprised though to still miss her like I do, and to still carry that sense of loss. Is that normal? I don’t know, but I suspect in my case it might be different.

We speak in general terms. There is no normal. The nearest thing we have to that is the middle of the bell curve, but within that there are many variations and gradations. Everyone is difference. Their history is different, as to are their personalities, not to mention relationships. Taken together it’s a chemical stew. It’s real for every one of us, and different for every one of us. As it is for me.

I’ve long felt that I never really had the chance to mourn mum’s death as I would have liked, and because of that I still feel pangs of angst and remorse.

When mum died I was in the middle of my own personal catastrophe. I was struggling, out of work, out of money, and without a home. I had to work hard just to remain afloat, and it consumed a lot of me. On top of that mum had been dying for a while and I was her main support. Much of that was logistical – I would take her to and from the hospital, and liaise with her doctors. And it was emotional support, of course. I watched her die and knew it was coming. She knew too, and welcomed it, but didn’t want to be alone. I gave a lot, and it took a lot from me.

Then the inevitable happened and she passed away. I remember the stunned, numbing realisation I felt when I got the news. It had happened. She was gone. I would never see or speak to her again. But then there were things to do. As it does always, it fell to me to act, to make the calls, to speak to the funeral directors, to plan the ceremony and organise the catering, to coordinate and organise and liaise. In truth I’m in my element, but it took me away from what had happened.

I remember in the days after her funeral everything felt like it had stopped. Life would go on. Over time people would forget. The sun still had warmth in it. I felt a distant desolation that was almost existential. I went away, to Malaysia, still feeling this and trying to deal with it, trying to play a role I couldn’t feel at that time. Much as I needed people, I also needed to find my own peace and solitude.

But then mum’s will blew up and the family divided and there was acrimony with one of the executors and I was forced to confront this and take a hard-line, which I did, all the while living a precarious existence without money or hope and in tenuous accommodation. By the time most of it was resolved the moment had passed. Mum was gone and I hadn’t really had the chance to farewell her in my own way – and so I feel that ache regularly in the years since.

Much as I can blame circumstance, some of this is pathological. I’ve had a rugged time these last few years. Tough as it has been I’ve been grateful that I’ve maintained a healthy state of mind. I’m lucky, I think, in that I react to trouble and not succumb to it. It’s how I want to be. And yet it would have been so simple – and at times, a relief – to slip into depression. I’ve had my moments of it. A day here and there, the occasional down week, but never anything too prolonged or debilitating.

What that has meant is that I’ve survived what otherwise might have killed me. I’ve hung on by the skin of my teeth, but would have long gone under had depression got its claws in me.

I know what it’s like, and in recent times I’ve seen it in other people. At its worse it turns a perfectly functioning individual into a non-functional wreck. It’s destructive and miserable and robs life of hope and colour.

I’ve wondered sometimes if that is in me, but suppressed. That would very much be in character. I set things aside to get the job done. Shove it into the corner and lock it up. Am I depressed, but don’t know it? Is that possible? If a tree falls in a forest and no-one hears it…

If I am depressed then it’s not of the worst type. No chance of locking something like that away. It’s possible though that I’ve dealt with the worst of it by turning aside. I know there are harsh realities that would make me utterly miserable if I were to contemplate them, and so I don’t. That’s not cowardice, but common-sense. I can’t change the things that have happened, and dwelling on all that I’ve lost would only make me mad. Like I said to a struggling friend the other day, focus on the positives.

Living like this can only go on so long, however. I’ve always thought that when I get the time and the right circumstances then I’ll grieve for mum like I never did before – as if it was something I could just turn on. Likewise with the other things – when I have a better job and more money, when I can begin to live normally again, etc, then I can step away from the present.

I hate my job and I realised during the week that though I put a brave face on it that I’m unhappy – and why wouldn’t I be? There’s little colour in my life, and no joy. You keep thinking, endure it, but to live in survival mode for years on end is both exhausting and dispiriting. I keep looking forward to a time when it will be different, as if it is inevitable. But when is that, and how?

There’s no silver bullet. What I feel about mum now is my reality, and perhaps it will ever be so – and I can live with that. As for the rest I realise it’s in the doing that I might find relief. The colour and hope comes from doing things I want to do, and in my case that’s largely creative – personally and professionally. The world might be black and white, but it doesn’t mean you should be colour-blind.

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