A photo popped up in my news feed on Facebook on Thursday morning that stunned me when I saw it. It was a memory from 26 years ago, the day my mum got married for the second time, and it was my job to give her away. Twenty six years ago, I thought. Wow. I looked at the photo, a rush of emotions passing through me that all combined made for a poignant melancholy.
My mum stood on the spiral staircase of the home she shared with the man who was to become my stepfather. She was resplendent in her elegant wedding gown, her hair teased into the fashion of the day, a bouquet of flowers in her hands and beaming at the man at the foot of the staircase. He looked up at her with a wry, understated smile, blonde hair parted neatly on the left and looking dapper in a dinner suit with maroon bow tie and cumberbund, and a cream rose in the lapel . Of course the man was me.
It seemed so fresh. There was my mum. She was so happy that day, and for many years to come. And me. I looked clean-cut and handsome. How much water has gone under the bridge since then.
I’ll break with convention and for once post a photo here of adult me in it. See for yourself:
I posted the photo to Facebook, feeling pregnant with the occasion: 26 years ago today! A bunch of people commented, or liked it, including a few who knew mum, and one who was there on that day.
Last night as I was leaving work I was contacted by the woman who had been there. We’re at Southbank, she said, come down for a drink.
I got there just as her husband was leaving, and I was alone there with her. We spoke about a bunch of things, but inevitably the conversation came back to mum.
People die and pass from our common life. There’s a ruction in the fabric of our lives, but over time it mends itself. The pain of loss dulls with familiarity. We grow accustomed to the absence. We form new routines.
That’s true for all, but for some the person gone lingers despite that. Life has gone on, but the sorrow is still fresh when the mind turns to it. You may have new routines, but you remember how it used to be, and mourn what cannot be anymore. The death of a loved one is not something you ever really get over.
For me, when I feel it, it’s a dull ache. I’m a practical man ultimately and I know it’s the way of the world, people come and go. I could argue that mum went too soon, twenty years too soon, but that too is a part of life. Unfortunately for me I’m one of those prematurely deprived of a loved one. For me it has been a life changer, but I put it in a box and deal with it. There’s no undoing it.
For others the loss felt is much keener. The woman I met with last night was mum’s best friend. They had an intense and intimate friendship. I feel as if while everyone else has got on with things that A and I have kept the fire burning in mum’s memory. I see her now only because of mum. We meet and remember, and perhaps share a little of the pain of loss. I get something out of it, but more importantly I keep the relationship open for her, and for mum, and because I represent to A her only link now to mum. It would be cruel to deprive her of that, and I know that mum would be happy to see us remember her together.
Last night though it got maudlin. Too much white wine made it emotional. A began to cry as she told me how much she missed mum. It was ‘toxic’, she said. I listened in, feeling uncomfortable, and not knowing what to say – I’m not at my best in those circumstances. She spoke of mum as if she was the love of her life. She has been married twice and has three boys, but the emotional bond of her lifetime was with my mum. She told me how she would do anything for me because I was my mother’s son. She feels responsible for me in some ways, and the connection is precious to her.
She knows nothing of my problems. I’m not one to broadcast my troubles in any case, but I’m doubly careful with A. I used to keep things from mum because I knew they would worry her. I always felt as if I could handle anything except mum getting in a tizz over me. Whatever challenges I had always felt more difficult knowing I had to deal with a stressing mum as well – and so I would censor the things I told her.
A is a different woman, but she represents mum. Certainly she would worry about me if she knew the truth, and may try to help me out. I don’t want that, for pride as much as anything else. More than anything though I don’t want to spoil the illusion for her. Mum is dead, but on earth I have become the living representative of her in the eyes of A. It’s important that I’m happy and well, and I’m careful to reassure her of that.
Strange, as long as I’m happy and well there is someone out there who takes comfort in it.
Anyway, the upshot of everything is that it’s mum’s birthday in a couple of weeks and there’s a small group of us getting together to celebrate it and to remember mum. It feels a little morbid, but maybe it’s something I need to do.