I bought this book many years ago to try to explain to A why I had days where looking at a bag of chestnuts in the supermarket could make me cry. Why I might always have to turn my face away from mums and daughters sharing a cuppa on a Christmas shopping trip. Why I always, always ran to change the channel when the advert for Cancer Research with the girl in the wedding dress came on.
Today marks the ten year anniversary of my Mum's death. Ten years is a long time. In ten years I have become a mother, become a wife, had several jobs, made many friends. There are many important people in my world that my Mum never knew, including three of the most important people I will ever know. Mum has never seen how my daughter has her eyes that crinkle deeply when she smiles. Mum will never see how her eldest grandson loves to fold clothes, and likes to make sure things are arranged just so for the morning before he goes to bed, just like she did. Mum will never get to chuck her youngest grandson under the chin, or carry him about on her chest as he falls asleep.
I am very, very lucky in my life, and have far more materially and spiritually than I deserve, or could have hoped for. But every day there lurks the deep sense of having been cruelly and forcibly robbed of someone I should have had for longer than I did.
When the person that loved you first and always dies, there is a swift adaptation to be made. There is a lot of growing up to do. A bit of the playfulness inside me died too, forever. Up to that point, I had blindly trusted life to eventually work out OK in the end. I don't trust life as much any more.
Although, of course, life has worked out OK in the end. Because I have survived; as have the others who were left behind.
It has not been easy. Not for my Dad, who lost the person he had shared most of his life with, and who had never lived on his own. Not for my brother. We should have been nearing old-age ourselves before having to deal with the family dwindling away. Not for my husband, who had to deal with my grief. Not for my daughter, who had to live without a Nanny, and with a mother of her own who was shell-shocked with grief at her birth, which is not how things should be. Not for my mother-in-law who had to be two grandmothers (a job she excelled at) and also look after a very needy 24 year-old extra child of her own. My Mum's death robbed us all of valuable time and forced upon us heavy responsibilities.
I have become someone who answers questions like "Will your Mum and Dad be coming to see the play?" with "oh well, Dad might come, but my Mum's dead, but it's OK!", keen to protect the feelings of the person who asked the question. And it *is* almost always OK. Except it never actually is, really.
This book sums up these feelings so very well. It's never really OK. But it kind of has to be, because that's how it is.
Two things have upset me over the years. One, that people have said "Oh, I couldn't cope without my Mum!" I know people didn't mean to imply that she died because I didn't need her enough, but that's how it felt. I couldn't cope without my Mum, and yet I have. Death doesn't really give you a choice. Also "she's there in spirit". This is such a common thing to say. Heck, I've said it myself. But really, being "there in spirit" is a hopelessly awful version of actually being there, isn't it? "There in spirit"doesn't get to kiss a sleeping grandchild. "There in spirit" can't make mince pies. "There in spirit" doesn't smell of a lovely mixture of Youth Dew, Elnett hairspray and furniture polish. "There in spirit" doesn't get to see her grandchildren's excited faces when she picks them up from school. She deserved that. She deserved to grow old.
When I got into university, my Mum said "Oooooh, you'll be able to get married in the college chapel!" I responded with something along the lines of "ohmygodyou'resosadasifI'dgetmarriedinthecollegechapellikeamassivesaddo".
Well, I did get married in the college chapel, to my soul mate, eight months after Mum died. "There in spirit" couldn't help me choose my dress and veil, help me put it on, tell me I looked beautiful. My cousin and Auntie did that instead. They were wonderful. We all cried. "There in spirit" couldn't comfort us. I didn't want my mum "there in spirit", just "there".
Little things will always upset me on sad days. Many, many people over the years have comforted me, and I thank you. You are the candles in the dark, in the picture on the last page of this book, which never fails to make me cry.