The ‘M’ Word

I always feel like I need to start my blog posts with some sort of justification as to why I’m talking about this particular topic ‘now’. I think it just provides a bit of context for the reader, but for this one I really have no reason as to why I felt like writing about it now – this is something that is in my head all the time. It has become a bit more prominent since I started planning my wedding, but really it’s something that’s always just ‘there’.

I lost my mam six years ago, when I was eighteen. I’d only turned eighteen a few weeks before actually, I had just finished my A Levels and had no idea where my life was going. And yes, it was horrendous. Or so I’m told it was, if I’m totally honest I think I’ve blocked most of it out without realising. People tell me things that I did or said around that time which I genuinely have no recollection of, it’s like I was under anesthetic and forgot it all as soon as I woke up. I still have no idea what happened in the 2012 Olympics which was going on at the time, even though I watched most of it.

“It will get easier” was very much the tag line of Summer 2012 for me, I heard it from everyone, and in hindsight I think it probably did. One memory I do have from that time was when I was at work, stood at the till waiting for a customer to need serving and looking out the window absent-mindedly, and I saw a family of presumably mum, dad, brother and the sister in her graduation outfit having coffee in the Costa opposite. I just became totally overcome with complete jealousy and anger. Although I was over the ‘worst’ of it – the funeral was done, we had got rid of most of her things that we didn’t need or want to keep, her bank accounts were closed and divided up and life was starting to settle in to a new ‘normal’, but the realisation that, whatever my graduation would turn out to be, it would never be that, absolutely broke me. In the end, I never attended my graduation for a lot of reasons, but the obvious mam-shaped hole that would be in every photograph was definitely a big factor.

I do sometimes regret not going to my graduation, and I always knew that if I got married I would be faced with the same dilemma. Initially, I never wanted to do the whole wedding gown, reception, photos and sit down meal palaver for the same reason, but ultimately reached the decision that even though my wedding and all the events leading up to it will never be what I wanted them to be, it’s stupid to spite myself of it altogether. But this is the thing that nobody ever warned me about. The initial shock of the immediate loss and my whole world changing is something that I was somewhat prepared for, but losing someone close to you is a life sentence. It’s a lifetime of frustration over something not being there when you wish it was, but also paradoxically of there being a big, fat elephant in the room that will not leave you alone. I never quite knew how to explain it to other people until I read Mara Wilson’s autobiography (yes, that girl from Matilda – it’s actually a great read I would strongly recommend it to anyone) and she hit the nail on the head:

“No one knows what to say to a child when a parent dies. In a best-case scenario, the child will know it’s okay for them to feel whatever they feel. But no one mentions how it will affect the rest of his or her life. No one told me I’d spend the rest of my life living with a ghost.”

That last sentence was, for me, like that moment when you finally understand a difficult maths problem in school. Suddenly, it all made sense. Sometimes it really feels like I have to live the rest of my life with my mam’s ghost stood next to me – people stare at it and you can see them wondering about it and wanting to ask, but never quite knowing how to phrase it. I’ve had multiple encounters of “and what’s your mam going to wear?”or “will your mam be getting her hair and make up done with you?” from totally innocent, well-meaning people throughout my wedding planning and I much prefer these interactions because then it gives me the window to explain. But when I went wedding dress and accessory shopping with my friends, a friend’s mam and one of my mam’s friends, I could tell people were wondering where my mam was in all of this. It happens every Christmas too, when the inevitable ‘and what are you doing on the day?’ questions start. Having to say ‘I’m cooking for me, my partner, my in-laws and my dad’ triggers a look of such bewilderment. It’s like having food stuck in your teeth after eating a really herby pasta – you’re not quite sure if the other person has noticed it, and the other person isn’t sure whether they want to make it uncomfortable by bringing it up.

Sadly, I don’t think there is ever going to be a resolution to this. Unless resurrection becomes possible, but even still I would then have to explain why she mysteriously disappeared for years, I’m going to have to spend my life being followed around by a shell of my mam and having to answer the awkward question of why I never seem to spend time with a mother. Hopefully, when I reach the age at which other people’s parents start to die off, there’ll be fewer questions. I think the main issue is me being twenty four and clearly not having a mother-daughter relationship of any kind which invites the curiosity. In summary, losing a parent too soon is absolutely awful, but the one thing I wish someone had prepared me for was the lifetime of awkward, sympathetic head tilts and confusion over why I appear to have a father but no mother. Whenever the topic does arise, it always seems to end up with me comforting the other person through their painful embarrassment at having triggered a conversation about death, an unpleasantness which Brits just don’t ever discuss. So if anyone knows of a polite way to say ‘no, my mother didn’t abandon me, she’s not in prison or on drugs she’s dead from a disease and not some dramatic suicide, and no don’t worry I’m not now going to break down in tears and make you feel uncomfortable’, then please let me know.