I’ve wondered for a long time whether I should write this post or not. I enjoyed starting this blog, as a way to share my life with family and friends so far away. Without having a wide readership you all know how my life has changed in the last few months. And yet, it felt impossible to come back to writing without acknowledging events; that, at the end of June, my mother died. Perhaps some people will read it who didn’t know, perhaps not. But I’ve realised that the worst thing for me would be to pretend this hadn’t happened. To allow my mother to disappear quietly. My Mum is not an awkward topic. She was my Mum, and I want to talk about her, and about our loss.
Mum had cancer, for a time we thought she was in remission, but that turned out to not be the case. We knew for 23 months that there would be no remission this time. Mum would not get better, and that cancer would be the cause of her death. 23 months. Long enough for Mum to see my son grow from a spewy, cuddly newborn into a boisterous, chatty toddler. To see two more grandchildren arrive, and even both take their first steps. Two more birthdays. Two more Christmases. 23 months of intravenous chemotherapy, radiotherapy, daily chemo pills, bone strengthening drugs, surgery, scans. Mum hated the word ‘battle’. I understand why; battle implies winners and losers. When people declare they won the battle with cancer what does that say about those for whom there can be no victory? The truth is Mum worked for every day she got.
After we moved to Denmark Mum was given the go-ahead by her doctors to travel to Europe with Dad. We were so much looking forward to seeing her here, and showing her where we lived. They started in the warmer south of Europe, visiting Rome where they lived for four years. They only got as far as Nice before it became clear that Mum wasn’t going to be able to continue her travel. Flights were rebooked, but they couldn’t get flights immediately. So the three of us hopped on a plane and joined them in France. I’m pleased to say we had a fabulous time. Mum was so determined to enjoy her time with us. Dad was hard at work pushing her wheelchair over bumpy cobblestones, while Mum tried not to complain. We wandered on the promenade. Ate some lovely food. Saw the Chagall museum. My son loved the wheelchair, occasionally he got rides on Gran’s lap, but best of all was to sit in his pram behind her shouting ‘whoo, whoo’ circulating his arms like wheels.
They got home, Mum was taken straight to hospital. Not long after it became clear her life expectancy was now only months. Then months suddenly became only weeks, and I booked flights for M and I to fly home. Mum died within 36 hours of my arrival in Wellington. She had been ill a long time, but in the end her death was so sudden we were left reeling. I’d absolutely expected when I said good-bye that night to see her in the morning. The loss of that one last day with Mum, in lieu of all the years, has hit all of us hard. But I knew for a long time that however long it was, it would never be enough. I realise, now that the initial shock has dissipated, that even though we knew what was coming, it would always be a shock. That nothing can prepare you for the hard truth of that moment. We’d all grieved a thousand times already, but now we had to begin again.
The last time I spoke to Mum alone, the day before she died, we talked about our holiday in Nice, and how much we all enjoyed ourselves, despite the obvious difficulties. Mum told me that making good memories was what was important in life. I love that M still remembers her, and talks about her. It makes me smile that when he sees a wheelchair he shouts ‘like Gran. Whoo, whoo’. But I know that, at only two, those memories won’t stick around long. So it is important to me, that we talk about her, about who she was, because we are the only way he can know her now.
So here we are. Struggling to get through the day to day in a world without Mum in it. I know that in time it will get easier. It is what Mum would have wanted for us. It doesn’t mean we forget. I know I’ll miss her every day ahead. But Mum raised us well, she taught us to keep going when life was tough. She taught us how to enjoy the small moments, even when life is at its worst. The old clichés are right, the people you love the most never truly leave you. My mother is still with me in ways that are very meaningful to me. And this will give us the strength to do what seems so difficult right now. We’ll make a lifetime’s worth of good memories, even though my mother won’t be there.