Sunday, 16 May 2010

Darling Mum

My beautiful mum died 32 years ago today, when I was 7. I can still remember the chilling knock on the door that roused our sleeping household. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs in my flannel nightie, listening to the policeman and my dad speaking in low, hushed tones in the sitting room. I remember my dad showing the man to the door and then the agonising wait for him to come back upstairs. I imagine now that he must have had to compose himself, before he came to tell us the news. That he must have run through the words, rehearsed how he would explain to his 3 beloved children that we would never see our mother again. Knowing my dad, how brave and selfless he was, he would not have given much thought to his own grief and loss.

He took us all into my brothers' room, sat us on the bed and told us that our mum had died. Jonathan didn't believe him, typically he was angry and kept shouting that my father was lying. I remember Dad telling us things would be OK. I suppose rationally I knew that my mum had been ill, she had been in hospital for many months before she died. But, the lack of explanation about why she died, and the mysterious appearance of a policeman at the door began to feed my imagination. I began to think that she had been murdered. The specter of that murderer would haunt me all through my childhood. I absolutely believed it. I became introverted, scared of the dark, scared of going into rooms on my own. I was plagued with nightmares. The reality of my mum's death was much more prosaic. She'd simply died of breast cancer. She'd found a lump and had ignored it. Now it is the specter of breast cancer is the ghost that haunts and terrifies me. I am very aware that I am now the age my mum was when she fell ill.

The day after my mum's death, in the briskly stoic way typical of our family, I was walked to school as usual. I remember I was the first one in the school yard. Our kindly, white-haired headteacher came out to see me, to find out why I was at school so early.

'It's because my mummy is dead.'

I remember that moment clearly. The school yard was surrounded with huge and beautiful mature elm trees. The day was wild and blustery and the branches of the trees were swaying and rustling in the wind. I remember being quite irked that I'd been sent to school. It seemed cruel. I should have been allowed to stay off, I thought to myself, crossly. I got my wish the next day though. My 8th birthday. My mother's funeral. I was cross about that too. I distinctly remember thinking

'This isn't fair. What are they thinking? I'm far too young to go to a funeral.'

I've never liked birthdays. I suppose that is the reason. From being a child, birthdays and Christmases were associated with loss, they were defined by the absence of my mum. Special days before her death were magical: tea parties, home-made birthday cakes, party dresses, sing-songs around the piano. My mum lived for her family - all she wanted in life was a cosy, comfortable home and a husband and children to love, cherish and look after. Those distinctly feminine values and aspirations sadly seem ever so archaic and outdated now. That's a shame, I think. We could do with more gentleness and nurturing in the world. The sad truth is, my mother's warmth and love was just too big a loss for us all to bear. We all suffered it in different ways. I suffer it still.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry you lost your Mum at such an early age. I feel for you.