I was born into what you might call an average upper-working class family. The four of us (my parents, my brother and I) spent family holidays in France, we ate meals together, we made visits to country houses and seaside towns, we read stories together. We were happy.
Then, our perfect little world was turned upside down. My mother was diagnosed with cancer. No more family holidays in France. No more meals together. Visits to country houses and seaside towns were swapped for visits to hospital waiting rooms. No more happy stories, just a sad one. My Mum died in 2006. I was 8 years old.
I can still remember the moment my father told me ‘Mummy is gone’. I did not understand at first, thinking that she had gone to hospital again. Then I saw my father crying, that’s when I understood. He told me ‘she is not coming back’ and I thought of the time I had missed the ice cream van by just a minute so I had shouted for it to come back, it didn’t, so I cried and announced how unfair it was. I screamed at the sky to give my mother back. It didn’t. So I cried, I cried for a very long time. I didn’t announce that it was unfair, I didn’t have to.
In the weeks following my mother’s death, I received a lot of hugs from a lot of different people, sometimes to ease my pain and sometimes to ease their own. Lots of people asked me how I was doing and I said ‘okay’ because it is much more acceptable than saying ‘I am very very sad’. Lots of people said that they were sorry. Lots of people sent sympathy cards and presents. Others shared their memories, whilst others kept their distance. Some we have not heard from since.
Lots of people also said that everything would go back to normal. Everything did not go back to normal. Everything had changed. My father fell into a deep depression. In some ways, it felt as though I had lost not just my mum, but my dad too.
Instead of walking to school hand in hand with my mother, me and my brother walked to school and back under the watchful eye of a child minder*. Upon arriving home, we’d sort dinner out for ourselves as my dad** would not arrive back from work until hours later. On the outside, I was a normal little girl. On the inside, I had become so much older than my years; my childhood had died when my mother did.
This new maturity and awareness of my own mortality caused me to become reserved and insecure. Without a female figure to guide me (my dad has not remarried, and most of my family live far away) navigating my way through adolescence was tricky. Slaloming clumsily through puberty, marvelling at the cruelty and idiocy of young teenage boys. That being said, I’ve made it through.
Although my past was not ideal, the experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today. I am fiercely independent, and my optimism pushes me forward. When I have stumbled, I have learnt to pick myself up, dust myself off, and put myself back onto the tightrope that is life. For now I am a beginner, but with every step I am healing.
To know that she is gone and cannot ever come back is painful. My God is it painful. There are times when all I want to do is run to her, to have her hold me as if I were a child again, to share in my joy, or to piece together a broken heart in the way only a mother can.
This post is for anyone else out there who was told ‘it can’t be that bad’, whose pain was never validated. For those who never heard the words ‘it will all be okay, you’ll see’ and were instead left to wonder if it ever gets any better. For the motherless daughters and fatherless sons who told another that their parent is dead, only to find themselves automatically entered into some sort of perverse competition: ‘well I’ve lost a grandparent, a dog and a great uncle’*** as if grief is measured (if it can even be measured at all) not by the depth of love that you have lost, but instead by a tally, a list of names. And finally to those who were not believed for they smile a smile bright enough to encompass the happiness of both themselves and the person/people they have lost, who fool everyone into believing that they are stronger than a heavyweight champion with their ability to carry on.
I realise that this is different to anything I’ve written on here before in that it’s incredibly personal and slightly dark. I’m hoping that anyone else who has lost someone close to them, parent or otherwise, finds some comfort in this or can at least relate in some way.
*my childminder was wonderful and I am grateful to them for making my childhood much easier, just in case it seems I have portrayed them in a negative light.
**my Dad is a great man, and to successfully raise two young children on your own whilst in the grips of severe mental illness is astounding.
***I’m making a point of ignorance and lack of compassion here. I recognise that losing anyone can be devastating.