My Mother Dorne, at her debut 1958.
Apparently it was Ernest Hemingway who said; “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. Today, I understand what he was talking about. I have a story in me that wants to get out and I would do almost anything to keep it from having its way. It’s not a new story; in fact, it’s one that has been there (like a splinter) for most of my life.
How do I start to tell you what it is like to grow up without your mother? I could recount a million hallmark moments that she should have seen but never did. Could tell you about my first day at school, those awkward adolescent ordeals, my graduation, my wedding day, the time I held my first born in my arms (and realised what a fierce creature love is). All of those are the stories of loss that you expect to hear from someone whose mother has died. You expect us to tell you how hard it was to put on the white dress and go to the happiest day of our life when there was a space at the table that could never be filled, and it was. Around every big event of my life I hear the softly whispered words; “she should have been here.”
But for me, it isn’t so much those grand moments that remind me I have lost; they are actually the moments that remind others that I have lost. It’s the mundane ones that start tears flowing and heart aching. It’s the moment when I’m sitting on the kitchen floor trying to work out if there is a “right” way to clean the fridge and feeling sure that if I had a mother, she would have taught me. And feeling cheated that I don’t, and she can’t. It’s when I ring my doctor and pull her from a consult because I’m hysterical that my baby has a rash on a hot day, and then feeling stupid because my mother could have told me it was just prickly heat. It’s seeing another mother and daughter strolling through the shops hand in hand and wishing you could just for one moment have that too. It’s never getting to feel frustrated or crowded or embarrassed by a woman who looks disconcertingly similar to myself. Those are the things that make me cry.
If you want to know what it feels like for a woman to lose her mum, don’t ask her about the big days of her life, ask her about the ordinary ones.
So, part of the fabric of me is the fact that my mother died, and I will continue to miss her in surprising ways for the rest of my life. But that isn’t all there is. Hope Edelman wrote an insightful book called “Motherless Daughters” and I cried my whole way through it. In it, she makes the point that as awful as mother-loss is to deal with, there is another side to the coin too. You see motherless daughters tend to become strong women. We have faced the worst that can happen and survived. We have learned the art of endurance and hopefully, as time goes by, we learn to be at peace about the gap in the family photo or the way the phone doesn’t ring. We learn to be compassionate and adoptive because we know what it feels like to lose and we realise that every family can make a small space for one more person – not to make up for their loss but to show them that there is still love in a world that is missing someone precious.
And though we don’t want it to, we learn that life eventually does go on without her. If we are blessed enough to have memories of her, we wrap them in our softest blanket and pull them out on cold nights when life lends itself to tears. I’ve learned to accept that something bad happened and that I missed out on someone important, but that life can still be good. I’ve learned that it’s okay to have days where you sit and cry into your fridge just like its okay when you have weeks or months when you forget that you have anything at all to cry about. I’ve learned to count as precious the beautiful blessing I have in my husband and my sons. I’ve learned that I am more resilient than I could have imagined. And I have learned that the tears can coexist with lots of laughter – because mostly, life is actually pretty good. They are not necessarily the lessons I would have chosen, but they are valuable nonetheless. I didn’t get to choose how I grew up but I can choose to let it mean something more than loss now. I can choose to acknowledge the grief and the scar it leaves and then to live a stronger, more compassionate, fuller life. I can choose to let all things (even this horrible thing) work together to bring some good from my life and so that is what I choose.