Mother's Day Without Mum
'Are you doing anything with your mum for Mother’s Day?’ Oh god.
This question, when asked in general office conversation, used to bring on a kind of anxiety sweat and leave me wishing I could morph into Flat Stanley and escape under the door. Usually, a simple, ‘Nah, not much!’ would cover it and I’d swiftly make an ‘urgent’ phone call, praying the discussion would shift to last night’s Coronation Street by the time I had finished. The problem was, any level of truthful natter would have opened an uncomfortable can of worms. It turns out ‘My mum’s dead, actually,’ is not a workplace crowd-pleaser.
It’s not that I mind talking about it – I was fifteen when she died (the big C) and after you’ve said ‘she died’ enough times it becomes quite matter-of-fact. It just doesn’t feel that matter-of-fact for other people, who invariably feel the need to say that they’re sorry/they didn’t know/it must be so hard, to which it is customary to respond that it’s fine/it was a long time ago/I’m not upset. And by this point the YouTube clip of the Ninja Cats which has been providing belly laughs all morning has been turned off as a mark of respect, as tumbleweed crawls towards the photocopier. One time, the casual question thrown my way was, ‘Help settle the debate Sarah – do you bother with Mother’s Day flowers for your mum or do you agree they’re a rip off?’ Oh dear. Think think think.
‘Erm…well, supermarket flowers aren’t always as pricey, and you have to expect some mark-up on these commercial days.’ Phew, awkwardness averted. Much less awkward than the factual, ‘I don’t buy her flowers every year, just the years I’m taking a bunch to the spot we scattered her ashes.’
To be honest, when February rolls around and all the ‘show her she’s really special’ Mother’s Day advertisements start popping up I have always had a bit of an internal groan. I stopped groaning in 2012 when I became a mother and, for the first time in a decade, Mother’s Day shifted from being a day I yearned to hide under my bed to a day I finally had a part in. Yet while Mother’s Day is easier for me since I have had the kids, the day-to-day feelings of loss and sadness at not having Mum here have greatly intensified.
Being a mum without mum here is hard. Four years into the parenthood adventure and practically-speaking I’m doing all right. I get through most weeks just fine - though it has to be said I’ve significantly lowered the bar on what ‘just fine’ means (sometimes the bar is on the floor). I have a great network of family and friends to help with the day-to-day logistical challenges, and not having Mum here to do the preschool run and take the kids to the seaside isn’t problematic. It’s just sad.
Last year, we took Henry (age three at the time) to London as a treat. We live in Devon, so the chaos and buzz of the capital blew his tiny mind in all the best ways and made for a pretty special trip. I was probably extra keen to take him to London because I have been holding such fond memories of the time my mum took me to London in the summer holidays (my sister had gone camping, my Dad had gone fishing, and London was a trip for just the two of us). The frustratingly sad thing about the exclusivity of our trip is that I no longer share the memories with anyone. My awe at seeing the Cirque du Soleil, the entire day we spent simply hopping on and off double decker buses… I have racked my brain trying to remember where we stayed, where we ate dinner, whether we went to the Natural History Museum or not. I will never know these things.
Of course, the biggest tragedy is that Mum never knew she was a grandmother. She never saw her daughters become mothers and she never got to stand in a draughty church hall proudly cutting the world-famous chocolate-button birthday cake she would lovingly have made for her grandchildren. They are missing out, too. Sometimes, when we’re heading off on a day trip and I get that familiar ‘Oh god, we’ve forgotten to pack something important’ feeling, it dawns on me that I have lived with a similar feeling for thirteen years.
There is always something not there that should be there. Mum will never not be missing. She will never not be missed.
Conversations about Mother’s Day no longer make my cheeks flush red or leave me staring at the floor. Sometimes, I embrace the commercialism and buy an overpriced bunch of flowers to take to her beach, though I’m just as likely to do that on her birthday, or on Boxing Day, which is the day she died. Sometimes, I wish she could join us for our Mother’s Day carvery but I don’t spend the meal absorbed in those thoughts because I invariably spend it picking up the food Jude has lobbed from his highchair and encouraging Henry to sing the Farty Bum Song at a slightly reduced volume. It’s one Sunday in the year when I relish a bit of pampering as payback for the tiny humans I birthed.
It’s all the other days, the ordinary days, which remind me what has been lost. For me, for Mum, for the boys.
Doesn’t cancer have a lot to answer for?