“Grief is the price you pay for love” isn’t a bumper sticker or an annoying Facebook gif if you’ve really experienced the visceral pain of loss.
The pain is real - you feel it ripping into your chest. I guess that’s why the heart has been associated with love and loss for millennia.
The pain was there for me from the moment Mum was diagnosed with cancer. I knew in that instant that I would lose her. The doctors were saying she could have five years. In such a dire situation, everyone took this as a ‘positive’. But, putting a number on someone’s life makes it finite.
We kid ourselves that we are immortal, there’s a tomorrow to do the washing, a tomorrow to do the shopping or a tomorrow to travel the world. As soon as you’re given a date when tomorrow will end, that’s when grieving for the love of life comes in.
Knowing that you’re going to lose someone feels desperate - you can’t stop what’s happening - it’s like trying to catch a stream and seeing the water run through your fingers. You can grab at it, but nothing will stop its trajectory.
I remember understanding what people meant by ‘living nightmare’. I’d take my daughter to Musical Tots, but it would seem unreal. Children would be running around laughing, bashing drums and fighting over a tambourine, Mums would be drinking coffee and marvelling about the selection of fantastic biscuits on offer and I’d try to smile and pretend to be interested when all I could do was think of Mum and the physical struggle she was undertaking to hang on to life. I wanted to scream ‘wake me from this nightmare - stop what’s happening - stop it now!’ but instead I had to hold it in and sing ‘row row row your boat’.
People would say to me: “I can’t believe it! Not your Mum!” as if her name had been called in some hideous raffle that she was not eligible for. “She’s so fit! So full of life!”
Mum’s positivity was legend in our family. She’d been through so much, seen off so many demons in the early 70s when post partum psychosis had tried to rob her of her memory, her family, her children. When her health returned, she was so grateful to have the chance of life again that she lived it to the full and she loved us without end.
When the diagnosis came Mum was on her own. Dad was at his art class, I was looking after Zoë and so Mum took the phone call from the doctor at home alone. I’ll be forever guilty that I wasn’t there for her at that moment.
Mum remained calm through the 18 month fight to stay alive. She didn’t want to scare us. One morning as I washed her hair, she tried to prepare me for what was to come but I wouldn’t let her speak about it. No Mum, it’s not going to happen. She said: “it will be okay, you will get through it. You will be happy again.” I know we both cried a lot that morning, but then we put it to one side and tried to just deal with the day.
In September 2013 Mum was taken to the hospice with a chest infection. It would be the last one in a series of horrible infections. The doctor in charge said Mum would ‘be gone’ by morning. We sat with her and she woke once in the night to say goodbye. She made us hold hands and promise ‘to love each other’. Love was everything to Mum. She made us say it three times, then she went to sleep. We took turns to sit with her through the ten days and nights that she hung on to life.
When Mum died I felt her absence completely. Her breathing had been imperceptible in the last few days but she was definitely there with us until it stopped. Dad took off her wedding ring and he gave it to me to wear. It slipped easily on to my finger and I haven’t been able to prize it off since. It’s literally fixed in place on the fourth finger of my left hand.
We left Mum’s body at the hospice and came home to Eynsford. Everything felt different. It still felt as though we were in a dream or a film that we wanted to end. Everything felt out of balance. Nothing looked right; not the Ford, the church, the High Street. Nothing.
Mum had been such a part of village life - she’d loved the village and had given so much to it. I remember walking to the bottom of the garden and feeling that she must be there. She couldn’t be gone completely.
There were over 200 people at the funeral. I remember not wanting to look at anyone apart from my family. Nik held my hand until I had to stand to say the eulogy. As I walked to the lectern and unfolded my pieces of paper, ready to speak about Mum, a shaft of sunlight suddenly poured through the church window.
As we left the church Eva Cassidy sang ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’.
I’ve not written about the pain of loss before, I’ve spoken about it to close friends, but always felt I couldn’t explain it fully. Words don’t do it justice. But, in corresponding with a writer yesterday who had also lost her Mother, we spoke about the idea of ‘things getting easier’ and agreed that they don’t.
My thoughts are, if you’re loved someone profoundly and lost them, it’s unlikely that you will wake in ten years time with the pain anaesthetised and say “Oh I don’t love them now. I feel okay again”.
The writer had replied with the line: “Grief is the price you pay for love”.
I feel Mums absence keenly with every passing season and passing milestone. Zoë’s fifth birthday, her sixth birthday, her seventh birthday, the three Christmas’s, the summer months at the caravan.
The thought that she would have loved my daughter infinitely nearly cripples me.
I don't know if we will get to talk again. The thing about Mum and me was - we LOVED to talk. We talked and talked. I know that I irritate people and people irritate me too, but I know that the one person who was never irritated by me and who never irritated me in return was Mum. I don't know if I'll ever have that feeling again - that feeling of complete acceptance and love.
I’m not sure what I think about the after-life. I like to think instead that Mum lives on in my daughter, in my nephews and in me. When the grief is overwhelming I ask myself ‘WWMD?’ - what would mum do - and I know the answer instantly. She’d take a deep breath, count her blessings, love again and push on.
*With profound thanks to Georgie Fuller for helping me to look grief in the face for just one day. And thanks to those who have listened and been so kind in the last couple of years.