Last year I gave my mother a voucher as a gift. Printed off and tucked neatly inside her card. A voucher, like so many, that was never used. My mother died the following week.
I have no Mother’s Day card to send this year, I have no mother on earth to send one to.
I spoke to Mum the day she died. It was a Tuesday afternoon at 5pm. By 8pm she was dead. She was playing bowls that evening. After the first ‘end’, it was her end, her time on our beautiful planet was over.
At 5am the following morning I’m checking in for my flight back home. The 40 days that followed are recorded in my first book. A book I had always wanted to write, about a subject no-one wants to be qualified to write about. Those 40 days between her death and funeral were the strangest of my life.
The first 10 days were spent in my childhood home. I was the adult, my father the child, following everything I suggested to him, devoid of ideas or direction.
Those first days were spent in a daze. Walking to the library of my childhood, closing my Mum’s account, which she had used every week of her 52-year married life. Navigating funeral directors. ‘Viewing’ her body in the morgue and saying goodbye, knowing that I would never see her again in this life. Scanning last photographs for a funeral Order of Service. Contacting pension providers, cancelling policies, hair appointments. Walking through my childhood home, my mum’s home, that was my mum’s home no more. Worrying about my dad. Feeling angry at being robbed of the chance to say last words, to ask all of those questions.
The agony of sharing what had happened, again and again and again. Comforting mum’s friends, my brother, my father, my children. Losing myself in it all. ‘It’ is so vast, unquantifiable, immense. Feeling as if no progress is being made. Swamped by the sheer effort of trying to make any decisions, but knowing we must.
I slept so deeply those first days, borne of exhaustion. As the days went on the waiting became unbearable. The thought of her human body decomposing. The stress of organising a funeral, with no guidance; no selected readings, songs, invitation list.
Yet the sadness was interspersed with joy at finding out more of my mother’s life, filling in gaps, meeting her friends, people that loved her. Analysing myself; our differences and our likenesses too…
Emotionally charged rows between family members, unable to give one another grace. Finding laughter as a bizarre coping mechanism in this sea of sadness.
Having the realisation that the world continues despite my days no longer being measured in minutes and hours, blurring into a continuum. Writing when I had no words to share.
Feeling anger on realising that mum’s heart attack was possibly preventable and considering the implications for my family.
Experiencing vivid dreams and panic attacks for the first time ever.
Questioning my own life choices, my priorities, what my legacy will be. Arranging my mother’s life into 15 bags for a local women’s refuge.
The finality of it crippling me. Realising that I couldn’t ‘fix’ the unfixable. Practising forgiveness, grace and realising that someone who loved me unconditionally was gone – and how rare that is in our lives. Realising that the one constant in my entire life was no more.
‘Losing’ days and weeks. Forcing myself to function. Wearing the same clothes day after day, no make-up, no jewellery. My public show of grief.
But taking pleasure in small things like walking our dog or sitting in the sunshine, normal things. Leaving a restaurant without paying the bill, leaving washing outside for days, not normal things.
I fly back home after the first 10 days and a debillitating sadness fills me as I wait for ‘the final act’. Days of ‘to-do’ lists not even being started. Days so long, that pass so quickly.
Pangs of regret. Challenged to start a new chapter in my own life.
The surreal feeling of writing my first eulogy. All those ‘firsts’. Realising that life is short, life is precious and life is uncertain.
I’m in denial, avoiding things, with an overlying sadness to everything.
I’m early for appointments that I think I’m late for.
People’s reactions to me are so different; those that ‘get it’ talk, bake, those that have no idea of what to say, or do simply avoid me.
My faith carries me through it all. I have walked through the refiner’s fire. I am stronger. Death has no hold over me. I am challenged to move on, to share this experience, to learn from it, to not become bitter, but better. I feel blessed in so many ways. We reap what we sow, relationships that have had years of investment carry me through.
Acceptance of what I cannot control is hard. Acceptance of God’s timing, His perfect will for our lives is hard. This is a process and as weeks pass by, milestones are reached, I get stronger once more. Random looks and memories blindside me at times and I’m back, but just for a moment. I’m told the hardest part can be when everyone else moves on and you are left, alone with your grief, forgotten.
After 40 days pass we hold the ‘perfect’ funeral for my mum, a wonderful wake, full of family, friends and love. I think that is the end, but it is not. I miss having a mum. There is no solution, no quick fix.
I’ve felt guilty not crying every day now. Sometimes it takes a test of faith to realise how strong it is. I have felt lonely, but have never been alone.
Mine is a testimony to the strength of faith, the power of love, the pain of loss and the comfort of peace that is found in acceptance.