This week marked the anniversary of my mother’s death.
Her death irrevocably changed my life, forever.
It changed who I was and who I was to become.
Dad travelled too much to be emotionally connected with his children. Mum was our primary caregiver when she was well. She was my role model, adversary, sometimes companion, soul mate in the silliness of our shared humour, and she would have become the blue print for my life as I transitioned from adolescence to womanhood.
With age, the person I see in the mirror has become an enigma. She is no one with whom I identify. She resembles no family member. Whose hazel eyes are those? My mother’s were brown; father’s cold steel blue. From whom does this head of thick but fine hair come? The smile; Mum’s or Dad’s, perhaps a mix. No blueprint, no point of reference.
I remember her laugh, hearty and warm and wonder what made her laugh, what did she talk about at the dinner parties she and my father hosted. What did she talk about when my brother and I were not within earshot? I want to know why she chose my father and what happened to her career as a ballet dancer.
I missed her advice when it was time to leave home; when I married the MOTH (man of the house) thirty-four years ago; I missed her at the birth of my children. Mum, you weren’t there and so desperately did I want you to be. You never became the grandmother my children would have adored. I never knew you as a friend, you had many friends so I know we would have had fun, and we missed growing together in the new experiences of being a mother and grandmother. My mothering experience was less without you beside me. There’s so much you do not learn from books, but from your mother. Now that I am a grandmother I wonder whether the tension between overwhelming love and protection and concern is normal. Would you have wondered if I was making good choices for my children as I wonder about my daughter’s choices for her son?
I miss her still.
The long illness and facts of my mother’s death I remember as if she left yesterday rather than 46 years ago. We were not encouraged to talk about her or ask questions when she died. That was how things were in the 1960s. When the curtain closed behind her coffin so too were all conversations or remembrances of her. With no one to guide me through the grieving emotions, I navigated what had become my topsy turvy world as best I was able. Buried deep were all the hurts, misunderstandings and anger of a shackled grief left festering.
The usual conduits of family history – grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends were clogged with the belief that ‘least said soonest mended’. My father dealt with my mother’s death in cold stoicism and it was life as usual in our household. It had become a sterile and forbidding place that we haunted together when my brother returned to boarding school.
For years I scavenged snippets of stories about my mother. Family gatherings, few and far between, offered slim pickings as I tried to cobble together a fuller picture of my mother. None of the stories are complete which leaves me with imaged endings. I wonder now how much of my mother’s memory I’ve misperceived or wilfully imagined?
No one alive remembers my mother as a new parent holding me or my brother for the first time, was she pleased to have children, did we fulfil her expectations, or worse did we form a barrier between her and her dancing career. The MOTH was present at the birth of our children and together we shared each milestone, diligently recording in their Blue Plunket Books. Their first tooth, first steps, words and drawings. Precious moments of babyhood; priceless. Did my mother keep such a record of our progress?
Growing into a personal identify requires history. What happens when a large chunk of that history is missing. Now a grandmother I wonder whether the tension between overwhelming love and protection and concern is normal. Would you have wondered if I was making good choices for my children as I wonder about my daughter’s choices for her son? I watch my daughter with her son and see a self confident young woman with poise that comes from a well defined sense of self. She is confident, loving, a good partner and an amazingly insightful mother. I am grateful that I have had the time to get to know her as a woman.
Today we know each other as peers, friends and confidantes and the bond is beyond diamonds. She is street savvy as I never was and she shows me that oftentimes I am child like in my innocent approach to life. I look at my daughter and wonder whether I will forever be stunted in my growth. More often than not my daughter has life by the tail whereas I feel I’m the one being whirled about at frightening speeds. Will I ever catch up and be the whole person I may have been if my mother were to have accompanied me on the journey to womanhood? A work in progress.
My perception of my mother when I was thirteen did not allow her autonomy outside her role as mother. There was no understanding of her role as a wife, niece, daughter-in-law or friend, or how she moved between these roles and how she chose to ‘play’ them.
My memories of Mum are of her in the last months of her life, a few days before her fortieth birthday. Occasionally I remember her as the photograph presents her: happy, smiling, beautifully groomed – My Mum.
Mum, I miss you still.