Eight years and nine months ago, my mother died. She was 51, I was 20, and it was unexpected. She came down with a bug on the Thursday. I saw her awake for the last time on the Saturday. The following Tuesday morning I held her hand in intensive care as her heart rate fell to zero. And that was it.
This – my first real experience of death – was a baptism of fire. I thought I would never survive the pain. But I did. I thought I would never feel happiness again, but I did. I thought I would never want to bring children into the world that she couldn’t meet, but I did.
Life after death
Life moved on beyond those dark early days, as it does. Agony faded into numbness which faded into surrealism which faded into normal life, with all its ups and downs. The bereavement eventually ceased to define my life, and simply became a part of my life. In time, it was no longer even a bereavement, it was just a lasting empty hole.
When she left this world, I was still really a kid. I had a child of my own by then – an 11 month old – but back in those days I was a young, single mum still living at home. That eventually changed, and in time I grew up for real. I met someone, we had children, we emigrated, we created a life. The more I developed as a woman, the further I drifted away from my mother.
A future with something missing
Today, I am a completely different person to the 20 year old who lost her mum. My mother now is just a memory, a face in photographs, a part of my life that is not here. With most of my living family now on the other side of the world, the ‘not here’ is something that feels quite normal. In that sense, the absence of my mother is swept up within the absence of everyone else.
Only, my mother is not on the end of a phone call, like everyone else. I cannot see her face on Skype. I can’t chat to her on Facebook. I can’t send her photos of the kids or ask her opinion on parenting issues. I can’t embrace her when we go back to visit.
Those things all feel so normal to me now, and the normality of her non-existence sometimes jars me. I think about her, that human I loved, with a mind full of knowledge, a heart full of character, a diary full of events, a life full of relationships. She had memories of her history and plans for her future. For all her faults and flaws, she was my mum, and she is now gone. All those things no longer exist.
It is not often that I let myself sit and think about all that too deeply any more, but when I do, it crushes me still to this day. Occasionally, years after her passing, I am still winded by a punch in the guts of denial and desperation. I look at a photo of her and really believe she will somehow come back. That she can’t really be gone.
Mothering without a mother
The long term effect of losing my mother has felt like a royally shit version of being dumped. When a partner or spouse walks away, you are lost and in pain. You are forced to restructure your life as there is no ‘one main person’ any more. Part of your core framework is gone, and it sucks.
I would never have thought losing a parent could reconstruct your reality in such a disruptive way. A parent dying is the natural order, after all. It’s sad but inevitable.
However, that is precisely what happened. Unlike being dumped, though – after which one eventually moves on and rediscovers love – this lonely motherless scenario has no end.
Following the bumpy, shitty, weird path into adulthood and motherhood as a young woman without a mother is a horribly lonely experience. I am jealous of my friends with mothers. I am bitter that I don’t have a mother of my own to share the experience of being a mother with, and I am bitter that others can enjoy that without constantly singing about how goddamn fucking lucky they are.
Isn’t that ridiculous? I don’t really begrudge them it for a second. I just selfishly want it for myself, too.
The good part
In day-to-day reality, I am very aware of how blessed I am. I share my daily world with a partner and four kids who drive me crazy with love and fuzzy exhaustion. I have a great dad on the other side of the world who is only a phone call away, as well as a sister and other relatives all over there with him. I am grateful for the fact that my life is enriched by so many people.
Nonetheless, there will always be a hollow space where there should be a mother, but where she was lost.