I took one last look at the stark black and white house as the taxi pulled away. The home that held so many tales. I wish more of those tales had been happy ones, but life doesn’t pay much heed to ‘wishes.’
The week before
A week before, the front lawn had been full of flowers, bouquets and wreaths. The house had been packed. Cups of tea and chatter filled the rooms. Ghosts of the past had no room to breathe, no room to show their ugly faces.
The morning of that day, I’d felt so confident. We’d say goodbye forever. I was ready. You’d been ill for ages; we had all just been waiting. On this occasion though, I hadn’t got back in time. They didn’t know the urgency.
Six Months Before
Six months before I’d gotten the call. The one you dread when you are so far away. They said you only had a few days. I’d jumped on a plane and for 24 hours willed you’d still be there to greet me.
There you were, sat up in bed quite cheery. You had made a miraculous recovery and they sent you home. I was your nursemaid for a fortnight before I had to return to my own family on the other side of the world. You were quite grumpy mum. Quite demanding. Nothing I did was quite right. But I forget that you were dying.
I’m Coming Home
This time though, the doctors thought you’d pull through. They were monitoring all your known ailments. It was my brother who thought I should come this time. I hopped on a plane again but didn’t feel the urgency this time. On touch down, I got the call.
I spent the next half hour in Gatwick airport toilets trying to ebb the never-ending tears. I wasn’t ready mum. You were meant to be there when I arrived. You were going to complain that I’d overcooked your boiled egg at breakfast, that I hadn’t bought the right flavoured crisps at the supermarket. I wasn’t ready.
My brother and I laughed about your grumpiness, but it can’t have been much fun, the last few years of life. You’d given it all a good go though. For someone who had been born with a hole in the heart and not given much hope to live into your teens, at 72 you’d proven them wrong. You’d partied hard and though life wasn’t particularly kind, you’d survived and kept going.
At least I had my brother to greet me. We’d spent years apart but now we bonded — we were like kids again. Your children, laughing and crying together. A pain that only we could share with full knowledge of the past. He’d been there with you at the end. He tells me it was best I did not see. Of all your numerous health problems it was a secret one that killed you. A cancer that caused you to vomit your own faecal matter in your last few hours. Maybe that’s why you didn’t wait for me. You didn’t want me to see.
My brother and I spent the next few days reminiscing and making arrangements. Calling all your friends and hearing stories from your youth. We arranged the funeral and even though we laughed uncontrollably when we had to give details to the funeral director, unable to look at each other for fear to start us off again — we were hurting behind those tears of laughter.
And so, the morning came. The day your body would turn to ash. I thought I was ready. My brother and his wife drove us to the crematorium. We chatted, albeit with a sombre mood.
As I got out of the car and closed the door, my world fell apart. My body suddenly wracked with sobs; the mourners that stood
I couldn’t speak and could barely stand. I wasn’t ready mum.
You arrived shortly after. Everyone hushed. Apart from me. I couldn’t control that awful pain that flowed through my body. My face was sodden, my nose ran. I sniffed and sobbed and just wanted you to jump out of that wooden box and tell me it was some kind of cruel prank. You didn’t.
You’d chosen Enya’s music to make your entrance. That didn’t help mum. It wasn’t enough to drown out your daughter’s weeping. I’d been worried that I would laugh at your funeral — I tend to do that at the most inappropriate times. It never crossed my mind that I would be so overcome with sorrow and experience the agony of a loss so great that it felt like my very soul was being wrenched from my body. I didn’t expect that mum. I just wasn’t ready.
The service began and the poor vicar struggled with his words — you were an atheist and made it quite clear that you wanted that known. You had also been clear on the music to be played. This was a great choice mum. As your coffin moved behind the curtain, the upbeat chorus of M People’s “Moving on up” came on with the words:
Cause I’m movin’ on up, you’re movin’ on out
Movin’ on up, nothin’ can stop me
Movin’ on up, you’re movin’ on out
Time to break free, nothin’ can stop me, yeah
The mood instantly lifted, many of the mourners looked surprised and there were a few murmurs. I could see you laughing. I smiled.
We left to the dulcet tones of Tom Jones singing “What’s up Pussycat?”. Another great choice with you being such an avid cat lover mum. It helped bring me back into the moment and push the incredible loss away for a little while longer.
Wreaths to R
Outside in the fresh air, I kept my mind from thinking about you turning to cinders by looking at all the flowers everyone had brought for you. You’d have loved them, mum. They were all lined up along the wall with lovely little notes about how wonderful you were. Then I spotted a pile of somebody else’s flowers. They were the ones from earlier in the day, abandoned, scooped up and left to rot on the side.
I couldn’t let that happen, mum. You would have thought it a complete waste. Without really thinking it through, I grabbed an armful of your flowers and asked others to bring them back with us. They were so beautiful mum; I couldn’t leave them there. I didn’t want them added to the decaying pile. That wasn’t a fitting end.
So back at the house, we laid them out in the front garden. Stories flowed, old friends hugged, some busied themselves in the kitchen. One of your old friends had seen you the day you died;
“She was so pleased that you were coming home, Shelley. She said she just wanted to see your smiling face — she knew she didn’t have much time. Such a shame you didn’t make it.”
I’m sorry mum.
After everyone had left, I arranged the flowers around the living room. I still had in my mind that you’d be coming home, and they’d brighten up the place. There was still a part of my heart that couldn’t quite let go. I fell asleep on the sofa, deep in grief, surrounded by the flowers that signalled the fact that you were indeed gone forever.
When I left, I decided to sprinkle them all around the back garden. Petals of remembrance that would become part of the flower beds you loved. I’d never see your garden again, the house would be sold, but that little ritual would stay with me forever.
Goodbyes Are Never Easy
The taxi pulled away. I thought I was ready. For months after I’d be thinking, “Oh I must tell mum…”, then I’d remember. I had the same dream for months on end that you were really alive, and it was someone else in that coffin. It was a strange notion that I was now an orphan.
When I became a mum myself, I judged you quite harshly. I felt you could have done a better job at it. I should not have been so judgemental. You dealt with a lot and although the choices you made may not have been the ones I would make; I know you loved me.
Now you are just a memory.
But you were my mum and because of that, I loved you. Even after all these years, I still miss being able to tell you what I’m up to, tell you about what I’ve done, what I’ve lost, what I’ve achieved.
I want to tell you that you are still there in my heart mum. I think you’d like to know that.
Are we ever ready? I’m not sure we ever are.