Today would have been my Mum’s 65th birthday. I say ‘would have been’, because she died 11 years ago. In a few weeks time, we also ‘celebrate’ (for want of any other word) the anniversary of her death. On Christmas Day 2003, she fell into a coma, and two days later, she died.
I had just turned 20 at the time. My sister was 16. Our Dad had died ten months earlier. Ten months to the day, in fact. A strange coincidence, which means I can never look on the 27th day of any month in the same way any more.
The thing about grief, is that it’s always there, and yet it changes in nature.
I remember it, in the days after Mum died … and the days leading up to her death too. She’d been given just two weeks to live, and it felt like we were living in a poorly-written soap opera. Surely these things didn’t happen in real life? Only characters in books were orphans …
At first my grief was anger. Directed at anyone who did, or didn’t, deserve it. Anger at life. Anger at the world. Anger at the cancer. Anger at my awful uncle, who despite being our legal guardian, washed his hands of me and my sister as soon as he possibly could.
The anger became guilt. Had I done enough? Why was life continuing when Mum and Dad were gone?
And then it became that horrid, awful void of loss. A void I’ve carried with me in some way ever since. At first that void was all-consuming. A feeling which not only consumed me, but which sucked away at me. I was a different person. I barely existed for about six months. If I hadn’t had mundane tasks, like organising the funeral, and selling the family home, I don’t know what would have happened to me. I worked my way down a list, and that was all I concentrated on. I forgot about being me, and went into life-support mode, doing just enough to survive. I ate, I drank, I slept. I was a survivor of the tragedy which had struck my family. And so I survived. But that was all.
Finally, the void of loss began to grow smaller. No longer consuming my whole life and personality. Parts of me began to reappear. Parts of me were new.
I remember, looking at my life, maybe five years after Mum and Dad died, and realising I owned more items of clothing, and possessions then, which I had purchased after they died, than ones which had been around when they were. Life goes on. Things change. The world keeps on turning. I remember looking around my room, and feeling sad that so much of this new world of mine had never even existed when Mum and Dad were alive.
Eleven years on, and the sad reality is that my life is very different to the one they knew with me. I live in a different city. I wear glasses. I have different length hair. I’m a different dress size. I have a degree, and a Masters. I have a completely new career. I’ve built a life for myself, one which they will never know. And I know that’s not sad. I know those are things I should be really proud of, because I built that life despite losing them so early on. And yet, it makes me feel sad.
I love my life. But I hate that they were never able to share it with me.
Our early years are formative. Yes, you can look back, knowing the full answer to the sum – knowing how it all ended up, and see the puzzle pieces which created the eventual person. But back in your youth, when you look at the puzzle pieces, you can only hope to know how they will turn out.
I’m pretty confident that Mum and Dad would be happy with how my sister and I turned out. I know I am. I’m so proud of my sister. She was so much younger than me when it all happened, and so much quieter. If one of us were to have gone off the rails, and reacted badly to being orphaned, she was better placed to do so. And yet she not just coped … she thrived. As an adult, she’s far more sensible and grounded than I am. And I love her dearly for it.
Eleven years on, my grief is very different. In recent years, I’ve sat at friends’ weddings, and through christenings, and blinked back tears when I’ve watched my friends’ parents sharing the memories. Because I know, when I reach those milestones too, my Mum and Dad won’t be there to share them. The chances are, they will have never met my future husband. They will never know their grandchildren.
When Mum and Dad first died, the grief was constant. I couldn’t escape it. Nowadays, it catches me unawares, every now and again. A film, or TV show. A random memory. A life event they should be there to witness. A bittersweet anniversary.
My calendar has become an odd selection of days which used to make me happy, which now only make me sad.
And the silliest one? Every time my bloody car breaks down! I think of Dad. Every time I have a car problem, I think of Dad! Because he was the one who would have fixed it. He was the one who I would have called.
Today is my Mum’s 65th birthday. Is, not, was, or would have been. Because December 15th will always be my Mum’s birthday. And I love her, and I miss her. And I know, that no matter how happy I am with the new life I’ve forged for myself, I will always spend a part of this day sad.