If you have any unresolved issues in relation to grief you may not wish to read this post.
I was deeply saddened to read in my friend Annie‘s blog about her very recent loss of her mother after a long, difficult year of illness. It brought to mind my own lovely mother, whose hand I held as she took her last breath when I was only twenty years old.
My mother went to the doctor one day because her feet had swollen to uncomfortable, bloated size. She was sent immediately for tests and was told the swelling was called by severe deficiency of potassium. Her potassium level was so low that she had been walking around for months on the verge of a heart attack. That was shocking enough but there was much worse to come.
I called my mother from college and she told me she had to go into hospital to be treated for her potassium levels. My mother was admitted to hospital and never came back home.
She went into hospital on September 9th 1992 and died on October 9th 1992. She was 53.
I have no memory of the last time I ever saw her in our own family home. I imagine it must have been a Sunday evening as I left for college, but it was just another Sunday for me. If I had known that I would never see her again wearing her own clothes, sitting in her favourite chair, I would have seared that image of her into my memory. But I did not know and I cannot remember that day.
I do remember visiting her in hospital for the first time and walking into Intensive Care, scared by all the beeping monitors and drips, thinking “this doesn’t look good at all”. She, in typical Mammy mode, gave me a list of things she wanted me to get for her from home, written on a paper napkin. I still have that list. I think she wanted to give me a job to do to keep me feeling useful.
To cut a short story shorter, she was transferred to a bigger, better hospital. I recall driving home from there one evening with my older bother driving the car, my father in the passenger seat, (that alone should have warned me something was badly wrong), and me in the back seat. It was a silent hourlong journey. As we drove up to our house my brother reached his hand back between the front seats and grabbed mine tight and squeezed it so hard it hurt. I started to get very, very scared.
We assembled in our living room, my father, older brother, my older sister and her husband and I was told that my mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to her liver. I stood frozen and started then to shake. I remember my brother-in-law gently taking me by the shoulders and guiding me to a seat. Then I remember my brother handing me something to drink. That is all I have of that night.
For a month we drove up and down to visit my mother in the hospital and at the time there was a lovely album out called A Woman’s Heart, featuring several well-known Irish female folk singers which we played in the car a lot on those journeys. One song in particular always spoke to me; Wall of Tears by Frances Black.
I twisted the words slightly to suit my situation. I changed the words Him or Her and cried quietly in the backseat of the car.
“Looking out my window, staring through the pain
I can’t see the rainbow for the rain
Someday Ill forget you, life goes on they say
But they don’t know what’s standing in my way
And there’s a wall of tears, I’ve got to get over
Got to stop thinking of him, got to learn not to love him
I know the sun will shine
I’m gonna be fine but until then
The rains gonna fall just like a wall of tears”
I am listening to it now and it still brings back the pain.
I miss my mother all the time. I left home when I was 17, for college, but I fell in love and decided to stay in my new town with my love so, apart from one summer, I never lived back home again. I missed that time with her. I left home during that period where mothers and daughters are still clashing constantly, fighting and struggling to understand each other. We never got to become friends, never got to know each other as women. My sister, eight years older than me, did get that and yes, I have always been jealous of that.
I am so grateful that the OH had a year of knowing my mother. It is such a comfort to me that he can share memories of her with me. He tells me often that I have turned into her. As I sing whilst cooking, or when certain expressions fall from my lips he will joke,”Hey Breeda, you’re back!” and we laugh.
As a kid, when I was told how similar I looked to her I would scrunch up my face with disgust and she would roll her eyes and say “Well thanks!” sarcastically. Now, I look at photographs and I see the resemblance, and it is incredibly striking. What’s more, I love it! My mother was a very beautiful woman, very striking, and whenever I am told that I look like her now I smile wide and say a very sincere thank you.
All I can say to Annie is that she will never stop missing her mom and she will feel the loss forever, but clichéd as it is, time really does help. The pain and sadness will lessen every day until you reach a point where thinking of her and remembering her will make you smile rather than cry.
For a long time after she died I couldn’t even talk about her or say her name but now, even though I write this with tears in my eyes, I am smiling; thinking of her funny habit of always having a bag of dry roasted peanuts in her pocket, her off-key singing, the constant clicking of her knitting needles, the way her eyes crossed comically when she looked up from reading while she adjusted to her new bifocals, playing competitive cross words against her… so many good memories.
Cherish your memories Annie.
Sending you love, peace and light.
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