A Letter to My Mother Who Is Gone, From a Mother Who Has Also Lost a Child
I remember that day, like it was yesterday. I was home early from school, and we were sitting out on the front terrace, enjoying the sun. To be honest, I was being a whiny brat, recounting a dentist’s visit. I didn’t tell you I loved you. I didn’t even take one minute to ask you how you were feeling.
The afternoon dwindled into evening, my brothers and sisters arrived home from school. Dad was home from work, we shared dinner, dishes were done and life was so incredibly normal that I didn’t think about anything other than me. I didn’t tell you I loved you.
You left for a Peace Group meeting on your bicycle. I went to bed and fell asleep. I didn’t know you stopped breathing while I slept, didn’t know the time we’d spent alone on the terrace would be the last one-on-one conversation I would ever have with you. I didn’t know I would never again have the opportunity to tell you I loved you.
I loved you.
I loved the warm glow that seemed to emanate from you. I loved the beauty of your faith and your fervent efforts to include everyone in God’s love. I loved that you would wrap me up in massively, warm hugs. I loved that ugly purple turtle-neck jumper you used to wear, and how warm it felt under my cheek as you held me close. I loved your beautiful British accent. I loved the way your nose would turn red after you had a glass of sherry. I loved that you would save me a wee sliver of the steak Dad would cook you for dinner on Friday nights. I loved that you were always there when my breathing failed me, did you ever sleep? I loved the nights when you were clearly worried about leaving me alone in my bed, and I snuggled into your side, in your bed, and you talked to me about nothing, and never once made me feel scared about the fragility of my health. I loved that you cried one day I was home, sick again, larking around with my baby sister. You got off the phone with my specialist, who told you I had to go back into hospital, and you didn’t want to believe I was really that sick.
I loved you.
And I didn’t tell you.
You got on your bicycle, after your Peace Group meeting, to cycle home to us. You should have made it home again. I wish I didn’t have the image of whiny wee Maria, not telling you how much I loved you.
The young man who had been drinking beer with his mates rushed through the intersection and hit your bicycle as you passed some road works –and left you — my beloved, he left you to die on the road as I lay asleep at home, not realizing I had lost my last opportunity to say I love you.
Becoming a Mother took some of the sting out of Mothers Day, it highlighted for me all of the things I took for granted in you — your incredibly calm nature, your amazingly gentle hands, your creative cooking for the hoards on a limited budget. Your fortitude, your faith, your amazing, boundless, endless love.
Becoming a mother made me really understand, at a visceral level, what the letters L-O-V-E really mean. It wasn’t all about sunbeams and flowers and chocolate cake. It wasn’t about giving my children everything I possibly could, and doing without myself, to ensure they were fed and clothed and supported. It turns out L-O-V-E is about putting these wee bundles before me; about my every waking moment being consumed with thoughts of them. About remembering I am their first teacher, and life lessons need to include “please” and “thank you” and how to use your cutlery, and boundaries, and consequences, and bedtime and doing your homework.
You were never my best friend, Mummy, never that. You were simply always there for me, always loving me. Always concerned about me. Always supporting me.
The lessons you and Dad taught my brothers and sisters and I about love and family and connection have played out into adulthood; I believe you would be proud of us. We do play nicely together now, Mummy. We love each other, we support each other, we are there for each other — just the way you taught us to be. I believe you would have been so proud of them, Mummy, the way they scooped my daughter and I up after my son died. The way they loved me, the way they supported me, the way the held me, with gentle hands that reminded me so much of you.
Mothers Day is looming again, and I am amazed, again, at the incredible strength you built in me — the ability you infused into my pores to be able to cope; to cope with a lifetime of chronic illness; to cope with losing you when I was 17; to cope with an abusive relationship; to cope with losing Harry when he was 18.
Mothers Day is a day I can celebrate knowing you, Mummy. It’s a day I can celebrate giving birth to two beautiful babies, and having the privilege of watching them grow up. It’s a day when I can thank God for the faith you taught me, and the strength that faith provides me every day. It’s a day I can look forward to again, to the adult relationship with my daughter that I never got to have with you. It’s a day for giving thanks, and for feeling blessed.
It’s another day that I can say, “I love you.”
And I do.
Love never dies.
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Thinkstock photo by Ingram Publishing