My mother died – suddenly – when I was 29 years old. We’d had a very close relationship – possibly too close – and her death left an absence inside me which has been impossible to fill.
Over the years, she didn’t get to come to my wedding, help me through pregnancy, hold her granddaughter for the first time, attend Beth’s christening and birthdays, enjoy family Christmasses or bury her own mother. More importantly, she didn’t see me decay from the inside and wither away from the twin acids of divorce and self-diminishment.
The dead get frozen in time. They forever exist in a sealed capsule, untouchable, unreachable, unhuggable. The Crown is about to start this weekend, and it hits me every time I see photos of Charles and Diana: she is frozen, but look how young he was! For him, life has continued, whilst she is pinned to the moment of her last existence, radiant, young, undiminished.
My mother remains frozen to me. She is 49, radiant, laughing, hugging me, and cooing how much she likes the boy (my future husband). Our last summer is a kaleidoscope of bright and noisy memories: inviting her to my flat in Leeds, getting absolutely deluged by Yorkshire rain, enjoying great food, loving Phantom (again), and even having our own theme tune which made us smile every time we heard it on the radio.
And since then: silence.
My mother was always the greater portion of my parenting team and loved me unconditionally. Without her, I became untethered, leaning into the wind, and begging life to take me. Anywhere. Anywhere. Anywhere but here where the loss is so bright it burns my eyes.
And so I drifted into marriage, and motherhood and allowed the sparkle to fade from my eyes. I traded my greatest champion for a man who didn’t know how to support me psychically or how to feed my soul, and who day by day allowed me to shrink before his eyes, powerless to notice, too ignorant to help.
I drifted through jobs, blogging, obsessions, depression, another bad relationship and fell completely out of love with myself. It’s as if at the moment of her death, my soul dived off a cliff into an everlasting freefall which is only now beginning to end..
Thud. When you hit the ground, it hurts. There’s a certain exhilaration in the falling, the self-destructiveness, the knowing it’s unstoppable. You scream, silently, and no one hears you. But when you land, shattered and broken into infinitesimal pieces, well, it just hurts.
Time is a healer, they say (I don’t know that I agree; maybe we don’t heal. Maybe we just make peace with ourselves), and slowly I have started to piece myself together. And in the piecing, I have realised something. Did I become stuck in time with you? Did I become frozen too? Has this 20 year freefall been what it’s taken to shatter the ice and emerge, finally, on my own 2 feet?
I feel I froze too when you died. I stopped growing. I stopped LIVING. I settled … ugh what an ugly word. I abandoned myself to a life that didn’t thrill me, ignite me or empower me. It’s like part of me died with you, and only now is it coming back.
You see today, I am one day older than you were when you died. How does that make any sense? How can I be as old as you – exactly – when you are forever frozen 20 years older than me, mothering me? And how on earth do I walk a path you never got to tread. How do I do this without you?
It’s been a headfuck, I’ll grant you that. It’s been a day I have dreaded for years and a day I wasn’t sure I would see. I can’t tell you what an achievement it feels to be here, and in some ways to feel …. free.
I feel now that I walk alone without you. I walk into the unknown, but on my terms. It’s MY unknown, my blank canvas, and I can make it what I want it to be. I finally am starting to feel strong enough to create the life that I want, rather than the life I have allowed.
And I think that has been my true lesson through all of this. I need to walk alone. Not with ghosts, not with toxic men. Alone. I am me when I am me. The worst experiences of my life have been when I have traded my independence for somebody else. When I have been a (bad) wife, a misused girlfriend, a piece of flotsam on the stream, ebbing and flowing and getting nowhere.
And now is my time. Now is MY future. There is nobody else. Just me.
Today I am one day older than you, and that’s ok.