I can hardly believe I’m writing this but 20 years ago today my mother died from cancer. I’ve been blogging so long I wrote about it when it happened and then 5 years later when I came to terms with her death and could put into words what it felt like and how it hit me. Not only did that article resonate with a lot of people, but I’ve come back and re-read it many many times over the years and it’s continued to give me comfort and perspective.
But 20 years. Twenty years.
When I was a kid my dad would often say “oh I haven’t seen him in 20 odd years!” and to me that seemed like an eternity. Now I’m at the ripe old age of 47 it doesn’t seem so long at all. In fact my mother died aged 61 – only 14 years away from where I am now. I still feel like my life has hardly begun and if I only had 14 years left I’d feel a little short changed to be honest. Looking back that’s the overriding sadness I have about my mother – I’d only just gotten to know her as a person rather than an authority figure and it wasn’t anywhere near enough.
I’m so young in this photo taken 9 months before she died. Just a kid really looking back as the middle aged man I am today. I had no idea the impact losing her would have on me over the coming years. Probably just as well.
My father never really got over the loss of my mother. Never dated again, certainly never re-married. She was the love of his life and he was a lost and broken man for many years, drinking too much, retreating into himself before he finally found a reason to carry on. And carry on he did alone. He’s still alive today but dementia has robbed him of a lot of his memories, although he’ll never forget his dear Jeannie. I spent a few hours with him a couple of weeks ago just talking about mum, showing him photos of the two of them when they were youngsters – it was lovely.
It took me 5 years to learn to live without my mother and the article I wrote covers everything I felt at the time. But in the 15 years since while I have no longer found myself saying “oh mum would like that” before remembering she was gone. I haven’t felt the bouts of intense grief I used to feel, just now and then. Instead I have a sadness in me that is always there but I’m not aware of it most of the time. Sometimes she’ll pop up in a dream like she used to which is comforting. And sometimes I’ll play the one and only audio recording I have of her (where she was discussing with my father that she’d discovered she was allergic to a certain type of soap – I wish I had more) just to remember her laugh. Life does go on but the loss remains for the rest of your life. It becomes a piece of you, a scar that nobody can see.
It’s sad looking back over the past 20 years and realising how much my mother missed out on and how much my brother and I missed sharing our lives with her. I’ve certainly missed her counsel. But I’m always reminded that she felt the same about the loss of her mother who passed when I was less than a year old. She never got over it, would be sad sometimes and that was perfectly normal. It’s the circle of life. It sucks. But it’s the only one we’ve got. Some of us get to live into old age and some of us don’t. As I said 15 years ago, she wrote me a letter telling me to make the most of my life given how precious it is. I continue to do that to the best of my ability and I always will.