Some of this is based on real life, but mostly fiction.
A daughters words to her mother
I know you always taught me there was no such thing as ghosts or spirits in limbo – all rubbish you said. But now you’re gone, and I’m alone, it’s kind of there – the need to say something, to speak to you one more time. Just my voice now, no replies from you, no chatter, gossip or argument. Just me, spilling words, breaking the silence of the empty rooms. Silence is the worst part. The silence – is too loud.
The day you died, the clock in the hall stopped. The microwave packed up, the roof began to leak – and that damn rat is back again, rummaging, scratching in the loft, for woodlice, or something. It’s as if the house understands, it will never see the day when you walk through the front door again. It’s failing, because you’re not here. But you’d be pleased to know – I’m OK Mum.
Your garden is missing you as much as I am. It’s not been itself. It needs your green fingers, to love it into shape. The weeds are learning freedom they’ve never known. They spread a little further each day. They are strong, no longer content with a corner of the garden, they want it all. Like illness wanted you, gradually moving from one corner to the next, until you were consumed, no longer my Mother. You looked a bit like her, sounded similar, but not quite all of her. Just a tiny piece remained, enough to allow me to believe you might still be there. But you weren’t – not really.
At night when I close my eyes, I see visions of you. Your little pale face looking up at me from those big white hospital pillows. Serene, but lost. Like an angel with thoughts and beliefs falling apart, no longer sure such things as angelic beings existed.
There was something you wanted to tell me. You tried a few times, but the words never really came out. You had no voice at all some days, just pointed your weak thin fingers, gesturing to areas in the room, items you could no longer reach. Behind those colourless eyes, you were furious, at the one responsible for taking away everything you ever had, and you couldn’t even name who it was. Some days you just smiled. That smile you reserved for me, stroking my face, smoothing my hair. And like you always did in a time of crisis, said in your faint thin voice, “Don’t look so worried darling – it will all be OK.” This time, I knew that wasn’t true.
I too had no voice most of the time. And there were things I wanted to say. My lack of speech – just fear. Fear of hurting you with words, when all you needed was kindness.
The last few hours of your life, sitting by your bed, I watched you in your endless sleep, and drift far from me. An image of you replayed, a memory of childhood days. Me, five years old, at the fairground, looking down at you from high on a Ferris Wheel. I rose to the top, instead of looking at the stunning view, I looked down, and saw you. Standing so still, surrounded with all those mixed fairground sounds clashing in the air. I saw something unexpected – a beautiful woman, scared of heights and Ferris Wheels. Lonely, intimidated by the world she lived in.
You stared into a vacant space. As though a single woman, childless, with not a soul in this world to confide in. To speak of the husband who wasn’t the man you wanted him to be. To say the life you had, was not the one you’d dreamed of. You appeared so small, down there. Waiting patiently, for the funfair ride to return your golden child. And I wondered, if that was what it would be like when death comes. That we could look down at our loved ones, and watch them wait. But, wait for what?
The wheel turned, brought me to ground level. I waved to you, and you gave me your best smile, and waved back – you were happy Mum again. But on returning to the top, no longer in your sight, once more I watched you become the lonely one. It was the first time I saw you as a woman, not as ever capable supermum. You were a woman who didn’t know who she was. I never saw it again. It seemed on ground level, eye to eye, I could only see Mummy.
You always searched for the bright side, shunned the dark, the pain driven lives of others around you. Lived your life to serve your man, and your child. Keeping us loved, protected from everything you didn’t want us to see. When Dad started showing symptoms, his body ugly and failing, you said, “He’ll be alright darling, your father’s a strong man!” But that was just it, he was – just a man. And his man strength got up and left.
You buried yourself in all kinds of trivial hobbies, to forget those horrible days. Baking endless cakes in the kitchen, and never spoke another word about the ending of you and him. The loss of the imperfect man. The one you loved so much, but like a thorn to you, tore at your skin for so many years. I know he didn’t mean to. His heart was good. His intentions – many. But reality was something else.
I hear that rat scratching. It scales the inside of the cavity wall. Up it climbs, until it reaches the top, pushes through a gap and hops onto the rafters. Scampering at lightening speed across the attic. It’s big now you know, not a little mouse thing. It’s grown since you were here – sounds more the size of next doors cat. How it squeals like a kitten, screeches like a bat. God, it’s annoying! You thought it had left. It knows you’re gone. It’s back! The house is quiet now, permission has been granted – it’s an unpaid lodger.
And what am I to do with this house of yours? This capsule of memories. Rooms, cupboards, boxes and a shed full of odds and ends. Stuff of life that everyone believes they need, until they leave this earth. Left behind for the foolish possessors of this stupid world, the ones who think they’ll have some use for it. Let them have it! Let them revel in all your lovely old stuff. Hold it tightly to their human flesh – precious things. And one day they too, will leave it all to another fool.
All these shelves full of ceramic mugs and jugs and china ladies, candle holders, picture frames and plaques inscribed with The Best Mum In The World. Why? What did I need to buy those for? To tell you I loved you? I didn’t need to gift the words to you in trash. Trinkets you had no use for other than to run a duster over them, to be reminded I told you my love was real. Shouldn’t a hug, a kiss, and the words I love you Mum have been enough, for the woman who gave me life? How can material gifts with jolly phrases compete with that?
Don’t worry Mum, these tears I cry – they are not a sign I cannot cope. They don’t say that life is dead without you. Because in your death, you brought me life. The day your light went out, mine switched on. This world is a different place now. And I’ve learnt what tears are really for. Not for hurt, anger or resentment. They are to mark a profound moment. Pain or joy – it will be remembered. To show where I have been. Taking me forward, leaving yesterday where it belongs.
I thought of things you used to do. Made plans to discover them all. They had meant nothing while you were alive, your activities, were your pastimes, not mine. After you were gone, they became strangely attractive. And the desire to walk in your hobby shoes was all I could do. I’m still wearing those shoes, they fit me well.
I started with the sea. How much you loved the ocean. The soft sand under bare feet, the echo of seagulls calling. I went alone, to your favourite beach. Let the wind blow my hair to pieces. Untangle the emotional cobwebs. I hoped maybe you followed me there, and would know I wasn’t sad. Did you see the smile arriving, changing the shape of my face?
When the summer came to a close, and frost settled on the ground, I bought tickets to shows of every kind. Shakespeare, the ballet, pantomime, and even a human circus. I arrived at those venues like an excited child. As though we had gone together. I didn’t notice I was on my own. And you did see that smile on my face, didn’t you?
I read all your old letters you’d sent to me. A great big stack bound together with string. I never could throw them away. All your beautiful handwritten words of encouragement and love, every word – magic. When my eyes fall on those hand penned words, they sort me out every time. They might look like a pile of rubbish to anyone else, but to me, at each reading, it’s like seeing them all new. I learn something different every time.
The things you said to me, you were were absolutely right. You knew me better than I’ll ever know myself. And yes, I cried many good tears until the words blurred, and the paper was damp and wavy – and I hoped you were busy – somewhere, so you wouldn’t have seen that.
One morning, I felt you standing right there in my kitchen. I thought, if you had been there in the flesh, what would you say? “Bake a cake darling!” I heard you whisper. So I opened your cook book, the one you spent a lifetime creating all yourself. I baked your favourite bread, your cakes, biscuits and pies. I filled the entire house with the warm aroma of your favourite recipes.
After that, it didn’t matter so much you weren’t here. Pain was restrained, held back, fading fast. A piece of you remained. It was just hiding within. And I laughed, at the thought of you living in me.
In your life you gave me all you owned, devoted your whole self. And your death has taught me to live. There must be a sweet satisfaction that your little girl has become the person you always wanted her to be. I hope that keeps you smiling for all eternity. Whatever eternity is, wherever your gentle soul resides.
And the rat? I wanted to get rid of him. Couldn’t see why that scruffy flea ridden thing should be living here, while you’re not. But I remember you once said to me, “Leave him be, he’s only visiting – we’re all just visitors sweetheart!”
Picture: Victor Hanacek (Picjumbo)