Okay, so already we’re off to a pretty heavy start and you’re probably thinking of skipping this. I don’t blame you. Feel free to skip past or to enjoy one of the more hilarious pieces of content about gaming or my general attempts at humour. I’m posting this because it’s currently Mother’s Day in many countries around the world (but for some reason here in the UK we do it a month earlier). I also think it’s worth keeping in mind the people getting through Mother’s Day without a mother to share it with. I’m one of those people and for me Mother’s Day has transformed into an occasion where I get to help my kids make their mother very happy. Not everyone is so lucky.
So, on April 15th it was my own mother’s birthday. At least it would have been had it not been for the fact that she died just over two years ago from pneumonia, a complication of the Multiple Sclerosis that had been eating away at her mobility and memories for the previous half-decade.
When it finally actually happened, my mother had been admitted to hospital for an infection. This wasn’t unusual, my mother was either in a bed or wheelchair much of the time and her condition meant she had a permanent catheter and quite often ended up with some infection or other because of it. So when I received the phonecall that she was in hospital I asked the nurse all the usual questions about her status. Is she conscious? Is she talking? The nurse advised that nothing seemed too out of the ordinary but that she was sleeping. This was in the morning. My wife took her some belongings and reported back that she was sluggish but that no particularly alarming reports had come from the nurses.
At 10pm that night I received the phonecall that I think everyone must dread. The one where they tell you to come to the hospital because your loved one isn’t going to come out again. To come and say goodbye.
We both raced to the hospital and sat with her. She looked pale but otherwise no different to if she was sleeping. She wasn’t conscious but she would make sounds. It was a low grumbling growl in her throat. She was still breathing shallowly but it was clear that she was struggling. The pneumonia had overtaken her ability to fight it with her weakened body.
Anyway, I lived through the long version of that horrifying experience and I wouldn’t want to subject anyone else to experiencing it in full, visceral detail. The short version is that after several hours of watching her gradually diminish, she died.
I felt a lot of things at the time. Grief is terrible but it’s also very simple. It’s the mind trying to come to terms with a sudden and unresolvable gap in the equation. Like most descriptions I’ve heard from people in a similar position, I often thought instinctively that I wanted to talk to my mother about it, before reality would kick me in the pants a second later and remind me of the inescapable truth.
I think if I was in a position at the time to have wallowed in it fully then I would have had a terrible time spinning in circles with it. As it is I’m lucky to have three children who kept me plenty busy in the days afterwards. As such, the grief came in pockets or waves. It would catch me in quiet moments or surprise me in the middle of conversations.
The children were sufficiently young that really only Marshall, my eldest was deeply affected. Morgan may have had some understanding but if he did then it wasn’t something he communicated to us. Claudia was too little to remember anything at all. I told Marshall upstairs in his room. Broke the news as gently as I could and held him while he cried. Even now he comes and talks to me about it. He’s a sensitive boy and, although I worry that the world will knock it out of him, I love that about him. It makes him kind.
My wife took care of the lion’s share of the paperwork and funeral arrangements where she could but I was still able to busy myself with the mechanics of wrapping up her life. The funeral was near Mother’s Day and I gave her final card to the funeral director to be placed in the coffin with her.
Over time I managed to put the complicated emotions back in their boxes in my brain and get on with the blissfully distracting business of day-to-day life. It was helped further six months later when Tammy’s mother suddenly died. I put whatever was left of my grief into helping her come to terms with hers. We grieved together and at Christmas we pulled together as a family with two people missing.
Two years later I’m no longer grieving but neither am I an example of a man who has transcended into blissful contentment. The experience has left me with scars I didn’t expect. These are things that I have to work to overcome even moreso than just plain, simple grief.
I have anxiety. Like mad. At times I have been a terror, a bore and a coward in equal measure because I thought one of the children was running too far off, not taking enough care on a high slide, not paying enough attention when crossing the road. I have a habit of ‘helicoptering’ when we take them to indoor play areas in case someone gets hurt. We once took a family trip to the forest that somehow, with it’s hundreds of trees in the bleak (to me) evening half-light, triggered a full anxiety attack that left me twitching and panting in the car. I’ve made progress since then. I can still have bad reactions but I’ve learned to identify my triggers and mostly stay away from them. I still worry too much about the kids and am an irritating control freak.
Another by-product is that I have something of an ‘unquiet mind’. That’s not to say I hear voices, I absolutely don’t but I don’t deal with silence or darkness very well. I sleep with the TV on at all times and I stay up until I can barely keep my eyes open every night because if I have to attempt sleep and fail for too long then I’m in a dark room with nothing to occupy me and that’s exactly what my brain needs to fire up my own personal demon sideshow.
To clarify, during the day life bombards me with a constant stream of visual and auditory data that keeps my brain occupied. If it’s not looking after the kids it’s work, if not work it’s checking social media, if not that it’s gaming of one sort or another or reading, writing, socialising (to a much lesser extent), etc. I need inputs at all times because, for me, the worst thing is to be entirely devoid of them.
A quiet room, pitch darkness; these are both blank canvases onto which my unquiet mind can paint whatever it dreams up and its never usually good. I worry about the future; about the kids’ future, often Morgan’s specifically. I worry about money, about relationships, about my health. I play out scenarios in an attempt to mitigate the risks that are often almost wholely imagined or concocted. In the quiet, in the dark, everything becomes very, very intense.
Again, this is something I’m working on and I’m fairly certain that at the moment my crazy isn’t bursting out all over the place. I’m just quite a crappy sleeper who stays up too late playing video games. I get through a lot of coffee.
So, it’s two years ago now. I still haven’t sorted the box of mum’s stuff in the cupboard but eventually when I’m strong enough I’ll pull it all out and make sense of it. I will look through the diaries she wrote to try to understand her better.
One thing that really comforts me is the kids. Often in ways I struggle to fully explain. I see parts of my mother in all of them but the most uncanny is Claudia. In the years since my mother died, she has grown into a spritely munchkin girl who can, at times, pull facial expressions that comes directly from my mum. It’s not always obvious but she has a whole range of smiles, grumps and other nuances that clearly trickled down into her DNA from her nanny Tina. Seeing that same spark that slowly disappeared in my mother reappear in my young daughter gives me particular comfort.
So, in closing. I’ll make the usual appeal to ensure you appreciate mothers if you still have them. We all lose them eventually and the memories we make will be a comfort to us after they’re gone. Also, as I mentioned in the opening, spare a thought for those that continue on without their mothers. This may not be the easiest time for them even if they don’t show it outwardly and not all of them will have the happy distraction of their own children to make it easier.
Thanks for reading. I promise the next article will be about hilarious poo accidents or video games.
P.S. This post is a re-working of one I did about a month ago for my old blog, Diary of a Handful. Just in case some of you had read it there and suspected I’d nicked it 🙂