As I was driving, I had no idea she was actually about to leave us. I was still under the misguided belief she was doing ok, that even though she had liver cancer she would carry on being my mum for years to come. I was wrong.
I reached her partner’s house, where she lay in a very distressed state. So I gave her a big hug and she seemed to calm down. It was, I believe, as if she’d been waiting for me to arrive. My brother – who had been caring for her a lot alongside Robin whilst I was back in Bath working – was already there. He was crying, so was Robin.
It’s a cliche, but she did – then – look very peaceful. It was as if all her worries disintegrated in a split second. I felt overwhelmingly sad, frantic, breathless, upset, panicky, relieved, angry, guilty and cheated. There was a rush of emotions and tears streamed down my face. I certainly never expected to lose my mum at such an early age. But I had. And it hurt. Very badly.
But, luckily, I had a supportive family, friends and a wonderful girlfriend to help me. And – after mum was gone – we all planned mum’s funeral and the wake party. Mum’s partner Robin, my brother Matthew and I kept each other going and the funeral went well – over 250 people came. Everyone was lovely and said great things. My mum’s sister, my cousins and all mum’s friends rallied around, even though they were grieving themselves for the loss of someone who had always been a vibrant, energetic part of their lives. There were lots of hugs, laughter and an excessive amount of alcohol drunk at the wake; it was exactly the kind of happy/sad remembrance service mum would have wanted.
My girlfriend Amy was a beautiful, sympathetic, smiley-faced bridge of strength in that period. She really did, at the time, provide me with the support (hugs, listening, advising, motivating and a heart full of love) to hold myself up and keep going across a chasm of downward-spiralling emotions. Without her by my side, I know I would have sunk a lot lower. Thank you Amy.
But as well as Amy’s help back then, my overriding memory of that period is what my best friend Craig did for me.
The day after mum’s funeral, Craig persuaded me to drive to north Wales and climb a mountain. Yes: me, Craig and a few other great blokes climbed Mount Snowdon.
This may seem like a ridiculously crazy thing to have done. You know, climb a mountain the day after your mum’s funeral. But, as it turned out, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Why? Well, aside from the achievement of actually climbing the highest mountain in Wales, what going up Snowdon actually did was psychologically attach a positive memory, an amazing achievement, to the upsetting memory of losing my mum. Craig had, brilliantly, caused me to halt any serious sinking of my mind by getting me to push myself to the limits. In other words, he physically and psychologically pushed me upwards.
I won’t lie, it was a hard climb. I’d never climbed Snowdon before. And I felt tired, out-of-breath and as if a huge, heavy burden was pressing down on my shoulders. This, of course, was the death of my mum I was carrying up the mountain with me. And to make it all the more real, I wore her old waterproof jacket (to take a little piece of her up Snowdon with me). I looked stupid in her jacket, but I didn’t care. This was about achieving something for me and in memory of her.
When I eventually reached the top it felt amazing. A sense of relief washed over me and I knew that – no matter what happened in the future – I would always associate my mum dying with having a fantastic time with my best friend and achieving something great.
We all know that – as the years roll on – our memories compound themselves, they change a little every year and we re-interpret them again and again. But, if you can create a solid, clear, lightbulb moment-memory that shines out through the darkness then it will stay with you forever. It will become your guiding light throughout your life on how to overcome both the worst and the best that life throws at you.
So, now it’s a year on and I still think my mum’s going to walk in the door at some point. I still think she’s going to text me or call me. I miss her. I miss having her to talk to about relationships. I miss listening to her updating me on all our relatives’ news. I miss sitting down and eating her roast dinners, stews and apple crumbles. I miss arguing with her. I miss hugging her. I miss having her there as my Constant. I miss her unconditional love. I miss how she always connected everyone together. But, most of all, I miss sitting in the garden with her drinking a cup of tea and watching the birds eat the bread and seed she had just put out for them.
I make sure I put bread and seed out for the birds every week. And I always will do. Thanks for the time we had together mum. Love you.x