I have written about Mum here before, how she died, what it was like and pretty much all the associated trauma that stems from that. Perhaps it is a conversation that, if we found ourselves face to face at a table, we would be able to have without the risk of me sounding melodramatic, as I always tend to do in print. This is something I am acutely aware of whenever the topic of losing a Parent comes up in conversation. I somehow assume the role of veteran, someone who has been there. For me, losing a parent was my own personal ‘Nam and I am not entirely sure why I always feel this is a role I must assume. I suppose that loss and grief are my Mastermind specialist subjects. I have always know what to say, and what to do when people die. Mostly because I had so many people say the entirely wrong thing to me.
I now find myself in the unique position of having spent exactly half my life with my Mum and exactly half my life without her. Soon, the balance will tip, and I will be in the inevitable position of having truly lived a lifetime apart from her. I didn’t really see this coming until the significant birthday rolled around, I must admit, the realisation hit me hard. I had always anticipated the standard milestones that highlights the loss of a loved one, but for some reason this one had slipped under the radar.
When I was a child, I used to lie wide awake at night, worrying that my Parents would die and leave me. Ironically, my wakeful night’s imaginings sadly came to pass. Now an adult, with a dead Mum and a Father as absent as it is possible to be, I sometimes catch myself wondering if that little girl somehow willed this all to happen to her. But, life really does go on and we fill our lives with other people to love and though nothing really ever replaces that person, the people we place around us become our buffer to the scary world, and distract us from our core fears of being alone in it.
Our Parents, are our anchors in the world, they provide a template to either aspire to or an example we vow to never, ever be like. The childhood Abi, who would tiptoe downstairs just to satisfy herself that her parents had not infact died in the living room whilst she slept upstairs, would probably have conceded that yes, her parents would probably die sometime. But not now, not until she was a Mother herself, not until she lived in a flat, had a pet of her own and not, especially not until she was at least 30!
I am at the age where friends of mine are dealing with sick parents. Those Kids with similar bedroom fears, are now Adults with Parents, now in their late 60’s and beyond. One by one, the people around me, who have been shielded from this very specific kind of loss, begin to face the inevitable. The long periods of diagnosis, the nursing, the family gatherings and the goodbyes. The truth is that people don’t die an old person’s death. They don’t get the opportunity to luxuriate in their own passing and set their affairs in order. The things that are designed to take the people we love from this life, never usually play out like the death of the Albert Finney character in “Big Fish”. People get ill and deteriorate, they lose their minds and their memories and they always take a little bit of you with them when they go. Perhaps this is the trade-off for more of a lifetime together. The longer we keep those that we love, the more time there is to regret the things we didn’t do for them. I have no doubt in my mind that my own Mother possibly only enjoyed roughly 18 months of “good” times with me in total. At fifteen, I have no problems admitting that I was a selfish, stubborn bitch. If there is anything to regret pertaining to my situation, it is that we never got to go for a coffee on a Saturday, or that she never got to come shopping in Bristol with the late 20’s version of me. I tell myself that she would have loved that. I would have loved that.
I used to think I was in a unique position, that nobody around me understood what it was like to grow up without such a pivotal person in their life and yes, I can tell you that it was pretty fucking awful. It is still fucking awful. Would I trade everything I had to keep my Mum into my adult years? Would I be able to care for her as the person I am now? Would I even be the person I am now? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. I only know that in losing her when I did, I was given back a tiny assurance, that I would not have to carry the fear of saying goodbye as an adult around with me anymore. Because as a grown up, we tend to think we have this covered, we like to think that when all is said and done, that we will have made our peace with being terrible children and that our parents will know that we know that they did their best for us. Parting as grown-ups seems like an overwhelming rush to say “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” all at once.
And it is really, really sad.
I realise now that, even as a child, I was never really scared of my parents dying, I was more scared that I would simply never recover.