Tag Archives: grief

Why my mum didn’t tell me she loved me

16 Nov

As we sat in traffic lights on the way back from my mum’s final radiotherapy session she turned to me and said “I’m scared I’ll die before I’ve told you how much I love you”.


Love isn’t telling somebody the fact. It isn’t giving a big present or making an inflated gesture.  It’s showing it.  Over and over, year upon year, bit by bit. It’s the small things, the things that go unnoticed at the time, but that make you know that someone is there.

It’s feeling it. Constantly and consistently. Despite the arguments and the harsh words and the differences in opinion. Like a warm blanket draped across your shoulders.


So as the traffic lights turned to green I touched my mums hand and reassured her that her job had been done a long time ago.

And when she passed and there were no final words, no declarations of love, no grand words or gestures, no tears, it didn’t matter.

I carried all I needed to know around with me in my heart.

That is love.


Happy Birthday Mum

25 Oct

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 72.

I remember vividly her birthday last year. She, me and all the Milks, my sister, her husband and their girls, and a special day out at London Zoo. I’d just had my fringe cut and, as always, was nervous what my mum would think.  At 33, her opinion was still the most important to me. A daughter dancing for her mother’s attention.

We had taken a picnic. A trademark affair. Couscous and roasted vegetable salad, an assortment of sandwiches, delicious rye bread from the deli. We sat on a rounded bench encircling a dwarf maple, our feast of delights spread out around us, carefully placed among the splattering of pigeon droppings.  Later, we sang happy birthday as my mother pretended to hide under the hood of her jacket, much to the delight of the children, as we tucked into the most delicious coffee cake I’ve ever eaten. (made by my clever sis). And I remember thinking fleetingly – “Could this be the last time we all celebrate together like this?”.

I don’t know why this thought came into my head that day. Perhaps holding something perfect in your hands makes you fear the loss of it.

2 months later as we all sat together on my mother’s old red velvet sofa and posed for a photograph the same thought came into my head. “What if this is the last picture we have all together like this?”

2 months later came the diagnosis, and 4 months later my mother passed away.

I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but I knew what was to come. Instinct wrought from intimacy.

I miss you mummy, every day.

Brahm’s lullaby – played at her funeral.

Balham on the up

14 Oct

Soon after diagnosis my mum uttered the heart-stoppingly sad words  “This isn’t my world anymore”.   Of course she wasn’t talking about Balham at the time but the life that was slowly being robbed from her, but as I wander around Balham today, taking surplus plates and old saucepans to the “Mary Portar-esque” charity shops I can’t help but be reminded of these words.

When we moved to Balham in the 1980s my dad warned that he would not see his children brought up in “this hole” (we were of course –  big words, small muscle as usual).  Prostitutes on the corner showing skirt for trade, children playing in the gutters (still not sure what was meant by this part of the story – like they were washing in the drain overflow or something).  Neighbours with tatty clothes and half-wild kittens they’d swap for cigarettes. Damp, white-washed concrete streets interrupted by the threatening graffiti daubed on the pet shop’s walls.

But within the tattered edges was a colourful, characterful place. The Caribbean market with its exotic fruits with unpronouncable names, the tucked away Asian supermarket throwing forth its dizzying spiced aromas, and  the flame-haired grandma selling flowers at the corner of the traditional street market,  calling everyone love and signalling to the deaf fruit-stall man that “Old Bert” was on his way and causing trouble again.

And now? Gone are the corner shops selling single malboroughs for 10p and liquorice shoe laces longer than your arm. Gone is the russet-haired flower lady, the site of her stall now occupied by tables of overpriced wooden toys and other superfluous, but mesmerisingly cute trinkets. (“objet shit” Mr Milk likes to call it).  Gone is the opera-singing homeless man at the underground station and the rainman postman who could recall a little too much about your personal mail. Replaced by artisan bakeries, glossy estate agents selling houses at unreal prices, asian-fusion eateries, Starbucks and Waitrose.

Where once was life in all its technicolour splendour, now are just subtle degrees of parlour grey. Cinammon and five spice replaced with hibiscus and lightly smoked turbot.  Whitewashed concrete and shabby edges improved by brushed steel and clean lines and poor old Bert edged out to make way for Richard and Miranda and cute little Angus.

Balham isn’t the same for me anymore either mum.  I think it’s about time to move on.

30-something orphan

17 Sep

Original sketch by Doodlemum

Today marks the 4th anniversary of my father’s death. It is also 5 months exactly since I lost my mum.  Two journeys, both with many more miles to tred.


This week I locked myself out of the house.  Returning from a hard day’s work – forlorn, within an inch of my patience. Two tired children yelping and jumping at my knees like impatient, rivalrous puppies vying for  attention.  A childminder desparate to reclaim her family home, a husband tied up in another meeting, neighbours immersed in their own bedtime squabbles. My desparate calls unanswered – two, three, four times.

And as I stood on my own doorstep I have never felt so alone.

When you lose your parents, you cease to be someone’s child.  An obvious point, but in that subtle twist of perception is something more significant. The moment you are orphaned you lose the people whose primary role is to protect you.  Unconditional, instinctive, tribal. This is no comment on my loyal husband who I love dearly, or my sister who is truly exceptional.  Yet as peers, the needs of our own families must come first.  The selfless, unquestioning devotion is focussed on the children whose lives we have been entrusted to protect, nurture, bring to fruition.

And the truth is, my parent’s job was done.

Yet the vulnerable needy child in you is always there.  The infant yearning to be wrapped in its mother’s arms, safe from the loom of the bogeyman. We still crave to hear those words  “Don’t worry darling, I’ll sort it all out for you”, to hide under the duvet and to let someone else carry the burden.

But the truth is, the buck now stops with you.  There won’t always be someone else to come to the rescue.  And that can be a lonely thought.


29 Jul

I want to be a child again, running around without a care in the world. My mum there next to me, cooking dinner with her pinstripe apron, smirking at our antics. What i wouldn’t do to be back there, 8 years old, snoopy jumper, ankle socks. The snowman is playing on the small, white plastic tv, and my family house like a cocoon around me. What I wouldn’t do to be back there, happy, content, safe.

I am grateful

9 Jun

There has been some anger. Intermittently. Less than I expected. And yet, as I described in The natural order of things, there is nothing so grossly unnatural or twisted about losing my mum now.  Losing her is devastating of course, unfair, paralysing, and the rollercoaster hurtles through panic, fear, inconsolation, desparation, anxiety and more. I shouldn’t be an orphan at 34. And yet, despite how quickly and harshly the progression of the last few months, despite 71 being no age to go, despite 2 months not being in any way long enough to say goodbye, despite all this, there is an awful lot I am grateful for.

I am grateful that I had a mum so utterly dedicated to her children. A mum with a natural instinct to love and protect.

I am grateful that we had 34 years – rich, memory-filled years full of poignant, sometime magical moments.

I am grateful that my mum was here to welcome both my boys into this world. I am grateful for the tears she shed, and the cuddles she gave and received.

I am grateful that my mum saw me married. Watched as my family was built on love and trust, and that she was reassured at the end, that I was in good hands.

I am grateful for the precious few months we had before she went. The time to talk, to tell eachother all the things we needed to, to express our love in moments of enforced clarity.

I am grateful that I was there at the end. That I got to hold her hand as she passed away. That the moment was peaceful, without pain or fear, that she was surrounded by two proud, loving daughters, the air filled with the music that she loved.

I am grateful for that music. That when I listen to it I can feel connected to her in a way that is indescribably perfect,incomparable to any physical thing, spiritual even. A truly wondrous gift.

I am grateful for her strength, pride and devotion; for the lessons she taught me, and the person I was able to become.

I am grateful for all these gifts, and more.

Many people don’t have half of what I have. Some much less. What a lucky girl I am.

The natural order of things

22 May

Losing my mum stinks. I miss her with an ache, an emptiness that throbs away in the pit of my stomach, a sadness that never dissipates.   Tears are rare for they seem pointless.  I have nowhere to go with my grief, cannot replace what is lost, or make it better with a good cry or a restful night’s sleep.

But sitting alongside and comforting me, holding my hand and pushing my chin up, is the sense that somehow at least, this is the natural order of things. A few years too early – ten, maybe even twenty years but not unnatural, grossly distorted or sickeningly unfair.  Every child must lose their mother. Though I wouldn’t choose it, I can carry it.

If I had lost my mother just 12 months ago, 6 months even,  I fear I would have fallen apart. Still lacking confidence, unsure of who I was or what I would become. But things have changed for me this past year; I have felt myself grow stronger, more centred, calmer, and I seem strangely prepared, more accepting.  More than this, since the day my mum died I have felt as if all her strength, dignity, calm has been transposed into me. Her gift. And it seems to carry me, even in my darkest moments.

Every child must lose their mother, and it is the task of the parent to prepare them for that. To give them the skills, the fortitude, the drive to live their lives.  My mum gave all this to me, and  though I ache for her, long for it to be different, I  sense that this is my time, that she is there willing me on, that this is what life is about. Me and my babies. Nature’s cycle.

And I think about the infants that lose their mothers before the nurturing has come to an end.  To me that is unnatural and devastating. Everyone must lose their mother, but not before they have given their blessing and passed over the mantel freely and with love.

In Memoriam

8 May

It was a beautiful, special, poignant and most importantly, really happy day.  A day about my mum, for my mum, in memory of my mum. That might sound odd ( it was her funeral after all) but believe me most other funerals I’ve been to could have been about anyone.  Tom, Dick OR Harry.

After this experience, I’m not sure why anyone would choose a standard church service.  Okay, that’s easy for me to say – I’m not religious, and I’m not desperate to make things right with God and send mum off to an eternity sitting on fluffy clouds and eating honey from golden spoons. (I’m being facetious of course, my lovely churchy friends). It’s just I remember my Dad’s funeral – held at the church where he had attended for years – and you’d never have known that the vicar had even met him. His name just cut and pasted at the top of his sermon.

My mother’s, on the other hand was a humanist service, filled with the usual tributes and poems and music (but beautifully written, expertly chosen and exquisitely read of course), and with the added treat of a rather remarkable humanist celebrant. This lovely, kind lady held it all together expertly, speaking eloquently in length about my mum, negotiating the usual unexploded familial landmines like an unshakeable divorce mediator.  She was sensitive, humorous, respectful, despite never having met her.  She’d come to visit us for 3 1/2 hours the week previously and listened as we rambled on about anything and everything to do with our darling mum. Cheap therapy.

After the service we’d invited everyone back to my mum’s house for a reception surrounded by all her things – photos, music, cards – memories of a life lived, things achieved, struggles fought and won.  We’d half expected noone to come back, or to visit for just a respectful glass of water and an exchange of a few, brief pleasantries. You  never know with these things.   But it was packed to the brim with sandwich munching, wine guzzling,  (rather a lot of wine guzzling in fact) and happy revellers, enjoying the moment, celebrating a beautiful lady, bidding farewell to a much loved friend.

My mum would have been truly proud.


29 Apr


Angry that the grandparents my children will know, grow up with, remember, won’t be MY parents. That the one they will call Grandma won’t be MY mum, the one they will know as Grandad will be someone else’s.

I’m angry that my Mum will be a hazy recollection, snapshots – splintered and one-dimensional – just as my Dad is now just a photo on the fridge. Their absence juxtaposed against a life filled with love and cuddles and memories from their other, “real” grandparents.

I’m angry that it won’t be my mum that picks them up from school, that wraps her arms around them and asks them what their day was like. That she’ll never see the expression on their faces as they unwrap her carefully chosen Christmas present, or heap praise on them when they read their first words.

I’m angry that I will have to live more of my life without her than I have done with. One of the most important people to me – my mother, my best friend – here for just a fraction of my life. Killed off after only the first few chapters.

I’m angry that the person that has been at the centre of my universe for 34 years has been snatched away from me, cruelly, suddenly, and that I have to relearn to live my life without her.

I’m angry that at just 34 I am an orphan.

I’m angry that my “go to person”, my reference point for all the decisions I make, the person at the end of the telephone when I’m feeling unsteady or unsure, has become unavailable. Permanently engaged.

I’m angry that I have to make sense of all of this by myself.

I’m really fucking angry, and my rage is selfish and personal. For now it’s all about me.

Remembering my dad

17 Sep

You never stop missing someone. You just learn to live without them. Grief isn’t a journey from A to B. It isn’t linear. It is much more complex, repetitive, surprising.

Today marks the 3rd anniversary of my father’s death. These are a few things i am remembering about him today.

My father spent an awful lot of his time sitting down. Lazy? Yes, even he’d have to agree with that one, but he’d also have argued convincingly for social anthropology. Observing, mentally jotting down all the nuances of human behaviour as it played out before him. The absurdity of it all frequently amused him. After his funeral his 5 children trundled down to the Marina in Brighton to scatter his ashes. We didn’t really have a plan so we wandered about aimlessly for a bit before deciding to scatter them into the sea off the end of a concrete groyne. As we skidded and slid our way barefoot and dangerously down the groyne (wet, covered in moss, warning signs everywhere) i could see my dad standing at a safe distance, observing, and smirking at us saying “What ARE you doing, you sentimental bunch of fools!”

When he did get up from his chair he would jump up as if stung by a bee. He’d obviously been thinking about the act of getting up for quite some time, psyching himself up, waiting for a build up of energy sufficient to launch him from his observation tower. The fact that it was Gin and Tonic o’clock usually did the trick.

Gordon’s Gin and slimline tonic. Even now the smell of it, the chink of crystal glasses, the plop of ice and the gentle fizz of liquids mixing is enough to send me off on a daydream. “Just a few” he would say as he reached for the dry roasted nuts or cheese and onion crisps that would always be the accompaniment. He’d recount the exact calorific content of each mouthful, slapping your hand away if you so much as dared to reach for seconds, before moments later reaching his soft, chubby little hand out himself. “Pernicious” he would say, winking as he greedily took another handful, shook them around in his palm a few times before throwing them up and into his mouth.

A snapshot. No doubt tomorrow a whole different bunch of memories will play out unexpectedly as i go about my day.

Irreplaceable. A word that only really starts to make sense when you lose someone. I miss you daddy. So much.