When I was a child, I loved Mother’s Day. More specifically, I loved Blue Peter and never more so than when the presenters uttered the magical words “Mums leave the room” before they unveiled this year’s craft creation. I’m actually rubbish at crafts, so my Mum would feign delight at the latest wrapping paper, matchbox and Copydex creation. I’d attempt a breakfast in bed, which again she pretended to enjoy whilst hiding the fear in her eyes wondering what I’d done to the kitchen.
I have written about her before, and all the things she taught me (spoiler alert: ironing not one of them)
If you asked me to give an example of how much my mother loved me, it wouldn’t be the big stuff. I was a teenager and we were on a plane. I was also a vegetarian in the years when it was still awkward. My vegetarian meal on the plane doubled as the ‘any other dietary requirements’ meal which meant that whilst everyone else received a chocolate brownie, I was given melon. Melon! My Mum didn’t even look at me, but silently swapped. Reader, she didn’t like melon either.
Her last Mother’s Day was just 10 days before she died. I bought her a very large bunch of flowers, because we both knew that any gift was pointless. She apologised over and over again, through the sickness, weakness and broken sleep, that I should not be doing this, that it was the wrong way round. And I reminded her of how many times she had done it for me, and that this was how it worked.
Although she never met my children, she taught me what love looked like, and she taught me how to be a mother. I didn’t learn to raise my children without a mother, I had one whose voice I could hear constantly in my ear, and whose presence my children largely felt through carbohydrates.
Mother’s Day has been hard for a long time. Even when I became a mother, you couldn’t just take a run at it. My husband has also lost his mother so it is a course filled with obstacles and debris. Our children have never known their Grandmothers, and we avoided the traditional multi-generational Sunday Lunch, Afternoon Tea, National Trust outing like the plague. Instead we went for walks that they weren’t allowed to complain about, and I tried to make them watch Hitchcock films. Neither of them were big on crafts, but there was pie.
Now I sit in the shittiest of Venn diagrams where I grieve for my mother and my child. On Fred’s last Mother’s Day he was in ICU, Arthur and I had lunch in the hospital canteen. It is a testament to how bad things were that being on a ventilator was the least of our worries. In the surrounding months, days and hours I would need my Mum more than I ever thought possible but I would have to make do with her voice in my head, reminding me that mothers can do hard things. To misquote JF Kennedy, “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of [insert child’s name].”
Since my mother died, I have collected mothers and am always on the look out for a new shiny one, My sister, my Mum’s friends, my friends’ mums and even my own friends, who allow me to turn up, throw myself on the sofa and ask what’s in the snack cupboard. They are not all even mothers, but they all know what love looks like.
And now I have a new collection, a precious band of bereaved mothers, who, if you listen carefully, you can hear screaming expletives into the void. All of us approach Mother’s Day with a sense of dread, not because it is harder than any other day, but because it highlights how difficult every day is, and how trivial and trifling the Sainsbury’s display appears. No one really want us spoiling the mood, always the bad fairy at the christening. We don our black cloaks and gather together, budging up and making room for everyone else that finds the frippery heavy, the motherless, those mothering alone, or those who never got the chance.
Mother’s Day has never been about the Prosecco and the bath bombs and the Sunday lunch set menu. It is a celebration of the strength of women, and as important, the strength of women together.
None of us are special. None of us are inspirational, or strong, or exceptional, although I’ll allow that we are all bloody brilliant. We are just like you. We are mothers, and we know what it is to do hard things.
Every year over around 240 mother’s in the UK will face the first Mother’s Day without their child, due to cancer. This post is dedicated to all those mothers, and all mothers who are missing their children.