So the last few weeks have been a bit of a blur.
In some ways it seems like my Mum died only a day or so ago and in other ways, it seems like months have passed.
I’ve come to the conclusion that all the legalities you have to go through when a loved one dies is really there to allow your brain to be preoccupied with paperwork and phone calls so your grief can be diluted and you can start coping with your loss.
But it’s a false sense of coping because along the way you encounter little emotional bombs that bring it all flooding back.
I’m not talking about the things like picking up her belongings from the hospital or washing her clothes – especially the ones you saw her wear in the hospital – or organising the funeral, you know that’s going to hurt, I’m talking about the things that catch you off guard.
For me, night times have been the worst.
When my wife and child sleep, my grief awakens. With nothing to occupy it, my brain goes into that dangerous area of remembering every detail of Mum’s final 48 hours … every word of the surgeons explanation … every conversation we didnt have … forcing me to face the unbelievable reality my dear Mum has died.
But there’s other moments where the rawness of grief gets opened up. Moments that seem almost insignificant at first glance, but end up ramming home the horror of the situation you are living through.
One of them has been organising our home phone number to be switched off.
Yes, I know it is just a phone number but it has been synonymous with my life, my parents and my home for over 44 years.
6 little digits [which became 7 when the telephone exchange was running out of numbers] that in some way, represent my history.
I know … I know … I am a sentimental fool, but to end my relationship with those numbers feels, in some way, that I am ending my relationship with my history and childhood.
I must admit I did try and “buy” the number – offering to either pay to keep it or pay to have it retired – but the phone company told me I couldn’t, and they wouldn’t, do it.
In some ways that’s good. It means I can not be held back by grief – as I let myself when my Dad died – but it’s hard. To be honest, if I had my way, I would have preferred to hire a security guard to stand outside my childhood home so I could keep it exactly as it is but in-keeping with the spirit and values my parents tried to instill in me, I’m having it refurbished so I can help a family move into an area that, like my parents did for me, can give their children a better chance in life.
It will get harder.
Next Tuesday all the furniture is taken out.
Every little thing.
Some of it if going to a storage facility so we can collect it when we’ve decided where we’re going to settle down but most is going to charity.
All the furniture.
All the trinkets.
All the thousands of books.
Even though the house will stay mine [and the deal with the family we’re renting to is the gardens, my parents passion, must be maintained as they are] the fact is everything is about to change which is why next Monday night – the day before the emptying – my best friend Paul and his wife will come over for dinner to say goodbye to the old [something he was inherently part of] and hello to the beginning of the next chapter.
But then there are moments that fall into a totally different catagory … moments that trip you up because you didn’t even know they existed.
In these cases, they are specifically related to the life you had with your parents rather than the home you all lived together in.
These are moments where you discover a side to your parents you didn’t know.
Now I appreciate this has the potential to be a bad thing but in my case, it was something both beautiful and sad.
As we were going through all the papers and the photographs, we discovered all manner of things.
Every photograph they ever took of me, them and us.
Every Mothers and Father’s Day card I ever gave them.
All the messages my Mum received when Dad died.
And while it was amazing to see them – as well as see how much Otis looks like I did as a kid [see above] there were 3 things in particular that set my emotions over the edge.
Two were love letters written between my parents.
One from my Mum. One from my Dad.
They were written in early 1964 – before they were married and well before I came on the scene – and in them, you see all the love and compassion they had for each other.
Of course I knew this because I saw it every day I was living with them … but this was different. This was when they were young. When they had less responsibilities. When they didn’t know what the future held but were excited by the possibilities. This was something I never saw and it was beautiful and precious.
My Dad told my Mum that the last 12 months were a beautiful time for him. That finding someone to love and have them love him was all he ever needed.
My Mum responded with excitement about how their life would be together and how she was grateful my Dad had found them a flat with a working fireplace in it as it would be cosy in winter and would keep them warm.
It was achingly beautiful and utterly touching.
And then I found a card.
It was something my Dad sent my Mum on the day I was born.
This is what he wrote:
I always knew I was loved and wanted by my parents but this revealed just how lucky I was to have my Mum and Dad.
To see this. To have a chance to glimpse into a time before I was around felt like a gift.
Part of me wanted to keep these things but they were not mine to keep. They belonged to my Mum and they will go with her and I just feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to see them and re-experience the love that lived amongst them and us all.
Don’t get me wrong, we went through some tough and challenging times – we certainly weren’t the Brady Bunch – but through it all was the certainty that we belonged together and valued that above all else.
The other thing that is interesting is the loss of my Mum has reawoken the loss of my Dad.
A friend of his – who I haven’t seen for 30+ years – came to see me last weekend to pay his respects to Mum.
It was wonderful to see him but as he sat in the chair that my Mum sat in – and my Dad before her – I couldn’t help notice how similar his eyes looked to my Dad.
It was strange. It was like he was back and when I reminded myself he couldn’t be, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me.
I wasn’t the only one who felt that.
Paul – my best friend – was with me and when my Dad’s friend left, he told me how much he had reminded him of my Dad … which might help explain why I felt such an overwhelming need to spend the last few days arranging my parents names to be honoured on flowers, plaques and park benches around the community where they lived.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that for all the pain and sadness I’ve experienced in the last 14+ days – accepting there have been some moments of heart-warming love – the fact is it means I truly loved my Mum [and Dad] and while I know they wouldn’t want me to feel pain and sadness I’m going through, it’s the greatest compliment I can give them.
On Friday it will be Mum’s funeral.
It will be hard but it represents another stage of the grieving process.
The sadness of goodbye.
The celebration of an amazing person.
I’m going to be a bloody mess.