Here is the last picture I took of my mother who died on Valentines day this year. She was 85.
I am having feelings that I never expected after her death. For since my father died in 1981, I have been looking after her. She had already been an invalid for several years before my father's death and had given up as an adult. She had been tremendously competent. She had made several trans Atlantic moves. She had set up house in Ghana in the 1950's. But after a terrible car accident in 1970, she gave up and lived like a child. And for 33 years she was my child.
For many mother's days, I wished that I had had her back as my mother. Someone who stood on her own feet and who could maybe support me! Decades of care wore me down. I expected that when she died, I would be relieved.
How ironic then, that far from feeling relief, I feel her loss so deeply.
What is love? I ask myself.
30 something years of caring for a person are in a way a kind of mothering. And what attaches a mother to a child? Surely all those chores that a mother has to do. There is nothing intrinsically fun about them or in the conflicts and the whining but they all add up to love. We do them because our children need this. We commit to all the diapers and dishes, the school runs, the staying up late wondering if they are safe, because this is our real job.
So when our children leave home, this is what happens. It's part of how works. But we still feel bereft. We then miss all the duties of motherhood.
This is how I feel.
I miss her and I miss "us". I miss wondering how she is. I miss buying her clothes. I miss paying her taxes. I miss going to see her. I miss sending her flowers on mothers day.
And then I remember that she was indeed my mum. Who, while she had left the world all those many years ago, had done all these things for me. What broke my heart was to find in her few things a file with many of my early writings.
So I am less sad that she is gone. For that is the way of the world. I am sad that it took her death for me to know how much I loved her.