Just under two weeks ago, on January 30th, my mother passed away.
Tomorrow would be her 50th birthday.
Maybe you’re wondering why it’s taken me this long to mention it. Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve continued to post about Poland in the interim. Well, thank Gouda for scheduling is all I can say to that.
And I’m not writing this for sympathy. Not at all. I’m writing this now because…well, I don’t know why.
The only explanation I have is that she was – and will remain to be – a huge part of my life, a huge part of what I do and a huge part of who I am as a person. This blog, for the most part, is because of her. So for me to let such an occasion just slide by without so much as the slightest mention on here would sort of be a disservice to her.
She was the first person to pick up on and encourage my love of words, both reading and writing. In fact I’d go so far as to say I probably inherited it from her. Our house was full of books when I was younger – her books. Mostly about war and women’s history and other topics I found to be so bloody boring back then, but in hindsight I can’t help but think that yep, grown up me would definitely have liked her.
She would buy me notebooks and pens, and then when I was old enough to have my own paper round she’d drive me to Woolworth’s after school so I could buy more notebooks and pens with my own money. We’re probably responsible for a great big patch of treeless land in a forest somewhere thanks to our blatant disregard for the amount of paper somebody actually needs in their life.
When we got a desktop computer I would spend hours and hours and hours on it, tapping away at the keyboard and letting my imagination run wild. She would always ask what I was writing; I would very rarely tell her. Occasionally, when I would tell her and even go so far as to let her read some of it, she would smile so big and look so happy. She’d tell me how great it was before going on to point out every single grammatical error. Downsides of having a mother with an English degree I suppose.
She loved doing that: correcting people.
Double negatives were her favourite. And to this day it makes me squirm whenever I hear or see someone using a double negative. It’s kind of like nails on a chalkboard… I just can’t bear it! So yeah – thanks, Mam.
There are a few very brief conversations I had with her that have ended up shaping my life into what it is right now.
One of them was her thinking out loud “I wonder what language you think in if you’re bilingual?”
This is a question that still intrigues me. It was this question that sort of catapulted me headfirst into taking Spanish seriously at school, proceeding with it at University level and ultimately becoming what I am today – a translator. Technically I speak 4 languages now, although I will never be fully bilingual so I’ll never be able to find out the answer to that question myself. But when I eventually have kids of my own you better bet I’ll be raising them bilingual just so I can ask what language they think in.
Another conversation was about the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. She’d said how she would have loved to visit them all, and it was quite sad that only the Pyramids of Giza are left. She said she wanted to go there one day. I said me too. I lied. At that time – I was about 9 or 10 – I had no intention whatsoever to ever visit the Pyramids, or anywhere else for that matter. But, you know, when you’re a little girl you just want to be exactly like your mother, and she wanted to go to the Pyramids so I did too.
A year or two later and the New 7 Wonders of the World were announced. They intrigued me a lot more than the Pyramids or any of the other Ancient ones, and I found myself reading up on them on Wikipedia.
I told her I was going to visit them all one day, and then finish up at the Pyramids as a sort of finishing line.
If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time you already know that I finished up all 7 in August. I’ll admit that I am slightly gutted she didn’t live to see me head to the Pyramids, but find solace in the fact that through me, through my pictures, and through my adventures, she was able to realise one of her dreams of seeing all 7 wonders of the world. Albeit, they’re the wrong ones, but it’s the thought that counts. And when I do eventually go to the Pyramids, it’ll be so much sweeter knowing that she’s right there beside me.
She suffered with Multiple Sclerosis and fought like an absolute fucking trooper for a little over 20 years. She is the bravest, strongest, kindest and most courageous woman I have ever and will ever meet. Nobody will ever come close to her, and if I become even half the woman she was then I will be so damn proud of myself.
You know when someone dies and people say “I just keep expecting them to walk through the door!”? Well, I’m not about to say the same. She hadn’t been able to walk for over a decade, and the last few years was completely bedbound, unable to speak, eat or even move. It wasn’t exactly a fantastic life, but her just being here was enough. Enough for her, and enough for us.
And now she’s not here, and so that saying? I totally get it. Except it’s not her walking through the door, it’s us walking downstairs and looking to the right only to see a shelving unit instead of her bed. It’s not hearing that god awful beeping coming from one of her machines. It’s not being able to hear her breathing. It’s not having to plan our lives around her care. It’s living with the knowledge that she’s not just having a spell in hospital, but she’s not coming back. Not in her physical form, anyway. That is fucking hard to get my head around.
But she is still here.
I see her in my brother and in my sister. I see her in my brother’s children. I see her reflection in my stepfather. I see her when I look in the mirror. I see her in the “Please switch off the lights” stickers she stuck on all the light switches all those years ago. I see her in the electric oven she coveted for years and absolutely loved.
And I feel her everywhere.
When I’m reading a book, she’s reading over my shoulder. When a Stevie Nicks song comes on shuffle, she’s listening too. When I accidentally call a chimpanzee a monkey, she’s definitely there ready and waiting to give me a lecture on how a chimp is not a monkey, it’s an ape.
She’s gone, and the pain of that is indescribable, but she’s all around me and I can’t begin to describe how much of a comfort that is.
I love you Mama, and I will miss you forever and ever, amen.