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Six days ago marked the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing.
It seems odd, calling it an anniversary. Anniversary in my mind means something to be celebrated, like the Queen’s Jubilee, lasting a whole two years nicotine-free, or those snazzy new covers they brought out for the Harry Potter books to celebrate their 20th year. Or, you know, weddings and what not – the boring stuff.
But calling the day of someone’s demise an anniversary? How can it compare to the above? They shouldn’t have to co-exist under the same dictionary definition, especially when they cause polar opposite emotions to surface.
According to a quick Google search I just made (forever trying to back up made up facts with real facts), the Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use and 47,156 obsolete words. This is then in addition to those words that really are words but haven’t quite made it into the dictionary yet, like snozzcumber, which was rejected in 2016 as it “isn’t used enough in everyday language“. A very poor reason to skip over such a fantastic word, if you ask me. And, quite frankly, I would absolutely slip a snozzcumber or two into menial conversation to spice things up a bit if it meant securing its place in the OED, as I’m sure most people would.
So, with well over 200,000 recognised English words in existence, you’d think that by now they’d have come up with something new and unique to use when talking about the anniversary of somebody’s death.
In India (and Nepal, I believe) it’s called shraadh. In Judaism it’s yahrtzeit. There are also specific words or phrases used in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and so many more languages, so why is there nothing of the likes in English, a language of which 20% of the world speak?
We should all take a leaf out of Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington’s book and refer to it as a deathday.
Shoving all that linguistical “I’m a translator, can you tell?” chat aside, it’s been a peculiar year. I’d like to say one full of highs and lows but in all honesty – and quite unbelievably, given the circumstances – there have been a lot more highs than lows. I briefly touched upon it in previous posts, so won’t drone on again, but to keep it short I’ll just say being hit in the face full force with a truck called death has made me more aware of, well, everything. And everyone. I mean, I cried actual tears for a dead pigeon a few weeks ago.
As a new member of the Dead Parents Club there were a few things I wasn’t aware of before joining. A few points they forgot to mention in the handbook, and a few things that hopefully nobody reading this will have to go through for a very, very long time to come.
People will compare their own grief to yours.
“I know exactly how you’re feeling, I felt the same way when I lost [insert name here]“, “Oh, it’s hard isn’t it? I was lost when my dog died” and “My mother passed away last year. I know what you’re going through“. Those three phrases will become an everyday reality in the weeks to months following a loss. And you’ll find yourself sitting there, smiling and nodding politely while gritting your teeth and silently pleading with them to shut the hell up.
Because here’s the thing: one person’s loss is totally and utterly incomparable to anything else. There is absolutely nothing like it, and I’d go so far as to say in some cases it’s an insult to say otherwise.
You can’t compare losing a partner to losing a parent. You can’t compare losing a child to losing a friend. You can’t compare losing a pet to losing a grandparent. I’m not saying one loss is greater than another, as each and every loss is equally valid and important, be it human or animal (except goldfish – I 100% believe that goldfish death is the easiest kind of death to deal with), but what I am saying is that you can’t compare what one person goes through with anybody else.
All circumstances are different, all relationships are different – so please, if you ever find yourself in a position where someone you know has lost someone, don’t say “I know how you’re feeling“. Because you don’t. You can’t comprehend it, and you won’t ever be able to.
The whole world will be proud of you.
Tie your shoelaces on your own, end world hunger, down a smoothie in 20 seconds without hiccupping, win the Nobel Peace Prize – it doesn’t matter how big or how small the achievement, but everyone will be proud of you for it. And what’s more, they’ll insist on telling you how proud the dead person would be of you. In my case, my mother. People were constantly telling me how proud she was or would be, of me, and they still do to this day.
Her old school friends, family members, my own friends, people on the Internet, people who’d never even met her… they don’t hesitate to tell me how I’m a great human being (lols) and would be making her proud. And as bizarre as it is to have people on the other side of the world who don’t even know her name tell me how proud my mother would be of me, it’s also oddly comforting.
There will be a lot of awkward silences.
Believe it or not, there are some people in the world who just ain’t comfortable with the subject of death. I know, right?! Who’dve thought it?
It’s sort of a taboo subject to some, I think, and others are just so completely unaccustomed to discussing all things death and destruction that it’s sometimes difficult for them to formulate the right or wrong words at times, and so they maintain an awkward and somewhat hilarious silence.
Quite a few times I’ve found myself in a group of friends just chatting away about something and I’ll say “Oh yeah, my mother once said…” or “My mother used to love that!“, then all of a sudden the earth cracks open, volcanos rise from the below and vultures swoop down to peck out our eyes.
Okay, so maybe it doesn’t quite happen like that, but might as well given how awkward and uncomfortable the room gets. People stop talking, eyes shift uncomfortably from one person to the next as they try to telepathically decide how to handle the apparent elephant in the room, until somebody swiftly changes the subject to the Kardashians.
It’s almost as if they think the mere mention of the word “mother” will cause me to fall to my knees and writhe around in pain while howling to the high heavens when, in fact, I’m completely chill about it. I’m practically a penguin.
There will be a lot of questions thrown your way.
The complete opposite of awkward silence! Just to make it clear, I don’t walk around with a “My mother is dead” pin on my chest, nor do I introduce myself to new people with “hi, my name is Rhiannon and my mother died last year“. However, I don’t really avoid mentioning it either (if it’s relevant to whatever we’re talking about, obviously, I don’t just interrupt a chat about Star Wars to announce my semi-orphandom).
Losing a parent isn’t some unknown phenomenon. People die every day. It’s a fact of life, and not usually something that causes people to stop and ask questions. But I think the fact that I’m a little bit young to lose a parent (25, practically middle-aged), and my sister, at 16, is even younger, peaks people’s curiosities. So, when it does come up in casual non-Star Wars related conversation, they ask questions. How did she die? How old was she? Was she ill? How long did she suffer? And so on and so forth. It’s the opposite of the awkward silence.
You might cry for a dead pigeon. You might not.
I’ve never been a particularly over-emotional person. When I was kid I’d cry if it was my brother’s turn to choose the film, or when I lost out on musical chairs (who didn’t?!), and of course the beginning sequence of Up has me bawling like a newborn baby every single time, but I’d say in general my emotional level is pretty normal.
With that being said, I didn’t cry when my mother passed away. I didn’t cry at her funeral either. I did cry at the end of Logan when Hugh Jackman was dying on the floor and that whiny little brat called him Dad. And, like I mentioned earlier, I did let out a little sob for a dead pigeon a few weeks ago. It was perfectly formed on a ledge and looked like it had probably misjudged the height of the window it was trying to fly through, the dopey little winged-rat.
My point is, you might take death hard. It might hit you like a ton of bricks and make you want to stay in your bed for 5 weeks solid eating nothing but orange Smarties and mint Aero in homage to the person you lost. And that’s okay. Or, alternatively, you might be just fine. You might accept it a lot earlier than expected. You might find yourself laughing while others around you are still crying. You might want to go off on holiday within a week of the funeral and get on with your life. And that’s okay too.
People grieve in different ways, and people deal with shit in different ways.
It’s been a year (and six days, because I forgot to post this sooner, oops) without my mother, and I still miss her every day. Just as much now as I did back then. I still think about her every time I eat orange Smarties, and I am still as convinced now as I was a year ago that she’s haunting the wheelchair lift in my stepdad’s house. I think of her whenever I hear an Australian accent (she wasn’t Australian, but we used to watch Neighbours together) and can still hear her disapproving sigh every time I use a double negative. I’m grateful for the life we had together on this earth, and as much as I do look forward to seeing her again one day, for now I’m more than happy with the memories.