Hers were the arms that first held me, and mine were the arms that last held her, and in between those two embraces, there has been a lifetime of love.
I have said so much about my mum over the course of this blog, and in my book. (How ironic that I wrote a book about my experiences in my sandwich years, just as they ended. My mum died on the morning of the official launch date.)
She passed away in my arms, my brother and dad holding her hands ensuring she died as she loved living…. surrounded by her family. It was a lovely moment and I feel privileged to have shared it with her. Now is not the time to talk about my anger though, that in this day and age, wonderful, loving, vivacious, vibrant loving people like my mum should be allowed to die a long harrowing drawn out death, despite the fact she had passed the point of no recovery weeks before. But I will write about it soon. I will write about it here, and in newspapers, because I will not want my children to watch me die like that. No, that is for another day. This is just to mark a seismic event in my life that no words are seismic enough to convey. So instead I will write about her.
In between those two embraces there has been a life time of love.
a lifetime of laugher and kindness
a lifetime of chats and earl grey tea and dark chocolate treats
a lifetime of fights and slamming doors. But never silence. There was never silence.
a lifetime of spending our time on each other, of phone calls and letters, of cuddles in bed, and faces turned to the sun.
A lifetime of moments and memories.
What has touched me so much was the sheer force of people telling me how lovely my mum was. From friends who remembered her from my school days to my good friends now. She spent her time on people. She used to complain about how long it took her to do a food shop every week – she didn’t seem to realise that it was because she talked to everyone she met!
For years she would get off the Belfast train in Connolly station full of stories about the person she had sat beside and talked to on the way down. I often wonder about the number of people who went home from a flight to Edinburgh or a train to Dublin and talked about the lovely women they met on their journey. She had a hand’s on approach to love – lots of tactile expressions – a hand held, a cheek stroked, a body embraced. She touched people physically, and she touched them emotionally.
Family and friends were the mainstay of your life. Looking back over photos it’s inspiring to see how much our lives were woven into the fabric of her friendships.
And so it was with family. She grew and wove our family through hard work and dedication, just as she made our home, out of crafts and DIY. Every curtain hangs with the threads she had stitched, chairs and furniture brought to life with her hands. Our three homes all bear her labours of love, be they cushions and curtains, reupholstered chairs, or tapestries. Our children all have clothes she knitted and stitched. Mostly they were beautiful reminders of her mantra “If you’re going to do something, do it right.”
There were a few exceptions of course. When I asked my brother to give me a story, he reminded me of the 6 month knitting challenge that was his Aaron jumper. She had cursed and cried and knitted and tutted but eventually it was done, just in time for the Val Doonican jumper to go out of fashion. He has never been able to throw it out though, because he knows how much love went into every stitch. This made me smile, because I have exactly the same story. When she finally finished mine I wasn’t sure if it was a dress or a jumper. But I’ve never been able to throw it out.
Every holiday was accompanied by her tupperware box of goodies, and every return home was accompanied by “It’s lovely going away,” and then she would smile, and say “But it’s lovely coming home.”
It was an ancient Greek statesman who said, “ What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others”. Her stitches of love are seen everywhere, in our homes, in her friends, and in our families..
She always felt insecure about the fact she didn’t finish school or have a big career. She seemed to think this didn’t make her as smart as some other people. But what she never understood was she had the smartest knowledge of all. When I look back on all the things I have learned I realise that actually the only things I learned that really matter, where the things I learned from her. No, not how to stack a dishwasher. I have never learned that. But I did learn the other things she taught me.
How to love. How to be kind. How to value your friends. How to say sorry first, even if it wasn’t your fault, because friendship and family were more important than being right. She might not have had a degree, but she had a motto: People matter. She always made people matter and that made her the smartest person I know.
The Wizard of Oz told the Tin Man, “the size of your heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved.” By the love she generated, I know the size of her heart was enormous.
Of course my sandwich years are not really over…my dad needs support now as he adjusts to a life on his own. But it will be easier in so many ways. He can travel, and I won’t have to make choices between my parents and my children as much. I will miss her beyond my comprehension. But I guess I’ll just keep talking to her. Because there is something else she taught me.
Hers were the arms that first held me…. and I know that they always will.