My mum died in the Springtime. She was the second of my parents to go. If we are lucky then we will always live to see our parents die. But it shouldn’t happen before you get to 30. Although considerably worse things happen to people on a daily basis at younger ages. Nonetheless it was a formative experience. I came to the hospital to see her – apparently she’d been moved to a ward, which I thought was great news. “She’s finally improving,” I thought. I arrived at the desk and asked how her readings were and the nurse said “Come into this room please, sir.” I remember so clearly the ice that shot through me. Her manner instantly signalled what had happened. But then I had to honour the nurse’s training. I said, “Oh shit, is she dead?” She had been trained to get the person into the room first. “Come into the room, please.” “Just tell me.” “Come into the room, please.” “Is she dead?” “Come into the room please.” etc for ages. The room was a little office behind the reception desk. Eventually I went in. She followed with another nurse. Then the whole rigmarole started again with “Sit down”. There was no way I could sit down, knowing already what she had to say. “Just tell me if my mum’s dead, please, I won’t smash the place up.” I couldn’t sit. I remember in that moment having to find enough compassion for the nurse to make it easier for her by sitting. She still had to follow due procedure. On the 27th March at blah blah blah. I just wanted to see her. Shortly afterwards I did. She wasn’t cold yet, but was departed. Whatever had made the life that was her had gone elsewhere. She had a daffodil on her.
When you see a loved one dead it shifts you. First you have to come to terms with the incontrovertible reality of their departure. Then it can take a while to remember how they were when they were alive. That shock of seeing the life you once loved reduced to inanimation – it can temporarily rejig your memories. It took me years to unsee her like that. I will never fully, but now when I hear the word “mother” I think of more than that daffodil laid upon an empty vessel. I think of days on rainy beaches energetically looking for things the sea had brought in. I think of dancing hippy wild in the living room aged fifteen to records. I think of how she could become closer to my friends than I was sometimes. I think of how everyone in all the shops near her flat knew her as “Mrs B”. I think of how a homeless woman found my bag when I was at college, and rang her new mobile number because I’d written it by the word “mum” in a pad. The two of them ended up scheduling regular telephone conversations. Mum would ring a certain payphone at a certain time and they would talk about whatever they needed to talk about. Mum spent her life on the phone.
We always fight with our parents, and I fought with her. She wanted me to be happy and comfortable, and to her mind that entailed me not being an actor. I respect that desire in her. And I know what she meant now, as it hasn’t been easy. But it’s been joyful, and I know if she could see that joy she’d understand my choice. I still sometimes wish I could see her for advice, or for that basic unconditional nurturing love that comes from a parent and no other source.
Today, with Mother’s Day coming the day before her deathiversary, it’s inevitable that my thoughts fall to her. Mum’s are great. Look after yours if they’re still around. Honour them if they’re not.
I just went round my brother’s house and found loads of photos of my mum. This one is from 1969 when she was modelling, courtesy of my niece…