My Mum’s Death
On Wednesday 26th July my Mum’s funeral happened. Never has a sentence seemed so odd and that’s saying something for a writer who has battled with first drafts, revisions and editing.
I didn’t think I’d be writing that sentence so soon. I foolishly believed that we had more time after Mum’s initial terminal cancer diagnosis. She fought hard and remained with us for eight months. She defied the odds that tried to stack up against her for a while but it came to an end.
I wrote a letter once to that bastard, evil cancer that claims so many lives and dug its claws into my mum, A Letter to My Loved One’s Terminal Cancer.
This time Mum gets the letter because she is all that matters.
Cancer, you did not win. You may have played a part in her death but you cannot steal our memories or the life she had.
An Altered World
Life is changing. At the moment it’s not for the better. I cannot muster up hope right now. I cannot deal with platitudes of better days to come etc.
I want to stop all those clocks too W. H. Auden. I don’t understand how the days just keep coming and passing me by in a grief-clouded blur.
She is gone. Except she is not gone.
That’s why I had to write that sentiment to her as my final words at her funeral. This writer, this daughter, felt that the least she owed to the woman that gave her life was a letter.
The letter that follows is the eulogy I gave to her at her funeral. I’m sharing it now, not for praise or sympathy, but to commemorate the life and wonder of my mum, Kay Cross, and maybe to help those who are in a similar position of tending to a sick loved one or having to reconcile with their death.
A Letter to Mum
I let you down. You were supposed to get this letter when you were alive. I kept meaning to write it and give it to you but as usual life got in the way. Why do we always put off things thinking we have more time? Now I see that’s not always so.
When you got too ill to read I thought I’d read this letter aloud to you. Then your illness took hold so quickly that I wondered if you would be able to hear and make sense of all my words.
I’m sorry that you’re getting this letter now. If words could find their way to wherever you are now, powered by hope and love, they’d be there in an instant.
I am glad that I got to tell you that I loved you whilst you were still able to hear it. I am even more heartened that you replied that you loved me too. That meant more to me than some people can possibly imagine.
We are not a family that bandies the ‘love’ word around. That doesn’t make us any less loving than any other family. We are of a certain type which you will find the world over: we show our love rather than speak it often.
I guess as a writer my trade is in words. I needed to say it and for you to speak it back to me. That was the most precious final gift that you gave to me. Thank you. I’ll never forget it.
The world already has changed. There is a gaping wife-shaped, mum-shaped, nan-shaped, Kay-shaped hole in it that will always be there. I won’t say that hole is empty though because you have left so much behind.
We have our memories of you in abundance. You were a stubborn, courageous, generous, and loyal woman. You were never a pushover and you fought for what was right for your family and you.
Throughout your battle with cancer you remained dignified and determined. I admired how you endured gruelling chemotherapy, pain, worries about the future, and concerns for the family you would leave behind. You bore it all with humility.
You were human too. It would be wrong to say that you were never scared of death. Many of us are. I can only hope and pray that in the place where you now are that you have found peace because you fought so long. You became weary and your time came for the end.
I could say that we knew we had to let you go. It’s true to say that we wanted you to be spared anymore pain but we will never be ready to fully let you go. That may be selfish but I want you here.
I want you back in your home, telling Billy off whilst loving him to pieces.
I want you to phone me to tell me about your day.
I want you to visit, to walk along the beach with me again.
I want to sit with you and set the world to rights.
I want you to be lying in your bed at night where you belong.
I want you to be the tornado that you were, whirring through the house with a bottle of bleach in your hand, making the place shine.
I want you back Mum, but this is not how it goes.
We will have to learn how to negotiate the world without you in it. However it will not be devoid of you.
We have you all around us.
You’re in our DNA.
You’re in marriage vows made 50 years ago.
You’re in the family home everywhere we look.
We see you in photographs and smile.
We recall memories from over the years and whilst they’re not the actual you, they contain the essence of who you are: the centre point of our family.
WB Yeats once wrote in a poem,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
Our centre is no longer here to hold us together as she did. Right now the world feels like we have been plunged into a chaos of waking nightmares and painful mourning.
In time I hope that we will come to know that our centre still remains. You are right here in our hearts Mum, centering us as points that span outwards from you.
Our centre will hold because we’re holding on to you. We will never let you go.
Thank you, our centre, for being such an important part of our lives.
You may not hear me now and you cannot reply but I will never stop saying this to you because pride has no place here any longer, ‘I love you Mum.’