From a fairly young age, I was aware of the possibility that my mother would probably not live as long as most people do. By the time I was in my early 20s, I’d started worrying about every holiday and birthday, understanding that the last one would be coming. It loomed over much of my adult life like a shadow, that nebulous worry of “what if”.
I was 33 years old and it was a few weeks before Christmas when Mom’s doctor broke the news to us. I was sitting in her hospital room when her doctor, who had been her GP for the past 20 years came in to give us the news. “Less than a year” was the prognosis.
Before that, years earlier when it was still a faint but present worry, I remember unloading her dishwasher for her. Picking up her teacups (she had a lot of teacups) and turning them over in my hands, aware that one day she’d be gone and I’d be having to pick up her teacups and load them into boxes instead of back into her kitchen cabinets. I’d tidy her house, picking up her slippers so I could vacuum for her, and I’d think of how it would be those things that hurt the most after she was gone. Her teacups that she held in careful, failing hands. Her slippers that I helped slide onto her feet. All the small things, the daily clutter of her life, would be the most devastating. To pack them away, to get rid of them was truly admitting that she was gone.
One thing I didn’t take into consideration is that those things would one day provide the greatest comfort. Today, two years after she died, I unloaded her teacups from my dishwasher. I drink tea (P.G. Tipps, a taste I acquired from her) from them, studying the dark lines scratched into their bottoms by countless stirs of her spoon. I cook dinner in her stainless steel pots, making recipes she taught me. I still remember the last Tupperware container of rice pilaf that she sent me home with, that I forgot in the back of my car. The last thing she cooked that I never tasted. I regret it. My rice never comes out as well as hers did. It never tastes quite the same.
Her daffodils are starting to come up in my garden, their green shoots poking through the heavy clay soil. It’s too early for them, really. Our overly warm winter has fooled them into growing. There are the tiniest buds on the Clematis vine I divided from the one that grows on her fence. I still remember the day we planted it. I remember making her cups of tea, and cutting bunches of flowers so she’d have something bright to look at. I remember the years before she was so sick, the years when we’d watch EastEnders together on the weekends, eating pizza and speculating about what would happen next. I remember her dancing to “Tainted Love” at my sister’s wedding in a purple dress. I remember her walking me down the aisle at my wedding. I remember my husband carrying her when she got too weak to walk. I remember her and my Deyze singing together a few nights before she died, and how it had been so long since I had heard her sing. I remember some of her last coherent words to me in hospice, the night before she died. “Don’t I get a kiss from you?” she asked me before I left for the night. Not giving her hugs and kisses had become habit, a necessity due to her illness. The kiss I dropped onto her temple was a sign that it was truly coming to the end, that it wasn’t necessary to take precautions anymore.
I remember her standing in her garden in the sunlight, her back straight, her hands undamaged, her voice strong and lovely as she sang. I remember all of the pieces of her life, the good and the bad, the moments of anger and sorrow and joy mixed together. Two years without her. Sometimes it feels like she’s only just walked through a door, that she’s in the other room waiting for me. I keep her close with her daffodils and her teacups, with her old snaggletooth dog who is currently asleep on my shoes (revenge for not taking him on another walk), with pictures and music and all the small things that added up into one hell of a life. I try not to let grief overtake me. It's easier to bear these days. Not as sharp-edged or crushing as it once was. I'll always feel it to a degree, but more than anything else, I feel love for her.