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Macmillan guest post #5: Mother's Day 2018: A letter to my mother

Hi mum,

It's me. Mother's Day is on Sunday.

It has been nearly eight years since you left and I thought I would write to tell you how I've felt since and what has happened in that time.

You won't be surprised to hear that written words cannot adequately express how much I miss you. It's true that time does heal but that healing process can be slow and laboured. I remember how I felt in the first few days after you passed away; I was absent from the world and felt incongruously numb yet pained. Nowadays, the burn of grief is still present but has shifted from the sharp and deep cut to a dark, dull ache. Sometimes, all it takes is a song, a film, a conversation, a thought, and I can be transported back to being beside you in the hospice and I am in pieces all over again. Crying before my thoughts formulate on how I feel or what I'm thinking; it's strange. At times, I even welcome it as it's the only time I can drag memories of you back, even if they were some of the worst.

I do not know why my enduring memories of you are largely confined to those last days in the hospice. Maybe because they were the most scarring few days of my life which will haunt me forever. It was excruciating watching you wither before my eyes. I'm sorry mum. It seems like it's a lot harder to invest in the good memories we shared, even though those memories far outweigh the bad ones. I'm crying now thinking about it and all I know is that I wish you were still here, but not if you were still fighting your illness even despite my selfish desire to have you around.

I carry a photo of you in my wallet but it has faded over the years and your face is barely visible. Unfortunately, my memories of you have deteriorated in a similar fashion and I have lost a lot of the sharper details. I am profoundly saddened by this. However, I know you won't need me to convince you that you mean a lot more to me than my poor memory implies.

Lung cancer is cruel and as you stared out into the hospice garden from your bed, I wondered what occupied your mind. I regret not speaking to you more in your final days. I didn't want to take up your energy with you fighting for every breath as your lungs turned to stone. Sometimes you would look at me in that mask and I would see your faint smile behind the green plastic around your face. Your smile was resilient, but I was not. I just wanted to hold you and never let go. I was desperate to reminisce about my childhood with you, to bring back that nostalgic joy. Instead, I sat silently beside you, numb and raw with a deep feeling of despair. Lost in my own thoughts, lost in every sense of the word.

Some nights, I dream about you. These are the type of dreams that I don't want to wake from. Dreams I would pay to have. We are never doing anything special in those dreams, but it's a place where your health is not marred by the fierce disease that broke you. And, you're present. Alive. Your skin in warm and glowing, no longer grey and clammy as it was when I held your hand in the final days. These moments are precious to me even if they are not real.

But it's always bittersweet. My subconscious always detects the truth, as inevitably I am roused from sleep, usually by a sound that I am all too familiar with. I wake only to realise that I have been crying in my sleep and, despite fighting the urge to wake, my own anguished sobs have shattered the utopia. I never realised that sadness could permeate even my unconsciousness, but clearly that's how much you mean to me.

Mother's Day reminds me that there's so much I wish you could have been here for. Since you left, we've had three children, can you believe it? The Pioneer (5 years), The Wrecking Ball (3 years), and The Allergy Baby (1 year). I tell them about you so they know about Little Nanny and how you used to care for us and cook the most delicious food. From my anecdotes, they think you are the best chef in the world and they ask if you can come back to cook for them. I try not to be sad around them when I talk about you because I want them to have positive thoughts about their Little Nanny, but sometimes their questions catch me off-guard and my body language may betray my answers.

We spend some nights looking through the photo book we made for you and often we talk about what Little Nanny is doing as a star in the sky. The Pioneer prays for you to come back and gets frustrated and sad that his prayers are not answered. Maybe he has an inkling of just how precious you were and maybe he senses that I am trying to hide how broken I am still.

Remember, before you passed, you gave me Chinese names for a boy and a girl for any children I might have? Well, we gave them those names, but when we had a third child we had no chosen name to give her. So, we decided to give her a Chinese name derived from your childhood nickname. Now, all of our children have names that are connected to you. It's a nice way to keep you in all of our memories.

There's so much more that I could write and maybe I will write to you again. I just wanted to take an opportunity to remind myself of how precious you are and how you will always be in my heart, even if my mind fails me.

Happy Mother's Day mum, and shine bright in the night sky just like you did here on Earth.

Love you.


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