Snuggling in bed last week, my little girl and I were having a little chat while we waited for the house to heat up. It was far too cold for us. We’d sent all the boys down to turn the heating on and light the fire. We’d giggled as they pulled on hoodies and bedsocks while we lounged under the duvet.
Even the small man was banished. No boys. Just girls.
She was playing with the Tiffany’s starfish necklace that I wear all the time. A gift from my husband, brought on our honeymoon in Hong Kong. That is going to be mine one day isn’t it Mummy, she stated absent-mindedly before turning the subject back to the countdown to her looming birthday.
Suddenly I got the oddest pang of sadness. I felt wrong-footed.
You see my mum used to wear a gold band of hearts around her neck. A gift from my dad. As a little girl I loved the romanticism of this necklace. A visible display of their unity – a shield against the childish anxiety that surrounds adult bickering and snipes.
In that moment I missed her. Missed her as if she was not there anymore, which was just crazy as she is right here. One hundred miles down the road, but right here all the same. The end of a phone line no less.
In many ways though she is not here anymore. Not in the same way.
The feisty lady who wanted to march into my first workplace because I bruised my whole leg on a badly placed pile of boxes. The one who juggled a swollen household with ease. Didn’t bat an eyelid when we all demanded different dinners and brought home all manner of stray friends with a moment’s notice. That remarkable woman who stopped five children going completely off the rails when our dad died. Her quiet dignity and fearlessness in a dark horrible storm guided us all to a safer calmer place, a lot less scathed than we should have been.
She’s there still but her presence is not the beacon it once was. Mostly because we are now busy being shining guides ourselves – marching on ahead into the dark not noticing that light diminishing to the side of us.
She doesn’t wear that necklace anymore. In fact, I haven’t seen it for a while and it bothers me. It bothers me a lot. Because I was once that little girl asking if one day it could be mine.*
That ‘one day’ doesn’t feel like a distant concept anymore. It feels like ‘one day‘ might come and punch me in the face at any given moment. And when that time comes memories and that gold necklace will be all I’ll have to hold.
My mum and I have always been close, maybe because I’ve lived away since I was 18 and in a genius move I am always the ‘beloved returner’. I am gone again with my brood before either of us annoys each other too much.
Yet I’ve still noticed a slight shift in our relationship in the past few years. I’ve found myself getting impatient if she can’t find the right word to finish her story; being exasperated if a walk to the shop takes twice as long; needlessly irritated if she falls asleep in the middle of an evening film or takes a mid day nap.
Each time this happens it is like a grain of distance comes between us. If I am not careful those small grains could become a gulf.
It was only while I was thinking about that lost necklace that I realised what I have been subconsciously doing. Preparing. Self protecting. Pulling, emotionally and physically, slowly away.
Why? Because this person who I adore – one of the sweetest, funniest and kindest people I know – is going to hurt me. A lot. Maybe not for a while yet. But at some point. I’ve felt that pain before and I’m not ready to feel it again. Not ever again. I’ll never be ready for that. My brain was going into some misguided defence mode.
Every bothersome action is a reminder that she is getting older. I am not cross with her – never ever really her. I am vexed that she fell asleep because it means her body is slowing down and needing to rest more. I am exasperated when she gets befuddled with tasks because it means her synapses are not so sharp.
With a chronic disease that robs her of lung function every winter – I know she emerges into the summer sun each time that bit frailer – a fraction more vulnerable. Until one summer she’ll not emerge at all.
So what am I doing? Who am I fooling?
The hole she’ll leave behind won’t be any less deeper just because I don’t call her as much. It won’t be less painful just because I spend less time listening to the minutia of her day. I can’t protect myself from this. There is no place to hide. My brain might be saying run, but my heart is saying hold tight and don’t let go until you have to.
This is a time to gorge not abstain.
Because there she is. She’s there. Right there.