Today I am having what we in the bereaved club call a ‘bad day.’
With a catchy name like that, aren’t you just DESPERATE to join our bereaved club?
Membership is loose. The only criteria is that someone you care about is dead. NB: George Michael doesn’t count, unless you’re Pepsi, Shirley, Andy-with-the-weirdly-extreme-cheekbones or were watching the Brits last night and found yourself gulp-blubbing at Chris Martin…
I first joined the bereaved club at the age of nine when my hamster died. (Yes – dead pets count; see Blue Peter’s John Noakes and Shep for evidence of pet-death devastation). This was followed by a succession of cats until, at the age of fifteen my mum died and kinda took the top-spot bereavement-wise.
Her funeral was my first. A few months later, my best mate’s dad died and it was at his funeral that I realised I was destined to replay my mother’s funeral at every subsequent funeral, with the exception of all my grandparent’s funerals where I have experienced emotions ranging from total numbness to hysterical school-girl giggles.
Analyse THAT psychotherapists!
Death largely left me alone for a few years, until my dad’s second wife, my step-mum, saviour of our family and giver of fags, gin and happiness, died of cancer. I was there when she died, with her kids, drinking gin at her bedside. On the night of her funeral, my dad did a wonderful thing; he gathered up all the funeral flowers and laid them out on the front lawn of their house. It was a signal to all that she was this much loved, and now she was this much gone.
Enough, I thought. Enough dying for a while now please. Especially of people who are meant to be mumming me.
Then came the young people. Our daughter’s delightful, devoted, determined sixteen-year-old babysitter was killed, drowned at sea, caught in a rip-tide on holiday. Just a few weeks later, my ex-boyfriend, my first serious love who I had lived with and only split up with a few years before was killed, drowned at sea, caught in a rip-tide whilst surfing in his home town. Both of their funerals were almost intolerable but also strangely strengthening. I still cannot be near the sea without thinking of them both, so inexplicably sunk forever.
My qualifications for membership of the bereaved club are quite strong so far, no?
But today’s bad day is all about my mate.
She was my first good mumming pal. We met at a playgroup when our eldest girls were small. They had no choice in their friendship; we wanted to be friends, so they had to be. For years we would get drunk together, slag off our fellas together and look after our kids together. Until one unforgettable day, when the back pain she’d been suffering revealed itself to be incurable cancer.
While waiting for a miracle for her, I got my own, in the shape of a baby-bump I couldn’t hide from her. As I grew, she diminished. As I was preparing for this new child, she was preparing to leave hers. These grotesque comparisons weren’t lost on us. Nor the fact that it was her dying while I was new-babying which caused us to dig a deeper path to each other’s door. We could be there for each other.
Without those two elements our friendship may have diluted over the years, as friendships often do, and by now we might just be an occasional coffee. But today, I would have texted her, wish I could text her.
Today her eldest daughter turns eighteen, and that fact is too preposterous, too painful to contemplate, because without the intervening years spent together with her, I can’t make it all join up. I can’t tear myself away from her kitchen table, where we’d drink her fella’s expensive wine and pretend we couldn’t hear the kids upstairs tearing up the house.
A part of me will always be just across that table from her. Just as a part of me will always be watching telly in bed with my mum; will always be a teenager greeting her soon-to-be step-mum by falling down the stairs and spraying her with hot tea; will always be a young woman walking through woods with her boyfriend who showed her how to be happy walking and also how to just be happy; will always be a stressed young mother handing over a crying child into the capable hands of a sixteen year old girl whose future was just beginning to take shape…
Death makes friends with other deaths, creates links and repeats, sets you on a familiar course with similar landmarks.
It also turns time into a big fat liar: one that insists I am now older than my mother when I know I’m still fifteen; that says my eldest is nearly eighteen and therefore older than my mum ever saw me be; that tomorrow Mum would have been sixty-eight; that my youngest is almost seven and so it must be almost ten years since my lovely mate and I were ever drunk at her kitchen table…
I find that on bad days like today, it’s best not to ignore your ghosts. Invite them in (they’ll follow you around all day anyway) and give them some of your time. I’ve been playing my mate’s favourite tunes today, re-reading the eulogy I wrote for her funeral and now telling you about it all.
And don’t forget that whilst time may make disbelieving fools of us all, it also carries us through bad days and into early evenings where we can open a bottle of very expensive wine and raise a glass to our ghosts.
Tonight I shall also raise a glass to my mate’s smashing daughter. How proud she would be to see her girl turning eighteen today.
To see her passed-out later tonight, in her first LEGAL drunken stupor? Not so much…
Cheers to you all xxx