Been having all these thoughts and discussions about what to put on my mum’s tombstone. But anything I feel would sum her up well would be totally inappropriate.
Things that spring to mind include, for example:
no longer doing my head in
Oh, but that sounds terrible, how can you say that about your dear mother, may her memory be blessed?
I did love her. I loved her because she was my mother. There’s a bond that was there and that’s why her death brought me pain – because of this emotional umbilical cord that was just there. But do you want me to pretend that we got on really well, that we were super close, that she was wonderful? I will not.
She wasn’t terrible either. She was just human. And mostly, she did my head in.
I’ve had some well-intentioned people tell me to focus on the good memories I have of her. I honestly can’t bring many of those to mind. The vast majority of my memories of my mum are of me feeling annoyed with her, exasperated, frustrated…
When I think that I’m not going to get another phone call from her, I’m a little bit sad because she was my mum, but mainly it’s a relief because she had a knack for ringing at the most awkward times and because our conversations always felt so pointless to me, because we were getting more and more distant with time – not distant as in “cold and unfeeling” but distant as in there being no chance of her understanding me or how I live. It wasn’t about the geographical distance – I was metaphorically living many many thousands of miles away from her, we belonged on different planets.
And one thing my mum was really really good at, and not just with me but in general, was getting the wrong end of the stick. So even when I did try to tell her things, she’d misunderstand. And jumping to conclusions was her favourite sport, so you could tell her that you’ve decided to do X and in her head she’d immediately add a whole complex story about why you decided to do X and then she’d pass that on to people as though it’s what you’d told her.
Good memories? I don’t have terrible memories, nothing really bad, but no, I can’t think of really good ones either.
It still hurts that she’s gone though. You don’t have to have been very close to feel grief when someone dies. She was my mum, and I will never see her again, never hug her again, never watch my husband playing Scrabble with her, never struggle with losing patience with her… When I go home to Israel for a visit, she won’t be there to offer me all sorts of weird food combinations that make my stomach wonder what on earth is going on. Or to give me tea and cake as soon as I walk in the door, and then look at me and ask if I’m doing anything about my weight. Or to talk for ages about a whole load of people I don’t know and never ask me how I am.
I’m not angry with her. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never actually felt angry with my mum (my dad was a different story) – just annoyed and frustrated. And now she’s gone, and people expect me to talk as though she was this imaginary wonderful mother… She wasn’t. She wasn’t terrible either. Just very clueless.
There are other people who knew her who have good memories of her. Other people knew her in different ways, saw different sides of her. People for whom she was a friend – I expect they’re going to miss her, because, well, you don’t become someone’s friend and remain their friend for years unless there’s something about them that you like and appreciate and that you’ll miss when they’re not there any more.
My mum was a very friendly person. Very chatty. Gregarious. She’d start conversations with people wherever she went – shops, bus stops, wherever. Her chattiness was one of the things that did my head in – when I went back home in 2002 and lived with her for about a year, the only way I was able to keep my sanity was by getting up early, when she went out to the old people’s club, so that I’d have a few hours to myself, to be quiet with my own thoughts. My mum was an extreme extrovert and totally didn’t understand why anyone would need to sit quietly and not make conversation.
But obviously some people really liked her chattiness, and she had friends, people who would phone for a chat, people to meet up with, play Scrabble with, go for a walk with. And relatives too – people in the family who liked her, who appreciated her.
Me – I’m her daughter, so I look at her through that daughter’s lens, I look at her in a particular role, the role of mother, a role which I don’t feel she was all that good at. But she did give birth to me, she carried me in her womb and nursed me and took care of me when I was a child – not brilliantly, but adequately enough so that I’m alive to tell the tale. She wasn’t a great cook but she didn’t poison me or leave me to starve. Maybe that’s what I should put on her tombstone – “she wasn’t a terrible mother”? :)
No, I’m not seriously debating that, just thinking aloud about what I’d say if, well, if it didn’t matter, if it wasn’t something that would affect other people, if I didn’t care about the feelings of other people who will visit her grave. Just verbalising my feelings, that’s all.
P.S. And no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my feelings.