[Originally posted 17 November 2010]
Mum died just now. Peacefully. Words, themes and images I’ve been running through in my head for weeks now are drying up even as I start to move my fingers. What to say? Should I say anything? Words and images are one way I deal with things these days, so bear with me. You don’t have to read on.
It wasn’t sudden, as such. Yet everything moved terribly quickly towards the end. And agonisingly slowly at the end. Contradictions and paradoxes everywhere. Two weeks and three days ago I took this picture of her. Admitted to hospital, and very ill, she had a warm, English rose glow about her. Many who’ve seen this picture have kindly commented on how beautiful she looks. I can see that now. I could see it anyway. I can see it more strongly now. I can see lots of things differently now. Right now.
She’s gone, and I am numb. Mum had tremendous spirit. She’s the same person I am in so many ways. We did crosswords together. Listening to the way we approached a puzzle, or a particular clue, could be uncanny. We were thinking the same way. Eyes moving to the same clue, exploring the same blind alleys, finding the same word fragments at the same time. Uncanny. We both loved it. It could bind us together even during the toughest times.
The memories that really stick are relatively few in number, and very powerful. One particular hug, aged about six, by a warm radiator on a cold day. The hard contours of the corrugated metal contrasting with the softness of mum. The time, aged ten, I didn’t get to play table tennis at a sports centre and she took time to find a table tennis table somewhere else so she could give me a game herself. That meant an awful lot, then and now. Out of all proportion, in some ways. Iconic moments of understanding and caring.
And not so good times. Fighting. Misunderstanding. Political differences. Disappointment on both sides at times over some of our life choices. They’re all rushing through me now. Were they worth it? Could we have done better? Does she know how I feel? All that rebellion, all that arguing and reasoning and being rational – that was me learning, mum. And sometimes making a clumsy, bad job of it.
She lived in a different world from me. Had little time for politicians, or London, or superficiality. “Being kind” was her number one goal, and the virtue she most sought and valued in others. If my world didn’t make sense to her (and so many times I just couldn’t make it so, however hard I tried) she’d tell me. Not always easy to hear. At one govcamp-type event last year I hit on the idea that everyone there should have brought a “real person” with them – someone not from the public sector or Westminster bubble, someone with closer connections to real community activities than any of the formal machinery. If our debates and ideas couldn’t make sense to our “real people”, then we might have to accept they needed more work. Mum was my instant choice of companion to do this, as something of a community leader through her endless organising and voluntary activity. I’m sad that it never came to be.
Our last conversation at her bedside, a week ago, was about pastry. I made it with her when I was a small boy, under her instruction. Although I do loads of cooking now – another legacy she’s given me – I held back from making pastry, because I’d forgotten how I did it with her. And I felt a bit silly asking. We had times where communication was not so easy. So many other things that had to be said before we could dare approach the trivia of recipes. All that went out of the window last week. I didn’t want her to go before I’d asked her. I was amused to hear someone say last week how they couldn’t understand why the fans of a famous person kept writing in with questions they could easily get answers to from Google. I kept my peace. They didn’t want to read Google. They wanted to communicate. I could have Googled a thousand pastry recipes. But I only wanted my mum’s. Directly from her, while holding her warm, soft hand. And I got it.
I’ll be baking a pie tonight.