words and photography by Caitlin May
Writings from the early morning of October 15th, my love sleeping beside me, breathing slowly – my puppy curled up behind my knees.
“So it has been two years, mama. Two years since I last saw you breathing, a little longer since we said our last ‘I love you’s’ (not that I knew at the time.)
I don’t know if today is worse, or leading up to it was. I was met with flashbacks that hit me hard in the middle of every day moments.
I see you wide-eyed and scared, the oncologist in front of us saying that there is nothing left to do. When I ask now long, my voice is far away. He asks you if you want to know, and you nod. Two weeks, maybe less. When he leaves I remember saying that I wasn’t ready to lose you yet. I had been filled with positivity up until then, and now I wasn’t – it left me dark and hollow.
I think of those last couple of days. Filled with gasping and silence that made my heart skip. Moving around your bed feverously, are you warm, are you cold? I move the blankets up, touch your hand – hot but not there. I think I want to give you a drink – your lips are chapped. I curl up onto the small bed like a child and wrap my arm around you.
I see sick bags and emergency rooms. Pumps pushing in poison and clumps of hair falling through my fingers. Appointments and statistics, MRIs and CT scans.
These aren’t you. Cancer wasn’t you.
You were life. You were cheeky smiles and laughter. Tea made. Deep conversations.
You were open and kind, and everyone around you could feel it. I’d often see friends and strangers confiding in you –asking for advice, no matter how personal. You would laugh with them and give pearls of wisdom they would clutch close to their chest.
We were silly. Sometimes I would follow you around the house during a particularly bad procrastination period. So close you could feel me when you stopped – you would flail around and tell me to bugger off but it would be filled with laughter.
As a teen, I’d climb on your back whilst you were having conversations and not let go. You said I was a koala and tickle my sides.
You would see me standing at the window of your fitness class in front of forty people and pull faces. Sometimes I would join you and you would play songs I had given you, and introduce me to everyone “this is my daughter!” occasionally on microphone. Your pride made me blush and sometimes embarrassed me. It’s funny how you miss those things with time.
I’d take you out for coffee, and you would order a cappuccino with two sugars. I’d eat off your foam with a spoon and you would complain that was the best bit, but let me do it anyway.
On your last birthday, I told you I was taking some photographs of you. We went to the overgrown park at the end of the road. I remember you looked up nervously at the sky and it crackled with thunder. I said that you worried too much (you did.)
I remember thinking how pretty you were as you pulled faces and laughed with me.”
Losing a parent made me realise something. I’m not unique, or even uncommon. I had countless people tell me their stories after my mums passing. People I had known but never spoken with, old friends, work colleagues and strangers.
A girl my age, Jennifer from Georgia in the US, lost her mother the same time as mine and we checked up on each other every couple of weeks. Brought together by tragedy. We had never spoken before but her words mimicked my own feelings and warmed me from the inside.
If anyone is going through what I’m going through – I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s hard. People will tell you it gets easier, and it’s true – but that doesn’t mean that it’s not ridiculously hard.
I’m two years on and I have days where she slips through my memory quietly, bringing happiness instead of sadness, and other days where my heart catches in my throat.
In death, a hole is created inside you – and I feel as if this becomes a permanent part of who you are.
And that’s okay.
You have no control over when or how you remember them – or when you feel sad. But those moments will pass – like all moments.
Try to acknowledge your pain but not dwell. It’s very easy to fall into bad habits. I would sleep and sleep and feel as if my body couldn’t force itself to move.
I would cry into my dishes and make awkward jokes at my pain that I knew made people uncomfortable.
You deal with grief in your own way and it’s normal. You are normal – you are not insane, no matter how much you think you are.
I remember vividly standing in a store and looking at mints she used to buy and crying, staring at mints and feeling as if I was going crazy.
I remember thinking about a stupid text I sent her that was mean and spending a long while wondering if that hurt her – my heart aching.
It will pass. Take every day as it comes.
As my mum would say when I struggled with a dark sadness before her death,
“GET UP, HAVE A SHOWER, GET DRESSED.”
We spread her ashes that day. I watched the grey powder pour out and I thought of how everything she was, the smiles, the words, the laughter, were all dust and memory.
I miss you.