Monday, 26 January 2009


Ten honest things. Given the recent screeds of squalid oversharing on these pages, I might be hard pressed to find things you don't already know about me (baldness, eating disorder, abortion, cosmetic surgery, etc etc). Here's something I didn't think I could write.

1. The first conscious thought that went through my mind when Prog Rock called to tell me my mum had died was "but she was supposed to be helping me find a hairdresser!". I still wonder what the unbelievable selfishness of this thought means about me. I try and tell myself it was the shock, but it just doesn't go away. I hate that we didn't take her to the station on her way to Rome, because it messed up my totalitarian baby schedule. I think she knew I was selfish. "Emma's ok" she would tell my sister "She's sorted. She knows what she wants". I think that meant selfish. I can't shake that thought. I want her to see what happened after she died, that I was capable of so much more. That frustrates me.

2. I hated the coffin I chose for her. I felt ashamed when they carried it in. I wanted something simple and Quakerly (she was a semi-proper Quaker, what they call an "attender' but not a "member'. Kicking Catholicism entirely was hard.), but it looked cheap, shiny and orange and I felt I had let her down. It looked like it came from some kind of Pine Warehouse you see stridently advertised on local TV. Although the funeral was beautiful, I still get the sweats thinking about the burial. Horrible. Too many people standing around. No intimacy. All wrong. It makes me angry we had to do that terrible, painful thing with fifty three assorted relatives lurking around. I can't let go of it.

3. I felt like we had to get her home as quickly as we could. I needed her body back. It was visceral - I couldn't rest until she was back. After the burial, I spent the first few weeks worrying about how cold she would be. I had to actively distract myself not to get driven insane thinking about it. I don't know how I managed to dispel it, but eventually this fetishising of an empty vessel faded away.

4. Consequently, I never go to the cemetery. It's beautiful. She couldn't have a better spot; it's wild, overgrown, surrounded by dashing WWI heroes. There's a tree for shade, and a bench. It's a million miles from the usual manicured cemeteries. But it just doesn't mean a thing to me - I feel empty when I go there. Marylebone High Street feels more redolent of her than that place. She loved Durrants Hotel, Divertimenti, Patisserie Valerie. Happy times.

5. I have recurring dreams where she's dying (of illness in the dreams) and I can't get near her. She won't let me, or Prog Rock won't let me. I spend hours in these dreams shouting and pleading and crying to be allowed to get near her. I wake up exhausted. I hate these nights.

6. I don't know the date she died, or mark the anniversary. I know it was end of October. I know I went to the Austrian café at Farringdon with BMF at lunchtime, and to some kind of arts sponsorship open day thing in the morning. I know the CFO and I were fighting. But I don't know the date. Near Halloween though, and less than a week before her birthday. We went to Bettys on her birthday, and the people she was in Rome with told me she had been planning to go and buy baby clothes the day she died (I was five months pregnant). That was probably the worst moment of that first week.

7. I hang on to my mum's best friend Les for dear life. She's the closest thing I've got - not that they were similar, but they knew each other inside out. We can not speak for a year and pick up exactly where we left off. I love having Les in my life. It feels like a tiny relic of my mum. We have rituals - she gets a hardback book for her birthday. She buys me a Moleskine diary every year.

8. Bad days, sick days, sad days, ugly days, I want to call her up. There's noone and nothing that quite fills that hole. Violet helps a lot. My sister helps a lot. My sister is amazing. She's also a fragment of my mum - she has that boundless kindness and compassion that I inherited none of. Having her more intimately part of our lives is the best thing to come out of it. I love our little lopsided family gatherings. I love how peaceful we are together - her, me, Prog Rock, CFO and the boys.

9. Six years on I still feel numb. Not resigned or accepting, numb. My brain shuts down when I try to think about her. I didn't get angry, even though the men responsible for the accident that killed her were criminally negligent and tried to hide the evidence of their negligence. I cried, sure, but nowhere near as much as I thought I would. I even wrote in my birth plan for Fingers' birth that I feared I might be totally overwhelmed when he was born and not be able to cope. I thought I was just 'hanging on' until after the delivery. Apparently I wasn't. I feel like I'm still hanging on. I just don't know where the grief is hiding, or if it will ever emerge. Occasionally I get a flash of it, listening to a piece of music (Joni Mitchell, Cosi fan Tutte). Or I think about kissing her, and how her cheeks felt. Once at another funeral (Step-grandmother) I really felt it. Bearded One's wife gave a beautiful beautiful oration for her mother. She was incredibly affecting and wonderful. I was a wreck.

10. I've just seen that she's in Wikipedia. That's bizarre. I can't decide whether to link to it. She was completely amazing and I want so show you how, but I don't want to invade my sister and step father's privacy so I won't. Suffice to say she was totally fucking fantastic. Learned, determined, compassionate, funny. She had such a strong sense of herself (beliefs, fears, griefs and passions and there were plenty of all of these) that I feel like a blank, bland cypher next to her.

Ten honest things. I feel a bit wobbly now. Back to skimming the surface tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry. I have permanently whitened knuckles from "hanging on" for a some years, too. It can and will get better. Know that the people in the computer believe you're lovely and capable. xx

A Woman Of No Importance said...

JW, it's really good that you shared this, and I hope it helped, if only a little. You are likely to have inherited far more of your mum's traits than you ever realise, but you will recognise that more and more as you get older...

As for the grieving thing - Everybody has their own way of doing it - There is no proper, or right way... When my dad died almost 3 years ago, my mum 10 years before that, I think I then went through the 'unresolved' grief I'd not shed for her at the time, (so as to protect my dad, my infant son, and so on...)

Sometimes it's good to take the grief out occasionally, to give it a polish, as you might dust a tortoise's shell, to see it in a brighter light; And sometimes we feel better with the crisper compartment door closed...

Let thoughts of the funeral go, if you can, and try to hang onto the happier memories - Sorry to ramble in your comments boxes... Never be afraid to shed tears, JW, anywhere, anytime - I feel it's all too Victorian of the British to muffle it up as we all tend to do!

Sarah said...

When my mother died suddenly (12 1/2 years ago, and I still cry every single time I'm alone in the house)all I could think about was that the last time I saw her (on my wedding day, 6 weeks previous)I didn't kiss her good-bye because I was tantruming over the fact that my brother-in-law had decorated our car with condoms. Did she know I was a spoiled selfish baby? Undoubtedly- but I'm equally sure that she, along with your mother and all mothers everywhere, looked past that and saw everything lovely and lovable in me as well.

I could go on and on, because I relate to everything you've written here, but let me just say re. #1 on your list that my first thought was very similar, but it's only another way of saying "how will I live without you, who will take care of me now?" It's a recognition that no one will be able to step up and fully take her place. It's not a weakness of character or selfishness on your part- it's a tribute to everything she meant to you...

P said...

My goodness, you write so beautifully that I forget it's *you* behind the wry and witty (and very touching) narrative. I felt very moved by this post - I hope you find peace.

xo, P.

nappy valley girl said...

Jaywalker, I'm really sorry and that was incredibly brave of you to put that down. I couldn't do it; my Mum died 10 years ago and I can still hardly talk about it. So much of what you say resonates; particularly the wanting to call her up when you have a crap day. I never go to the cemetry either and I don't know the date she died - both are too painful.

Sewmouse said...

I lost my best friend last year. Her daughter keeps in touch with me.

What you wrote here hit me - I will always, always "be there" for her daughter now... All along I thought it was just me gaining from the continued connection.

Kate said...

oh, my dear, i wish i could pop over and grab you and take you out for a little tea and sugary snacks and chatting. I'm so sorry.

Liberty London Girl said...

It's the single thing that scares me the most, has me sitting bolt upright sweating in the middle of the night. I just can't imagine what it must be like to lose a parent. You are incredibly brave. LLGxx

justme said...

No wonder you feel wobbly. That is an increadibly brave and honest post. Your pain shines through. She must have been a wonderful mother.
How fantastically cool for you that she is in Wikipedia!

katyboo1 said...

Our parents know all our faults. The fact that they love us regardless is what makes them parents and their love so fabulous. You were blessed with unconditional love. That's fantastic.

What you feel is shit. Shit, but normal. I don't know if that helps any. The only people who get to say all the things they wanted and behave the way they feel they should are those who spend time with the terminally ill. Everyone else lives with a world of regrets that they didn't say/think/feel the way they should have.

Pants, but true pants.

Much love to you.

The Spicers said...

What a moving post, Emma. I can relate to a lot of what you write about your mum, athough for me it's my dad that died too young, 6 years ago when he was 55.
The grieving thing is weird and unpredictable. I never know when it's going to hit me, can be just sailing along and then something sets it off and I'm blubbering.

Cassandra said...

Regarding point 1, I'm sure that it was the shock. One always thinks random shit before the enormity sinks in. I don't think that you should worry about that at all!

lisahgolden said...

I am amazed at your ability to examine your feelings about your mother and her untimely death. I have not yet had to deal with the death of my parents and I have no clue how it will make me feel. We are not close and I wonder if I will feel a loss of their presence or a loss of what I wish had been.

You continue to drag me back and forth from laughter to tears. And I continue to return for the fabulous writing.

Titian red said...

Thank you for this - I am lucky that I have not lost a parent yet, but the fear, loss and grief you describe are written so well I almost understand. We are all thinking of you

Teena Vallerine said...

My god but you are brave and eloquent and if I were your mum this would make me so proud. Not that I'd need it. Because I already think you're a uniquely amazing writer - someone who is able to touch others by being brutal with herself. I think you get the short end of the wedge in our odd bloggy encounters. I share nothing at all and you constantly make me feel less of a fuck-up just by being honest and open about yourself. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult all of this must have been to write. And whilst I'm sure you know in your intellect that the coffin and the lift to the station really don't matter a fig, I understand the irrational grief that makes it so hard to let go of these thoughts. You're really having a rough start to the year. I wish I could bake you biscuits. t.xxxxx

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that those brutally honest words were both beautiful and healing. I think you are so lucky to love your mother, so deeply still. That is why you feel numb, the love is still there and very strong.

Anonymous said...

Jaywalker, thank you so much for this post! Ironically, today is the two-year anniversary of my dad's death, and I'm feeling a bit wobbly too after having just written about it on my blog. It helps to know that others deal with the same emotions and that somehow, we all cope the best we can. It comes and it goes, doesn't it, and we just have to try to be good to ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Oh Jaywalker, you brave, talented woman. Such a moving post; you have surely inherited your mother's charisma and insight. You commentators show how much we all fear the death of a parent; my darling father has a terminal illness, and I struggle to imagine just how we will all cope with the end. However, I have survived the death of my child, and although it the pain never goes away, it does get easier to live with. My heart goes out to you xx

Elsie said...

As Vanessa wrote, you are lovely and capable, indeed, and a nurturing, funny, compassionate mother yourself. I couldn’t speak at my mother’s memorial at quaker meeting, and I think about what I should have said all the time.

Léonie said...

What a brave post to write. Thank you for sharing all of that. x

Laura Jane said...

Brave, deep, truthful. Warts and all.

Thankyou Emma.

Grief is crappy. And elusive. And often very unsatisfactory for all concerned.

There is no yardstick by the way. The way YOU do it, is the way you do it. Now, later, thoroughly, in stages, relic by relic, in one sobbing year. It will still come and bite you on the ass again when you least expect it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Emma, that was such powerful, amazing stuff you just shared. It gave me much food for thought.

Ocean Sea said...

I've been reading since around Christmas time and so look forward to your posts each day. I am delurking to thank you for your stunning honesty. I want to hug you and count you among my friends, which would be kind of strange, if not downright awkward. Still.

Just my gratitude; your courage is an inspiration.


Waffle said...

Your comments are enormously thoughtful and kind and comforting and I got a bit teary reading them. Thank you so much. I feel a bit unworthy in the face of all your good thoughts.

It is odd to get this stuff out and poke it around (as Woman of No Importance very aptly described it), but doing it here to such a wonderful set of people makes it quite all right, really. I hope I haven't poked at too many others' hurty bits in the process. I'd love to reply to some of you more fully, so perhaps I'll email.

Sufficient perhaps for the moment to say I like your hugs and thoughts AND biscuits very much. Thank you.

Juci said...

Okay, that's it, I'm going over and bringing you a tarte aux raisins et pommes. Or something like that. Not that it makes the grief go away, but it sure as hell is delicious.
You're a brave, earnest, eloquent, smart, witty, caring person. And my favourite blogger. You can't imagine how proud you make your mum.

Cait the Faery said...

I just found your blog again recently, after losing all my favourites in my almost laptop ignition last year...consider yourself big squeezy hugged for being so open and honest, and just because you are brilliant. And I'm so glad to hear that Violet with her cucumber shoes is there for you, as are the rest of us, sadly indelicate enough to have to wear turnip shoes. Keep writing and healing, and we will keep reading.

Lots of love


A Confused Take That Fan said...

Jaywalker before I came over to your place today I was thinking about how wonderful you are and that you make Belgium interesting. You are unique, funny, interesting, endearing, eccentric, gorgeous...I could go on. After reading this post I feel even more affection for you. I think you are wonderful. You write so beautifully and so honestly. You make me weep and laugh and think.
You make the reader step into your shoes and feel your pain. I heart you. But not in a lesbos way. Thanks for sharing that brilliant piece of writing. I read your one about dry skin first. Than made melaugh. That you could write something so imaginative and interesting and vivid about the fact you don't like drinking water. Then I come here and nearly cry. I hope your writing gets recognised in some way, some day. Your thoughts deserve to be shared with the masses...

Anonymous said...

Today would have been my 20th wedding anniversary; I got through the day without crying and just posted about my happy memories of our wedding, then I read this and cried my eyes out. My husband died 16 months ago, and obviously I get sad and bad days quite regularly and have so many things to trigger memories as I am still in the same house with our children. But my dad died 21 years ago, and I still miss him and need to cry over him sometimes.

It doesn't go, but it does get easier with time. Give yourself time - make time to be alone and remember her and cry all you want. Perhaps you should visit her grave and tell her how you have coped and how adorable her grandsons are.

Anonymous said...

Here is a poem that may comfort you.

Death is nothing at all

I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Am a recent convert to your blog.

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