For the first time in five years I am conscious it's the anniversary of my mum's death tomorrow. I have remained stubbornly hazy on the date and defiantly busy or oblivious up until now. There are very mixed motivations at work here, I think. Partly I don't feel it's a date that particularly merits imbuing with special significance (her birthday falls only 7 days later, and is surely more worthy of marking), partly I am terrible at the rituals, of which more later, partly, oh, I don't know, I just want to avoid feeling bad? My chest gets a tight, compacted feeling when I think about it, and I try to push the feeling away by thinking about whether we need kitchen roll, and if Lashes's eczema is getting worse and if I paid the gas bill. I kind of knew it was the 28th, but I still felt compelled to check.
So now I know. What now? Nothing, probably. I can't ever find a meaningful way to mark these occasions. I've lit candles, many many candles. My mother was always finding a church wherever she was (despite being an exceptionally lapsed Catholic) and lighting a candle for some or other person she was worried about. We went the morning after she died and lit candles in York Minster and though the gesture was absolutely right, one she would have absolutely done herself, it was hollow for me. Everything I've tried feels empty. I've sat in the undertakers with my sister and a Diptyque candle, and a coffin, neither of us quite sure what we thought we were doing, I've been to a tree planting, I've been for ceremonial afternoon tea at Bettys Tea Room, to Quaker meeting once, and several times, uncomfortably, awkwardly, to the cemetery. I feel like I'm trespassing; I hover around uncomfortably for a couple of minutes, my eyes swithering away from the headstone because it makes me feel odd, and leave. It feels artificial if I bring flowers, crass if I don't. I can't connect with any of it. I could read poetry or listen to music; she loved both passionately. I can't. It's not even like I hate all ritual - I treat birthdays with elaborate reverence, mark Advent, Christmas, Easter, with huge enthusiasm. But I can't find a single thing to do on these days that feels right for me. I suppose I still think there's nothing right about her dying; a decorous, fitting tribute feels inappropriate. It suggests a finality I don't feel.
So here I am, this lumpen secularist, atheist, without the tools or the vocabulary to mark days like this. It's a bit bleak - I feel like I'm lacking, somehow. Spiritually barren. I almost wish for the codes of Victorian mourning - full, second, half - with a dress code to match. I'm good at black. Add some Whitby jet earrings, and I could at least feel I had the comfort of a prescribed ritual. Grief doesn't have rules or a roadmap, we hear all the time, but I find myself wishing it still did.
At least I'm not pregnant this year. I can comply with age old Yorkshire custom and get properly drunk. It's what she would have wanted.