Thursday, 28 October 2010

On sweeping the kitchen floor

Seven years today since my mum died. I miss her a lot at the moment, more than for years, and differently. I miss her because I'm on my own and a bit lost, because I'm trying to be a decent parent and every setback feels like failure, because I don't really know what, or where my family is now. It's in little disparate fragments, has lost its centre. Of course, I still miss her because I'd like her to give me a hug and tell me what I'm good at, and why it will all be ok, but I also miss her because our experiences are more aligned now than ever. She and my father separated when I was tiny, and for years before she met Prog Rock and had my sister, she worked and studied and was a single parent. She lived in Ghent for two years, for god's sake! I want to ask her how it felt to be on her own with me for all those years, how she coped, what she did when things felt unmanageable, when the tidal wave of anxiety threatened to engulf her. What helped? What did she hang on to? I have only the barest sense of how it was, vague memories of people, holidays, travelling up and down the country on rickety British Rail trains with her, a tiny impression of how that life can have been for her. I want more.

I find that I think about her when I'm sweeping the kitchen floor in the evenings when the kids are in bed (yes, I do sweep the floor sometimes), because she did a lot of floor sweeping. That isn't to suggest she was some kind of domestic maniac, she was anything but. She was massively committed to her career, a career that made a difference to "people who met hard times or bore heavy responsibilities (as she had done)" as her obituary said, lived her life with extraordinary commitment and courage and a massive sense of fun. She was more about dancing on tables, or Schubert's Four Last Songs, or getting married again at 62 in a Jaeger suit with a bunch of freesias and only four guests than she was about sweeping, but for some reason, that sticks. It was a gesture, a way of imposing a tiny bit of order at the end of a day of competing commitments and stresses. So I sweep the floor and think fuzzy, inconclusive things about family and loss and bravery.

She had a great sense of gesture and ritual, my mother. She lit a lot of candles for a lot of people in a lot of cathedrals, bought flowers, wore particularly chosen things for particular events. I struggle with that; most things feel hollow for me, I've written about that before. Perhaps today I should be lighting a candle in York Minster, having tea at Betty's, taking out of season mimosa to the cemetery? I'm not. I have written something about mothers for the forthcoming issue of Elle which includes a nice anecdote about her and an Equipment shirt; she might have liked that. Today, all I'm going to do is go to the office to clear my desk, then take Fingers to the hairdresser. But I will sweep the floor later.


Lindsey said...

Oh Emma, how I wish we were friends and I was in Belgo-exile too and could give you a big hug today. I'm sure it's no consolation to know that your lovely words prompted a complete stranger to shed a tear, but they did, so thank you...

NicolaRidings said...

Powerful post today that made me feel sad and made it hard for me to swallow for a few minutes. Your mum sounded like a wonderful woman.

I totally get the trying to be a good parent thing, most days I feel like I just muddle through. I don't know if I'm good or bad at it, I guess time will tell. Take care and take your time sweeping.

B said...

Turnabout is fair play. I just got very teary-eyed in the office.

We are all, my friend, just muddling through.

Michelle (@michlan) said...

It's just over a year since my own mum died. When you talk about why you miss her, I know. I know what you mean. I feel it too. It's desperate, because, even with all your strength and fortitude, there is NOTHING you can do about it. It's a strange feeling. In life, if we come up against problems, we search for solutions, we try our hardest to find the right way to go. We look to those we know who can help us. But when such an important person is missing, your efforts seem hampered. They're not on holiday, they won't be back later so you can ask for their help or advice, they are gone. They will never be back. It's this that is so hard to come to terms with. You're seven years down the line, and still there are times you look to your mum to give you advice. There is nothing I can say, except know that you are not on your own, there are others who know the pain and the desperate loss you feel, and in knowing this, I just hope it will offer a support to you when you feel alone. Always here if you need a listening ear or a virtual hug. Michelle x

Paula said...

I know this is not much but is with all my heart. Give it a try and take your kids there. They (might) lo... like it.

Not From Lapland said...

beautiful. Truly.

Kerry said...

This is beautiful and such a heart felt post. Just wanted to send you a hug xx

neill said...

It's been 6 years...there are so many things I'd like to ask my mom.

Bryony said...

beautiful, beautiful writing. thinking of you Bx

Unknown said...

I had not realised but your mother is one of my heroes. I worked in social policy a few years back and realised that the really great stuff that was coming out then owed a lot to her.

I'm not sure if that is any consolation to you right now though. I think marking things how you can is all you can do. This is a very brave post and beautiful with it.

mountainear said...

Lovely poignant post - you articulate so clearly about how many of us feel about loss and longing - even though we are, in theory at, least grown-ups and should surely be more rational.

For me it's the unanswered questions that I'll now have to wade through by myself.

the polish chick said...

are there any good close friends of your mother's that might not give you a better glimpse into those lost years? surely it might be lovely both for them and for you, to share a cup of tea and some stories.

hugs, dear waffle, and thank you for another lovely post.

Madame DeFarge said...

I recall my mother feeling the absence of her mother on Mother's day. It was the first time in almost 40 years that she'd not bought a card. Take care.

Anonymous said...

You do realise, Emma, that you are just like your mother? The description of her personality that you linked could be you. And so understand what you mean about not being able to mark the day. Thoughts and a hug x

WrathofDawn said...

Ack. It is SUCH a drag when they're gone, isn't it? My mom died 20 years ago in May and I still miss her like heck. The idea that I will never, ever talk to her again PISSES ME THE HELL OFF!

I don't know what kind of coping with single parenthood advice she would have for me, though. I fear it would be something along the lines of, "Well, if you'd been a better wife you would have never gotten divorced." which, helpful? Not so much. She and my dad stayed married for 39 years. I know. FREAKS!!!

I like a previous commenter's question re your mother's friends. Is that a possibility? Not as good as her comments, of course, but still could be good.

And yeah. We're all just bumbling through. Mine appear to have turned out alright. I'm sure yours will as well. They know they're loved.

Z said...

My father died when I was 16 and I hero-worship him. My mother died when I was 49 and I knew all her faults only too well. Total, genuine mourning hurts like hell, but wishing you could feel it hurts too. I adored my mother when I was young.

I'm sorry for your loss and that you still feel it so keenly. I'm afraid it can still hit, decades later, but the more you are loved and love, the more you miss someone; but you'd not have missed the loving to be spared the loss.

Anonymous said...

Cheers to your mum. And you.

Anonymous said...

She died the same year she remarried.


So sorry for your loss. She died much too young.

Miss Whistle said...

I don't know you one bit, Emma, apart from what you post here, but if the ocean between us was a tiny bit smaller, I'd say I'd like to reach across it and give you an enormous hug. We all struggle along as we do, and feel hollow and worry about doing the right thing, about being a good parent, a good friend, trying to find our place in the world. I think we miss our parents every day. I'm so looking forward to reading your piece in Elle and I love what you've written here. That's all.

Miss W

Fugitive Pieces said...

She must have been so proud of you. She certainly would be now. xx

connie said...

Just read this post Emma. I've been working in the house, making dinner, in the office, out to the washing line.. and have been thinking constantly of you. Your mum sounded an absolutely wonderful person and it so so sad that her life was cut short so early. My heart goes out to you especially at this time of your life with all the adjustments and changes that have/are taking place. Another year...(it's not so long) and you'll be amazed at how far you have come. Thank you for sharing this.

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