People want to mark it, in some way. My recent rash of houseguests have, in their careful, thoughtful way, wanted to acknowledge the moment and I have been dead set against it. I have been mutinous, blank and uncooperative: I do not want to light a candle or raise a glass. I do not want a quiet reflective chat. The thought of being forced to acknowledge this ugly anniversary has made me prickly and trapped. I have cried: angry, grudging, hairball tears at my desk and I have felt cornered in a way I haven’t felt since her funeral. It has brought up the spectre of unravelling and I don’t want to unravel. I’ve kept everything tightly ravelled for so long and over the last few months it has felt like threads are coming loose, threatening to unwind and trip me up.
First we went to York in the summer, something I always look forward to doing. I like the easy comfort of my stepfather (my mother)’s house, the lazy walks around ‘town’ and the cakes in Betty’s. But this time, for the first time, I felt sad. I was sad to be in my mother’s house, sad at how little and how much of her remains there all at once. Then I felt angry at how unfair it was that she didn’t get to enjoy this bit, this golden time when my children are old enough for some independence, interested in everything but not yet adrift on the unpredictable tides of adolescence. I thought how she would love my prickly, tightly wound, razor sharp youngest with his love of opera and his steely will and how she would have seen past the pre-teen surliness and intuited and loved the kindness and the gentle wit of my eldest. All the things I never quite let myself get sad about back then just crept up and coshed me around the head when I least expected it, complacently ready to eat buns and drink cups of tea in the back yard and potter round the shops.
I haven’t quite shaken it off since then. I’m dragging a new, old sadness around and it's unnerving. I find myself wondering how things might have been, without ever actually thinking they could have been another way. I don’t do, never did, magical thinking: I didn’t think she was still here; didn’t imagine a parallel life in which she had lived. I knew that she was dead, felt the weight of it, when I put down the phone in my office in the early afternoon after my stepfather called. But these tentative projections that come unbidden are sore, tender like unused muscles put to rough work. Would she, I wonder, have even liked me now, aimless and cowardly and frustrated (loved, of course. But liked?). I wonder if she would have told me that sometimes you get bogged down and lost in middle life, of course you do, but that you emerge, wiser and kinder and with new energy. I feel like I saw that happen to her, and it gives me some comfort, sometimes, when every day looks the same and I feel stymied by my own failings.
I should be ready to be properly, decorously sad by now, after all this time. I’ve cried, I’ve seen counsellors, I’ve watched a tree planted. I should be able to do the dignified thing: light a candle, listen to Schubert lieder or go to Rome and look at where she died. But I’m not, I’m raw and puzzled and angry. It feels a bit embarrassing, not to have got further in ten years, proof of a stunted emotional life. God knows, we've been here before: me saying I don't know how to deal with these anniversaries, these feelings. But I do wonder if perhaps this new sadness is a good thing. Because if you don’t feel, how can you remember? My father asked me recently whether I thought about mum often and I didn’t really know what to say. I did and I didn’t. She had become an abstraction. But to be properly, viciously, uncomfortably sad is to acknowledge what we, I, lost. My warm, funny, intensely alive mother, who loved to dance on tables, steal chips, wear silk scarves and Chanel 19 (but also coloured in the holes in her tights with black marker pen); who fought and laughed and loved and dared. Who knew reams of poetry and music and all the best cafes and all the little brown birds in the garden, and all the ways to make you feel you weren’t hopeless.
So I’m marking the occasion by feeling sad and angry and by getting a bit unravelled. But mostly I’m marking it by feeling, and that’s a start.