My mother died very suddenly, and most unexpectedly, on a Saturday morning in June 2003, roughly a month after Mother's Day and ten days before what would have been her 69th birthday. I rang her that morning, having forgotten to ask her something in my call of the previous evening, and the phone was answered by a friend of hers, who said nothing other than asking me to come as quickly as possible. I remember hauling No.1 out of bed (No.2 was living with his father by then) and forcing him into clothes before heading south to my parent's house, bargaining with G-d all the way. My father had a heart condition, and logic said that something must have happened to him, but there was a knot of terrible fear in the pit of my stomach that was insisting otherwise - because, WHY had Mum not answered the phone herself?
Her friend had arrived just after Mum finished her breakfast, as they'd made plans for an early departure for whatever they were doing that day. The friend was a nurse, and said to me - memory is a most peculiar thing, there are some things frozen in my head from that day that WON'T go away - that Mum had told her she wasn't feeling very well, so the friend - who said she didn't look well - suggested they go to see the doctor. Mum brushed that off, saying if she could just sit for a little bit, then she should be right to go - sat down, had a massive heart attack, and died. Her friend said she knew as soon as it happened that there was absolutely nothing that could be done, and even in a fully equipped hospital, there would have been only a faint chance she could have been saved, and certainly not at home. By the time I got there, they'd got her out of the chair and had laid her on the living room floor, and what I remember from that period was being aware of No.1 collapsed in a chair in the next room, unable to come in, while all I could do was sit on the floor next to her willing it not to be true. I don't know how long I sat there. I have no memory of the time passing.
Eventually I got up, and persuaded No.1 to come in and sit with her for a little bit while we started to make the necessary phone calls. I will be forever grateful to the people from the funeral company who allowed me to help them prepare her to be moved and taken away - the closest thing I could come to a traditional laying out, which is an option that has been largely taken from family members in western society. They continued to be wonderful throughout the next few days, helping me put together the funeral she and I had discussed often - usually with No.1 passing through the room at some point, pausing, realising we were discussing 'that' yet again, and telling us we were disturbed! I will always be glad we had those conversations though, because knowing precisely what she wanted gave me an anchor through those awful days.
Nearly twelve years on, some of those memories sit just on the periphery of my vision, permanently accompanying me, no matter what I'm doing. I don't have to search my memory for those bits of that time. I don't, however, have many memories of the practical aspects of getting on with living in the ensuing weeks and months. No.1 was a tower of strength. He was 18 at the time, and simply stepped in, taking on many of the routine things I did to keep our lives ticking. During the funeral preparation and on the day, he was glued to my side, making sure everything happened as planned, supporting me in the face of opposition from various people who'd not been privy to the funeral conversations over the years, and were outraged by some of the elements of what we did.
I don't honestly know what I believe about an afterlife. Judaism teaches that it's our actual lifetime that is the most important focus. Living well NOW. Not living for some future existence. There's a practicality to that that makes good sense to me. At the same time, there have been various times over the years that I've distinctly felt Mum close to me - so close that I've thought if ONLY I could turn around fast enough, I'd catch her... She's always close around Mother's Day, and through to her birthday - the May/June period is a rough one for me now.
We were good friends, my mother and I - eventually. We were very different people, and often at loggerheads when I was growing up. There was a period of time when, although we saw each other regularly, we rarely went near things that really mattered to us, because neither of us could deal with the other's emotional baggage about them. In the last decade of her life though, that changed, partly because, by then, I was desperate for answers to questions that had plagued me for years, and I was also desperate to feel heard on subjects that were important to me, and feel that somehow, she'd understood where I was coming from - and that I hadn't been taking, often, an opposing stance to hers just for the sake of it. We learned to disagree and for that not to mean an emotional meltdown for either or both of us. We learned to trust each other enough to tell our secrets and fears, and just accept what we were hearing from each other, and not try to justify, defend, or criticise. We learned to get past our differences, and in some cases, actually celebrate them - I will never forget the time she told me she was so envious of me for being so strong and fearless about diving into things, even when I wasn't sure if I could pull them off. I was completely floored that day.
She was, for most of my children's lives, the other 'parent'. I was a sole parent for most of their lives, so she stepped in and became something other than a cosy grandmother. She was there when I had rehearsals and work, she helped discipline, became someone for them to confide in, and someone with whom to conspire when cooking up plans for my birthdays and Mother's Day.
The Mother's Day that began with an enormous bunch of oriental lilies walking into my room as I woke up - 6 year old No.2 was so small he was completely hidden behind them - had begun for he and Mum some time before when he rang her asking her to organise the flowers (out of season, in the days before year round supply of many flowers was the norm) for me. She acted as shopper and soux chef for No.1 the year he cooked a three course dinner by himself for my birthday - a menu he devised and wrote the shopping list for - having also engineered for me to be out for the entire afternoon with friends so the house would be clear. There are countless stories and insufficient room to include them all, but suffice to say, she left an enormous hole in all our lives when she died that is quite impossible to fill.
Neither of my children will be around on Sunday. No.1 is interstate refereeing at a Futsal (indoor soccer) tournament - he does this professionally, starting as a referee for the field game when he was 16. There was the morning I took him to an early match in the depths of an Adelaide winter in McLaren Vale, with the mist still chest high on the pitch, and Mum turned up with a basket containing a thermos full of coffee, and a container of hot scones fresh out of the oven and we sat on the bonnet of her car - which was warm from her drive across (she lived nearby) - and sipped and nibbled while No.1 and his team mates did their thing... No. 2 is lost in the wilds of his ice addiction and I don't expect to hear from him. I may get a text from the Stepson...it's possible - sometimes he marks Mother's Day for me, and sometimes he doesn't. However, Dragon Dad, like my mother, is one for celebrations, and always makes a point of marking Mother's Day, regardless what any of the boys may or may not have planned. I never know what it's going to be until it happens, but there will be something, for which I am enormously grateful, because he ALWAYS includes my mother in whatever's going on although, sadly, he never got the chance to meet her.
Whatever your circumstances, I wish ALL the mums out there a lovely peaceful day with their loved ones. And for those of you who have also lost your mothers, I wish you the best, most loving memories of them - those women who, no matter what the dynamic of the relationship was, are completely irreplaceable.