It would have been my Mum's 59th birthday today.
In the event she was cut down at 40, following a horrific 4 year battle with cancer. What started out as breast cancer, resulting in a double mastectomy, finally morphed in to liver cancer.
Along the way she lost her dignity and bizarrely what hastened her death was a broken shoulder. A side effect of the cancer was brittle bone disease and when lifting herself from a commode she clean broke her shoulder. At that point her body simply said, 'enough's enough' and shortly after Chritmas 1987, she died.
I was 14 at the time and following 4 years of illness I moved on relatively quickly, I was devastated obviously, but I had a lot of support from my extended family, I was playing a lot of rugby and I threw myself in to sport, scouts and study.
My Dad moved on as well. Having been at the sharp end of the disease for so long, he'd undergone a lot of counselling before my mother's death and by the time she died he was ready to get on with things. He married my step mother, a year and a half later.
My step mother is the most wonderful woman. She was 30 when she married my Dad. I was 15. My brother was 11. It's not something that many women would take on, but she played it amazingly. She was a stand-in mother for my brother, but she acted more like a carer to me, a guardian, a guide, a rock. She always stayed in the background, she pushed me in the right direction, but imperceptibly. She also played the good guy to my Dad's bad guy, she pointed out what a hard time he gave me simply because I was older. She couldn't have possibly handled the family better, mainly because she never set out to replace my mum, but simply be what we needed her to be, when we needed her to be it.
My brother seemingly moved on as well, but we always worried about him and with good reason. He had little memory of mum before she was ill. When he met, his now wife, 8 years ago, things started to unravel. I had a call from my sister-in-law one night in early 2000 saying my brother was in floods of tears and she didn't know what to do. He'd had a bad journey home from work, something you wouldn't really see as a trigger point, but he got to thinking and by the time he got home he was all over the place. In retrospect I capitulated, I didn't really know how to approach things. It was 13 years after the event and I just felt there may be a whole can of worms there for the opening.
Finally, shortly before the wedding I confronted it, he was finding his speech impossible to construct, he didn't want to leave my mother out of it, but equally didn't know what would happen when he delivered the lines. We talked it through and at the bottom of it all was the fact that he'd never really talked it through. My father and I, had moved on so quickly. It wasn't that the subject was banned or taboo, it was just that things were happy and they really were very happy. He recognised that and indeed was happy in most ways himself, but I think as a young lad he didn't want to go spoiling that happiness.
What compounded things was that he had become so close to my step-mother that he felt guilt on several fronts. Was he being disrespectful to my mother by taking on another one? Was he being disrespectful to my step mother by mentioning my mother? Would he upset me or my Dad by going on about it? Things we talked through, cried through and eventually hit an even keel. And so the grieving was complete.
Until Eben was born.
The other day someone, completely unwittingly suggested that I ask my mum what my brother and I were like as kids to throw light on the difficuty we're having with my 2 now. Unfortunately I can't. I would love to.
I find myself thinking about her now, more than I've ever done. About a year ago I broke down, completely out of the blue. The trigger was jealousy. Jealousy of who? Rather shamedly it was jealousy of Eben, who was 18 months old. I suddenly had an overwhelming feeling of injustice. He had a mother and I didn't. Grief is a funny thing. It reduces you to the basis of your being, it can bring out your darkest thoughts and then trolling along behind, come your happiest memories.
The funny thing is, when she died I wasn't getting on with her at all, I had an enormous argument with her 10 days before she went and in retrospect she was so unbelievably frail, I can't believe I did it. But then I was 14 and disgusting and on top of that we were fundamentally different characters. For years I couldn't dredge up a good memory, only the arguments. She loved me of course, I could tell from the photos, but we didn't get on.
My dad said that if she'd lived we would have carried on at loggerheads until my mid to late twenties and then we would have got on like a house on fire. Oddly, it was around that time that all the good memories came back. Probably a coincidence, but nonetheless one I pin significance to. But, with the memories came more pain and a greater sense of loss. The older I get the more I remember the key dates. My brother and I went to the cemetary on the anniversary of her death 2 years ago; for the first time since her death. This year May 10th has loomed larger than ever. I'm hoping this isn't going to get any harder, after all she's been dead for more of my life than she was alive
So here I am. Happy Birthday Mum, I miss you loads. You really should be here, your Grandsons are wonderful and I'd love you to have met them.