Life has been a hard path to tread since that moment, over four years ago, since Mum passed at the age of seventy nine: some days are better than others. I knew it would be difficult to cope but I never realised how in so many ways. I hear her when the wind stirs; I sense her annoyance when a plant she nurtured is struggling; I feel her when I am sad and a fond memory of her brings comfort and lifts me from grief. How can I be sure of her presence you may be wondering? Here’s an example: at a coinciding moment, without thinking about it, the toes on my right foot tap and wiggle. It is something she did when in deep thought but I never had until recently. It happened just as I was imagining her sitting in the same place she always sat. I looked over as if she was actually sitting there as I was contemplating about what I should do, wishing I could ask her advice. Then the solution came to me. Thinking out loud I remarked, ‘I know’. I had my feet up on a footstool and spotted my toes tapping away and I burst into laughter: it felt truly wonderful as if she was saying, “Yes, that’s what you should do,” and I could almost hear her laughing too. I deeply miss hearing her amazingly infectious laugh.
Life dealt Valerie Margaret some tough blows – as well as some fabulous ones too – but it was how she dealt with them that showed how strong she was. She taught me so much about consideration for others and how to keep a happy disposition: I shall be forever grateful to her for that. It is what gets me through times of despair. Life has a habit of presenting challenges but she always stressed that it mattered little how much money one had and that there were other aspects of life which were far more important. She taught me how to appreciate the simple things life had to offer. Such things like the ability to walk unrestricted, or live and travel with freedom. “Just being able to take the time out to stop and smell the roses,” she said “were things you should cherish and worth more than all the tea in China”.
All of the things she said, all her actions, were so vivid in my mind during the first few months after her death and, even though they pop into my mind from time to time, at this moment as I write I’m having difficulty recalling them. Maybe I really have let her go now. I can remember when growing up how she was able to turn bad situations into good ones, if times were tough, by making us all laugh. We would laugh so hard that it hurt and I think I actually became addicted to it. Not such a bad thing to be addicted to really. She had an amazing turn of phrase that proved therapeutic time and again. Laughter, they say, is the best medicine and Mum handed it out in dollops. Her cheerfulness lives on in me I have realised since her death: it has impregnated my genes and I spread it about to all and sundry. As I speak my mother leaps to the heart of the other and even onto this page. No wonder they say life goes on and there is no death.
As a child, if I had ever been off playing for longer than I should, rather than chastise me on my return she would greet me with, “I thought you must have slipped through a crack!” I always felt loved when I heard that. As a child, to be away from her was like death. She was my life: I was nourished by her laughter. Ironically, to be ‘mum’ is to be ‘silent’. Even when my Mum was silent, her love was deafeningly loud. It wrapped and cocooned me in its loving warmth. Life always felt natural around her. It is why I rush to pick up young fallen birds from the nest to return them to their primal, loving place with their mother. It is what she would have done. I subconsciously reach for the warmth of the nest. A nest no more: for I am fallen from her safety. I call for her, even today; calling so loud the sound deafens me inside. But she answers in so many other ways. A flower opens on one of her plants. A bee will come to drink at the bird bath on a hot day and spotting a sleepy lizard reminds me of how she would fetch a piece of sweet fruit for them. I tread the same path she trod through her gardens. I sleep in the same room in which she slept. I pay homage to the life she gave me and I walk on. Through the pain, and the rain, I hold my head – the one she gave me – high.
She often spoke of the good old days: a time when there were limited options of items to purchase. “How much does one person need?” she remarked one day as she was nearing the end of her life. She expressed that she felt greed was to blame for many issues in the world today. I felt secretly guilty at that for I pondered if I was selfishly greedy, wanting to hang onto her, wanting her to stay. Yet she was choosing to leave us. I knew I should have respected her decision but my senses reeled against it. My heart turned to lead on her passing and I have been alchemically trying to transmute it ever since. I am still in my lab working feverishly day and night. I realised too late the Midas stone was Mum: I was the sorcerer’s apprentice only.
These days I talk to her out-loud when no one is around. I ask her questions and seek her guidance. I say funny things to her photo and laugh. I am my Valerie Margaret’s daughter. I am so proud to be that. As I wander over the same crushed stone she has trod I realise I follow in her footsteps. She is my guiding light in this darkness called life. She is my moral lodestone pulling me out of depression and sadness when it strikes. She opens the curtain to reveal the wonders to me. As I look at the photo of me with a rake at age three, I see my mother in those hands and in that determined look. We are one and the same: only different.