I remember her sitting on the end of the bed, brushing her long, red hair, talking to me about her trip into town that day. For that split second, we both forgot what it was like to be ‘normal’, the world was going around again, laughter bounced off of the empty walls and her smile was brighter than I’d ever noticed before. But behind it, she was breaking. And for the first time ever, I watched her laughter turn to tears…
“I’ll see you get married, but I won’t see you all have children ….and that’s what breaks my heart”, she said, out of the blue, as she threw down her hairbrush in defeat.
Until now, Mum had been so strong, so determined not to let this break her. But even she couldn’t fix this… and the sudden realisation that the world would carry on spinning, without her in it…. echoed through our tears.
In November 2011, my beautiful mum, Ann, found out that she had tumours on her brain. They turned out to be secondary, and in a matter of months, lung cancer would take her last breath, at the young age of 56.
It was January 2012. Keith and I had just made the decision to pull our wedding forward from June. In two weeks time, we were getting married, and it was a little light that shone for all of us, through a very dark time.
It was hectic, my wedding dress hadn’t been fitted yet and hung on my skinny bones, we had no rings, our summertime venue was boggy from the winter rain, and we’d already started grieving for someone still with us, just as beautiful, just as strong. To look at her, it was impossible to know. But time was against us, and the most important thing was for us to walk down the aisle and see mum standing there.
We did it. We became Mr & Mrs Hill in under 2 weeks. Our plans for the summertime wedding were scrapped and friends and family rallied around, everyone came together, favours were being dished out by the bucket load and we pulled off a wonderful day, with lots of gorgeous pictures with mum dressed up like a princess.
In her final days, about two days before, she woke in the night, about 2am. Me and her friend, Gail were there. We pretended it was the middle of the day, and ate take out chicken whilst sat on the living room floor, putting on her lippy and combing her hair. We were teasing her by drinking the 18+year old (brown) champagne she had ‘saved for a special occasion’. Something Gail had always nagged her to drink, but mum just kept the collection growing, much to their amusement. Even though she couldn’t talk now, she still had her sense of humour and her cheeky, fun personality was oozing out of her. That was mum, fun. And even in her darkest hour she was still mustering up a smile.
Gail left the room momentarily, while I stayed perched on the arm of the chair with my arm around mum, stroking her long, red hair. Something I did a lot in those last months because I wanted to remember how it felt to be close to her and how it felt to run her hair through my fingers. I told her that my children would know everything about her, promised that I would always talk to them about her and that I would tell them all the embarrassing bits, like when she fell into a bush when doing her Avon round. I already knew she didn’t want to be called Nanny, or Nan… so double checked, by reeling off a few funny ones like Granny Annie and she finally nodded at NanAnn. That was always the tearjerker for us both. Neither of us wanted to imagine her not being there.
On April 30th 2012, 5 months after being diagnosed, mum slipped away peacefully at home with all of us around her.
I look at her photo often. Her beautiful, deep, red hair and her bright blue eyes, beaming through a smile that hid a million tears, as she hugged me so tight on my wedding day. It’s so hard to believe she was gone less than 3 months later.
Suddenly, we were all thrown into a whirlwind. We had no queen bee, no matriarch, and just like that I was stripped of my best friend, my mum. The fun, the belly laughter….. it was all gone.
I wanted to run to her. I just wanted so desperately for her to hug me and tell me that everything would be ok. I wanted her to know how missed she was already, for her to promise me that one day I’d smile again, and that piece by piece, my broken heart would eventually glue its way back together.
She was the first person that I wanted to talk to when things got tough, when our new marriage was straining under the pressure of making a baby, as well as a huge wave of grief consuming the Stacey we all knew. When Keith and I would argue over the immense weight of other peoples prying, I’d walk out of the house overcome with tears, only this time I had nowhere to go…. She wasn’t there anymore, the arms I felt safe in no longer holding me, the only person who knew how to soothe my fears had gone, and the words I really needed, could be heard no more.
That was the start of my life without mum. Me, just sat there all alone in the car, only a few streets away from my house. I felt hard done by, alone, misunderstood, lost, scared and terrified how I’d be able to overcome this sadness. Confused if I was actually crying over the pressure of not making a baby, or still crying for mum. Don’t get me wrong, I had people to vent to, everyone was incredible when we lost her, picked me up when I was down, wiped away the stream of tears I cried, sat there in deaf silence not speaking, just holding me as I crumbled. But having never lost a parent, how could they really, know.
Eventually, in the sadness we found strength, and with that brutal wake-up call of how short life could be, we finally started to talk about the elephant in the room, sought help, and got a referral to the fertility specialists, where we would go through the highs and lows of assisted fertility.
Yet again, I found myself thrown into one of lifes biggest chapters, crammed into what still should have been the honeymoon period, nobody could really relate to it. Luckily for us, life was full of gorgeous children already. Friends and family seemed to all produce the cutest kids, and if there wasn’t a fresh pregnancy announcement, we were celebrating the birth of another beautiful baby. But if anything, every announcement fueled my already roaring desire to be a mummy.
This was a huge part of our lives. Finally, a positive one, even with all of the injections and the emotions that came with IVF, this was a journey I knew mum would be rooting for, excited and so proud. I’d often, briefly forget, and find myself going to ring her to tell her all about it. A constant reminder, that I’m slowly having to train myself out of, even all these years later.
Walking out of the fertility clinic back in August 2014, just moments after being told we were carrying twins, after lots of ups and downs along the way, I cried my first happy, sad tears.
Not happy tears like the ones I used to know. The ones that are tainted by sorrow of what happy tears I will never get to see fall from mums bright, blue eyes. The same tears I cried when our boys were born, when they took their first steps and when they first said Nanann. My biggest achievements, my proudest moments and everything in between, just never quite the same. With a smile, there’s a hidden guilt. With a laugh, there’s a cry. With a cry, there’s a pressure to keep focusing on the good things, but then I cry again at the thought of not only what mum’s missing out on, but the empty space the boys will have in their lives.
Becoming a mum, without mum was the hardest. All of a sudden I saw her in a new light. I realised the sacrifices she made to have me, my brother and sister. My respect for her rocketed and I needed her more now, than ever before. I needed that connection, the mother and daughter connection I so badly missed and that I would never find with anyone else. She knew everything about me. More than I knew myself to be honest, and it just felt so unnatural not to be able to share this amazing moment with her, to hand her these precious little boys and make her a Nannann for the first time. Here I was, experiencing the happiest moment of my life, shadowed as a result of experiencing the worst part, only a few years earlier. I was shown this brand, new emotion. A love like I’d never felt before. A pride so overwhelming, my heart could burst any minute. With that feeling, there’s a reflection of mum, now I could relate to that deep love she had for us all, and how scared she must have been to know she couldn’t be around forever.
My heart still hurts. But the worlds still spinning, life continues and people forget, they talk of her less.
I know she is around me and the boys, and know she would just adore them. But to not have her here physically, to drop by on a whim, to take over and send me for a nap, to cradle one when Keith’s at work and I’m running short of hands, to give me the advice I need at 3am when the boys have a temperature, to walk with me on our daily block walk, to tell me I’m doing great, to encourage me with my dreams, to see what sort of mum I am, what sort of wife I became, to send me and Keith on a night out, to take over for one night, insisting we have a break, to join me on the supermarket shop, or to just be there on the end of a phone. It’s so hard.
Maybe that’s where part of my anxiety comes from. Motherhood took the wrap for it, but actually, I think I’ve just realised part of it was a result of losing a little piece of me, when we lost mum. My confidence was dented because she wasn’t around to bend it back, I hadn’t got her there to lighten the load of becoming a new mum, like most women get. And just like anyone who’s watched someone they love so dearly slip away, I’ve been left with even more anxieties to face, knowing how things can creep up on you when you least expect them. Although as a mother, you would never want to see your kids go before you, you equally dread the day they have to go through what we did. It’s ridiculous to even think it, isn’t it? But again, it’s just one of the scars left behind since losing mum, tattooed in my mind.
There’s no end to this, I have many tears left to cry. The happy, sad kind. All my highs, I think of her, how proud she would be, how she’d be there, air punching at the side lines, encouraging me on the daily.
The days I need advice, the days I need a good vent, I talk to her photo. I can imagine the feel of her hair as she hugs me tight and tells me I’m doing great. That’s the only thing I have left. My precious memories.
I see the girl at the doctors with a baby, sat bouncing on the older lady’s knee. I envy her.
I see the girl walking with her mum pushing the pushchair. I envy her.
I see the girl dropping off the kids to the granparents for the day, as she rushes off to work. I envy her.
I see the older couple walking along the beach on holiday with the grandkids, I envy that.
I see the older couple picking up the chid from nursery, I envy that.
I see couple who go out every other weekend, and relax knowing the kids are in great hands. I envy them.
If mum was here now, I know she would be beaming with pride for all of us.
I hope she knows we smiled again, that we reached a happy place eventually and that now, every man and his dog know that she fell head first into a bush on her Avon round.
Thank you for the sacrifices you made, Mum.