Thirty-two years ago today, my mother died. This year’s anniversary is significant because I’m now the same age as her when she passed. (I’ve mentioned this before, recently.) If I return home in a few week’s time, I’ll revisit her grave. No doubt I’ll talk to her, even though I know she won’t hear me. (I do it for myself.) The cemetery faces, and is overlooked by, the Arael mountain, where I’ve requested that my ashes be scattered. Below it, the low-pitched mournful drone of traffic on the A467 can be heard. It’s a consoling noise; at one and the same time a lament and a reminder that life goes on regardless.
I’ve now been without her longer than I knew her. Her mother, Elizabeth (Lizzy), had died fourteen years earlier; Oliver (Olly), her father, outlived them both. Mam lies buried between her parents. Which I’ve always thought particularly apt. Losing your children, how ever old they are, is the most appalling thing. At Mam’s funeral, my maternal grandfather spoke to me as her father, and for us all, with blunt elegance: ‘This is bloody terrible, isn’t it?’ ‘Yes, it is’, I replied.
I sometimes wonder how she would’ve aged, had she lived. What would she have looked like now? Between 60 and the grave, a host of dark and dreadful prospects – that threaten either to hasten our demise or diminish the quality of life – present themselves: heart disease, stroke, cancers, and dementia, not to mention fatal accidents. ‘You have to die of something,’ as they say. If it wasn’t for the breast cancer, perhaps she’d have lived twenty or more years. But she didn’t. Her life was framed relatively narrowly.
I think of all the things she’s missed during the past thirty two years: my marriage; her grandchildren; the day I secured a full-time job; my lectures, publications, releases, and exhibitions; the accounts of my travels; my losses, failures, sorrows, and triumphs; and my own journey into middle age. For my part, I miss her counsel; her capacity to listen long before giving advice; her cheeky and girlish sense of humour; her forethought and preparation; her availability; her imaginative giving; her short letters of encouragement; the palms of her hands; and those eyes that could see into my heart.