07 May For Mother’s Day (and those dreams you have after they’re gone)
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 2.5.22
Sometimes I have an overwhelming urge to invite my mother to dinner. It’s a thought that arrives and quite gets away on me – I am planning the menu and making lists of stories I want to tell and questions I want to ask before I remember she’s not with us anymore and hasn’t been for three years.
I say this not to be maudlin, or for sympathy or any of that nonsense. As we reach a certain age (I have reached a certain age) not having your mother still alive is, as my mother often said, the natural way of things. Grieving your mother is part of our own ageing process.
Certainly, no one wants it to be round the other way, to outlive your children – my mother was very firm about that and I find I am equally firm on this point, too. My preference is for us all to die when it is our turn, in a tidy consecutive order. I appreciate we don’t get to choose but, if we could, let it be known this is how I’d like it arranged.
This thing, though, of continuing for years to forget someone is dead is not something we talk about that much. It is understood and accepted, I think, at the beginning of the grief process. The mind takes ages to adjust. We wake up in the morning and there are a few precious seconds before you remember someone is gone, and you don’t know if you treasure those glorious moments of forgetting more than you hate the next shock of remembering. Helluva trade off.
But I’m not sure anyone warned me I would keep forgetting forever. That I will see something she would love and almost buy it, and pick up the phone because I have a story I know she would love. Though I can still hear her voice (I can hear it in the way I’ve shaped many of these sentences) even if she can no longer hear mine.
I often dream that she is still alive – that both of them are, my mum and my dad – and some of the dreams are like a French farce because in the dream we don’t know we’re dreaming and we’re all a bit shocked they’re suddenly alive again, and there’s a bit of, “Don’t tell your father, he’ll want me to cook,” and we’re embarrassed that we’ve put everyone to the trouble of funerals, and my mother and I dread having to explain.
My favourite dreams are the ones where we all know – me and them, too – that they’re dead, and they’re just visiting my imagination. My father is usually young in these dreams and slower to cotton on but, when he remembers he’s dead, he cheerfully dives deep into a pond and swims off to another world. My mother and I watch him go and smile at each and other and say, “Bless”.
When I get the urge to tell my mother a story, send a photo, or check in to see how she is, I’ve learned to sit with that pang of sadness, and then I turn around and tell the story to my daughter.
Of course, not everyone has a daughter, or a mother to celebrate this Mother’s Day. But we all come after someone, and there is always someone coming next. I hope this Mother’s Day you find yourself happily in the middle with a story you want to tell.