Today marks the 25th anniversary of my mother's death. It may seem a little morbid to want to write about it, but I guess that's as good a way as any of marking the occasion. It was a Monday morning: I'd gone off to work as usual, totally unaware of what was to come. For although I'd known she'd been ill over the weekend, I hadn't realized she was virtually on her deathbed. My boss was very understanding and sympathetic and in a bit of a daze I was soon on my way over to the house - the same house in Kenilworth where I'd grown up as a teenager. My father ushered me into the front room, which they'd converted into a bedroom to say my goodbyes.
It was the first time I'd ever seen a dead person. She seemed very peaceful and I half expected her to wake up suddenly and ask "You got here, then...What took you so long?" or something similar. I touched her gently almost as if try and to rouse her but realizing I couldn't (or shouldn't try), I whispered a few prayers and kissed her for the last time. I remember not really wanting to leave her, but my father was waiting just outside the door and the undertakers would soon be arriving.
The funeral, I soon found out, was booked for noon on the Friday. She'd had the foresight to write her will sometime previously, appointing my father and sister as executors, so they handled all the funeral arrangements as well as all the paperwork connected with the probate: each day the two of them went off to take care of everything, while it fell to my lot to make sure the house was clean and tidy in preparation. Not that it was dirty: my mother had always been extremely houseproud but in her final years her failing health had taken its toll as far as the chores were concerned. I shall never forget how I struggled constantly to hold back the tears: although I'd left home fifteen years previously, everything was still pretty much as I'd remembered it and I only had to touch an ornament or a piece of furniture, or look at the surroundings, for childhood memories of things we'd done together to come flooding back. At night, I slept in the same bedroom I'd had when I was seventeen, just after my sister had left home. It was quite surreal, and almost as if the whole of my adult life hadn't happened.
My sister had asked me to stay over and keep father company for the week, and I was wondering what the two of us were going to do in the evenings. But he seemed content to just sit and talk - or rather he talked and I listened, adding 'yes' and 'no' in what I hoped were the right places. He'd always been something of a story-teller: some of the stories I'd heard before, others were not so familiar, but a common thread was how vivid his memories were of things which had happened long before I was born. Occasionally he'd pause, or his voice would falter and his eyes seemed to mist over, as something would perhaps suddenly remind him of the present and of what had happened - but then he'd look up as if to say "Now where was I?" - and carry on from where he'd left off. Looking back on it now, I daresay he was just trying to get things straight in his mind, much I was doing too, although with considerably less success. It was on the Wednesday evening I think that he told me the story of how he and my mother had first met. It was the way he told it as much as anything that gave me an inkling of how much he was already starting to miss her.
Eventually Friday arrived - the day of the funeral. I remember my father going out to mow the back lawn while we were waiting for the hearse to arrive, which struck me as bizarre, but I guess it was just his way of taking his mind off things. Other than that, it all passed in something of a blur. A Church service followed by a cremation was apparently what my mother had said she wanted: even though I'd never known her ever go to Church, they'd got married in Church so maybe she thought it was 'never too late'? Back at the house, my father "entertained" those of our friends and relatives who'd come to the funeral whilst, not being one to socialize a lot at the best of times (and this was hardly one of them), I mostly busied myself in the kitchen looking after the supply of food, drink and clean plates.
I'm not sure whether it had been something my mother had asked for or not, but my father arranged for her ashes to be interred in Kenilworth Cemetery - in a double plot which would also accommodate his when his time came. This couldn't be completed until the following Monday, so I spent an unspeakably awful weekend with an eerie sense of 'unfinished business' hanging over me. The interment ceremony was for just the close family: the vicar did the customary prayers and as I threw a handful of soil down onto the small wooden box containing the ashes, I was struck by an inconsolable sense of loss.
My mother was gone: the thing I'd feared most in my childhood - the stuff of which periodic nightmares had been made - had finally happened, and nothing was ever going to be the same again. It was the first time I'd lost a close relative, and my mother had always been the one in the family I was closest to. I still find it difficult to put into words how guilty I felt, all the "if only"s - and how I'd never in my wildest imagination anticipated the emotional turmoil I would go through in the weeks and months that would follow. I knelt by her grave each week and prayed for forgiveness. Eventually of course over the passage of time it's gradually healed just as everyone says it does. I don't visit the grave regularly any more, and haven't done for many years, basically because I suppose haven't felt the need to.
But I still miss her and the same mixed emotions which have prompted me to write this long and probably rather rambling entry will, I sense, result in my re-visiting her final resting place once again.