‘I’d forgotten how much I missed you.’
The words almost visibly hung in the air for me as soon as they left my friend’s mouth. It had been too long since we had gotten together – but also paradoxically it didn’t seem like five minutes had elapsed since we last spoke.
Time (and my previously ever shrinking world) sometimes overtakes things though – and for reasons I’m sure neither of us could easily pin down over a year has passed since we last saw each other face to face.
In truth though she’s much much more than a friend. I don’t think that this word does my relationship with her over the years any justice.
I’m a big one for hugs – but today I felt like I didn’t want to let go. As we both embraced when we said hello and goodbye I felt myself drawing in just that little bit closer, and holding on for just a little bit longer than I normally would. This lady is special to me and has been for what I now realise is decades.
Today we had a lot to talk about. The last year has seen many changes in both of our lives – some bad and some good. As we chatted I found myself watching her face – the smile lines around her eyes, and how the right side of her hair curled inward slightly as it touched the patterned scarf on her shoulder.
She hasn’t changed much over the years and looks just the same as she always has.
It’s easy to recognise a face. Our brains are wired to find them in everything we look at. They’re there if we see Jesus randomly burned onto a slice of toast, a bearded man floating in the clouds – or eyes and a smile in a camper van’s headlights and grille.
I don’t think though that there are that many people whose faces we truly KNOW. Along with with my brother, my Dad and my closest friends I think she’s one of a select few people that I could close my eyes and visualise perfectly.
Talking to someone that’s known you for years – that knows your history as much as you know theirs can sometimes enable you to open up and explore subjects that with other people might cause you shame or difficulty.
In my case I often feel these emotions and more when people ask about my Mom’s death, which my friend and I hadn’t really discussed at length before.
I always feel the need to explain myself when I discuss the feelings I have about this event as they’re complex. It’s not as simple as feeling a sense of loss about someone I loved deeply. My relationship with her unfortunately was nothing like that.
I feel a lot of guilt when I talk about it because I also feel compelled to use the phrase ‘the best thing that my mother did for me was dying’. I’m fully aware it must be shocking and that it probably sounds callous or as if I’m harbouring resentment towards her, which I’m not.
I often think that people’s immediate reaction will be ‘how can someone not feel unconditional love for their mother?’
I worry what kind of a person they will think this makes me, like I’m somehow malformed or have a cruel heart.
I could maybe put it in more socially acceptable terminology, but then the honesty of how I feel would be lost and I’m not about to do that. Not any more. It only hurts the ones left behind if you don’t face up to the truth and deny how you REALLY feel.
What I mean by this rather blunt statement is that in death she gave me something more significant than she did in life, and because of her actions I experienced a moment of clarity that set me on my current path. As I watched her slowly killing herself with cigarettes, not caring any more whether she lived or died I saw myself in a darkly tinted mirror.
I wasn’t angry with her for smoking again two days after leaving hospital. I didn’t feel disappointed at her continued slow motion attempts to kill herself one cigarette at a time.
I was doing the same to myself with food and alcohol. I had told people close to me that I wasn’t expecting to reach retirement and deep down I thought I’d die before the age of 50. I thought it was inevitable and had given into the despair of my situation, feeling like I was just minding the store until closing time.
My relationship with my mother was not a good one, and she was often not a nice lady to me or others. Even when she made attempts to be on her best behaviour it seemed to end in conflict and arguments.
I try not to think of her in this light any more, and only remember the good aspects – but while she was alive I wanted to be as little like her as humanly possible.
As I sat in front of her while she essentially drowned in her armchair behind an oxygen mask I saw myself. I was killing myself with food and alcohol as surely as if I was putting a gun to my temple and pulling the trigger. My death would probably become just as drawn out, painful and degrading as hers was proving to be.
Yet I still had time to change. So on the 26th of Jan, two days before she died, I decided to try.
The first three months of my blog were about me coming to terms with what was left behind after she passed away – and the profoundly positive impact her death ultimately had on me.
I didn’t feel triumphalism – but instead a sense of gratitude.
For all the sadness and sense of lost opportunity I feel when I consider our relationship I’ve contented myself in the months since that some real and profound good came out of her death.
As we talked today my friend said a few times ‘you mother loved you, you know.’
Truthfully I’m not sure she knew how to love – but that’s OK. No-one is perfect and she was still my mom. She did her best to look after me as a child, and in her own way cared for and wanted a good future for me.
So – despite the adversity between us, now she’s gone I don’t think I’d have had her be any other way. I may have taken the scenic route to being in a good place in life – but I feel like that’s actually a good thing.
My dance walking friend in Slimming World was keen to talk to me after the meeting on Saturday. She jauntily wandered over once Angie had finished to tell me something that had been in her mind after reading my blog.
‘Have you ever heard the story of the cracked pot?’ She said as we collected the (hateful) little red chairs in the school hall.
‘No… I don’t think I have.’ I replied, stacking them by the climbing frame.
‘Well there was this cracked pot and every time it was filled with water it would leak on one side. All the liquid would dribble out onto the ground and drain away. The pot was damaged and all of the other pots nearby weren’t – they did their job and held water.’
I nodded. Cracked pot. Got it.
‘But then one day the man who owned the pots looked at the side of the cracked one where all the water leaked out onto the ground and saw all of the green shoots and flowers that were growing around it’s base.’
I stopped stacking the chairs .
‘It just shows that sometimes things that get damaged along the way can bring a lot of good into the world.’
I smiled and thanked her for the comment, mentally filing it away.
Today that comment came back to me as I sat talking to my friend, and even more afterwards as I drove home. In many ways we’ve both been damaged over the years – and in her case flowers have definitely bloomed all around her.
My mother was also a cracked pot.
For many years I felt nothing but resentment toward her – but her final parting gift turned out to be a gift of life. In her passing she gave me so much that I don’t think I can ever thank her enough.
Today internet I’m immensely grateful for the lack of resilience displayed by pottery, and looking back with a smile on my face at all the nice flowers that have grown up around them.
The damaged ones are by far my favourite kind of pot.