It can be something as simple as seeing her favourite brand of tea at the supermarket, or unexpectedly finding a pair of her reading glasses hidden in a box. Suddenly, the memory of the way she held a tea-cup, her slightly crooked smile, or the far-away gaze she had when immersed in a good book returns as bright and as vivid as the day we said goodbye.
This weekend marks the 5th anniversary of my mum passing away. I have written before about the challenges of being a mum without my own mum. But to mark this anniversary, I wanted to share a few of the many wonderful things my mum did that made living with her such a joy and privilege, and which I hope every parent would consider doing for their child.
1) Be in the picture – though we live in the age of the selfie, so many mums still find themselves behind the camera and not in front of it. I stumbled across Allison Tate’s beautiful article again recently on why it’s so important for moms to stay in the picture (find it here), and it reminded me of how much I treasure the photos I have of my mum.
2) Share your passions – my mum loved Georgette Heyer books, cream teas and weepy movies. Though it would be prosaic to say I love them too, truthfully I’m not particularly partial to any of these. But knowing what she loved gives me some insight into her sensibilities, and in an indirect way, a lasting touchstone to her soul.
3) Give Memories – I can only vaguely recall a few of the innumerable stuffy toys & dolls I was given as a child, the games, gadgets and gizmos I desperately wanted as a teenager. The items that remain are few and far between: a threadbare ragdoll that had once been my mums, a diamond pendant she passed to me on my twenty-first birthday.
But even many years later I can still recall details of our adventures and trips together. I still giggle over the rental car neither of us could park, remember fondly the movies and plays we saw together (or walked out of, as was our wont), relish the experience of gardens and galleries we visited. These are the treasures she gave me.
4) Write down your stories – when she knew her time was short, my mum used what little energy she had to write in a legacy book, sharing stories of her own childhood, her schooldays, the early days of her marriage to my father. Though I knew the stories, being able to revisit them, read her words and hear her thoughts has given me a lasting connection. The only drawback? I can see from her increasingly shaky handwriting that as her illness progressed she was unable to write as much, or in as much detail as she would have liked.
5) Don’t just tell them, show them you love them everyday – Long before she became sick, my Mum ended every phone call with “I love you”. It was a subtle practice that acknowledged the fragility of life, the ever-present possibility that those we love might be taken from us without warning.
But she didn’t have to say it. I knew she loved me. I had always known it.
From the thousand small, silent messages of love over the years. Not the kind you find on Pinterest, those lunch kit cut-outs and canvas-wrapped lyrics. But in the way she would listen to my eight year-old ramblings, take a day off work to visit a museum I’d dreamed of, find a way to see a play I’ve never forgotten. These were the ways she said “I love you” the loudest, so that through the teenage recaltricance, the college arrogance, the toxic friendships and failed romances, I always knew I was loved.