The missing piece of the jigsaw
It’s not an easy subject to talk about, trust me.
But that’s probably a very good reason for continuing.
Becoming a parent has been a life-changing experience. It’s changed the way I look at the world – and I’m talking about more than the blurred perspective of tiredness!
As a dad, I’m growing more fully aware of the role my own parents played in my development. There’s a dawning realisation just how integral they were to making me, me.
Which brings me back to my main point: that missing piece of the jigsaw.
It’s been 18 years since my mother’s premature passing. She was only 45.
Eighteen years – really?
Some days it feels like yesterday. If I choose to seek them out, I’d easily find the emotions attached to her death – the hurt, the pain – knowing they’re all still as fresh as if it were a recent event.
Which is probably why this chapter of my life is often kept in a room that I keep locked – ‘Warning, do not enter, unhappy memories lie within.’
My mother died of cancer. A cruel and merciless disease. It tore a hole in my family 18 years ago, just as it continues to decimate the lives of people all over the world every day.
The thing is, as a parent, I’m now necessarily pondering the ‘What-ifs?’ of my life.
Actually, that’s not true. I’m pondering one major ‘What-if?’
It’s quite simple, really: What if my mother had lived long enough to know my son?
Part of me thinks that such a question should never be broached; it’s a cruel conundrum to burden myself with, as a useful answer can never, truly, be given. Even so, I think of her a lot at the moment.
‘I wish,’ she said, with a wistful smile. ‘I wish I’d roller-skated more often.’
I was (just) 20 when she died. Looking back I can see that I was a kid, nothing more. So immature, so tied to the apron strings, so lacking in any meaningful life experience. My parents had managed to shield me from the worst of what life had to offer – which, I think, is a big part of your role, as a parent. This, however, had an unintended side effect. It made the savage, gut-wrenching, unfairness of her death all the more piquant.
I’m not going to go into details. It’s enough to say that the disease tried to rob her of her dignity. It failed, but that was only because of the sheer force of will she brought to the situation. Forty-five is no age at all.
As a father, I’m aware of wanting to have a positive and lasting effect on my son Sam’s life. Something that lingers. None of us know what tomorrow brings, but thinking back to my mum makes me want to take a little more control of today. I’m sure that she had regrets. We all do.
But the regret that my mum shared with me was – and is – an inspiration.
Speaking, just the two of us, during one of the precious moments that came between influxes of nurses, well-wishers and medication, my mum shared a thought.
“I wish,” she said, with a wistful smile. “I wish I’d roller-skated more often.”
The sheer whimsy of this statement, from a woman who was staring into the abyss, has stayed with me. I take her thought to mean that she wished she’d lived in the moment a little more; that she had taken more time to enjoy herself.
Forgetting to have fun is a trap, even with her warning all those years ago, I frequently fall into myself.
So what do I take from all this? Where does it go? I’m not going to stop thinking about my mother; keeping her alive in the memory is a duty that I have been given. I also feel that it’s my duty to tell stories of her to my son. I catch glimpses of her in him every now and then, just moments that evaporate as soon as I’ve noticed them. There’s part of me that feels on some level that he’ll know the stories of his grandma already – passed down in his DNA.
Well, it might not surprise you to hear that, as soon as he’s ready, Sam will be getting a pair of skates. I’m sure he’ll skate rings around his daddy, probably with the assistance of a set of celestial stabilizers.