Saturday, 27 December 2008

Why I can no longer phone home

Welcome to the bereavement counsellor’s chair. That’s you in the chair, and me the bereaved … so if you’re not ready to be subsumed by my gloomy news, “look away now”.

My mother died of a sudden heart attack on Monday 8 December, at about 2:20 in the afternoon.

I had just returned from a very pleasant walk in the woods with my dog, and answered the phone expecting a work-related call, not my grief-stricken not-step-father saying my mum had collapsed while cleaning the windows and the paramedics could not revive her. For the record, she was only 64, and had only been retired from her very hectic publishing job for about six years.

Since the 8th, life has been a strange mixture of sadness, raucous laughter, not getting ready for Christmas, and mild panic and confusion, because I no longer have anyone special to phone to tell my news.

I live about 100 miles from my mum, and haven’t lived at home permanently since I went away to school, aged 11, in 1977. In all that time, we mostly spoke on the phone, or while we were driving around from one place to another – on work-related trips or the 50-minute ‘school run’ at the start and end of holidays and Sunday afternoon ‘tea visits’. We had a regular appointment, during my school days, whereby I would ring her on Sundays (after church, a daily ritual at my C of E boarding school) giving ‘three rings’ to let her know it was me, then redialing so she could pick up the receiver.

On the day after her death, Mr Ms_well and I drove up the M1 and back to do the grim things I now know you have to do, if you’re a next of kin. When we arrived home at about 10 minutes to midnight, we couldn’t sleep, and instead watched a DVD of Peter Kaye featuring his own personal take on the ‘three rings’. Are all northern mothers the same, then? I howled with laughter, and with sadness. My mum was a fan of Peter Kaye, and I was half tempted to have Is this the way to Amarillo? – the Tony Christie version, mind you – played at the funeral, because my mum loved it, and she used to live next door but one to TC.

Once I left school and had a phone of my own and, crucially, an answering machine, my mum’s catch-phrase of “It’s only me, I’ll phone you later”, became very familiar, and already, that’s the thing I miss the most.

So here I am, having gone through a thoroughly modern Yorkshire funeral – no punch-ups (that’s the old-fashioned way!), but emotionally charged by ex-husbands, bereaved partners, bereaved partner’s US-based son who’s a stranger to everyone at the wake, aunts and uncles who don’t speak to each other, and former bosses and their families who diplomatically fail to turn up, despite the 20+ years of devoted service given with only a pittance of a pension to show for it (which will only just cover the funeral expenses, but don’t be me started on that just now).

And now I’ve had three unexpected and unwelcome weeks off work, at a time when I’ve got a bulging order book and clients who are being extremely thoughtful through the gritted teeth of “when will you deliver that job?”

Back to work, then. As my dad wrote in my son’s remembrance book “Oh blah dee, oh blah dah, life goes on …”.

1 comment:

The Slow Smoulder said...

I am so sorry to hear of your tragic loss. What can I say? I'm glad you remember the good times.