It seems somewhat odd to be writing this because as anyone who knows me knows, I’m not one for being sentimental, not in public anyhow. But on a forum that celebrates being a mum I wanted to give a very small, personal perspective of losing a mum – and following on from that, being a mum, without a mum.
My father died suddenly of a heart attack when I was eighteen. Perhaps this had an effect on my relationship with my mother so that we did more together and appreciated each other, I’m not sure (although she wasn’t one for sentimentality either). Horses were central to my mother’s life (horses and books) and I followed in her footsteps so that we’d spend a good portion of our time together over the summer months, travelling miles in our little horsebox (my mother was a terrible driver but somehow, she was much better behind the wheel of a lorry!)
We were off to a show the weekend she fell ill. She rang me on the Saturday night to tell me she wasn’t feeling well enough to join me in Gower Show the following day – and a few hours later she rang to tell me she was on her way to Glangwili Hospital. I won’t go into detail about what happened over the following months but in short, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer and fifteen months later in the following Autumn she lost the battle.
Three weeks before she passed away I had sold my cosy little house in Swansea and moved back to west Wales to live on her 40 acre smallholding. We knew by then that there would be no recovery from her illness, but the end came much sooner than I had expected. Within 5 weeks of moving back the funeral had been and I was sitting alone in her kitchen, feeling utterly lost and bereft on many levels. In combination with the grief was the guilt, the guilt at not having been a better daughter in the final weeks.
That first winter living in what had been her home, whilst trying to make it my home, and commuting to Swansea to work at the same time, was a long and lonely one. Wales was also frozen solid for weeks on end and we had heavy snowfall, making caring for the horses single-handedly hard work – although looking back, perhaps it gave me something practical on which to focus.
Until that point I don’t think I had realised quite how much I relied on my mum. She was my best friend. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of secrets between us – she came from a different generation and there were subjects we didn’t really discuss. But I realised in those lonely months following her death that I had turned to her for everything, that she had been my rock, the quiet, solid presence. Not having her at the end of the phone left an enormous vacuum, and I’ll never forget going to my first horse competition without her, and crying after arriving home.
Slowly of course things started to improve, I started feeling at home in the house, the summer months came and that overwhelming sense of loss, that raw grief that can make you lose yourself, started to ease.
But then, nearly as suddenly in my case, came motherhood and from the minute the baby arrived (things didn’t really register during the pregnancy, which was all quite surreal) there was a new wave of loss intermingled with the happiness.
First of course was the urge to phone home and tell her that the baby had arrived safely – and a sadness that she’d never take that call. And that longing to speak to my mum was ever-present in those first few weeks. In a world that throws an endless amount of conflicting and confusing advice at mothers, the only person whose opinion I really wanted to hear was my mum’s (after all, I’d turned out OK, right?).
Breast or bottle feeding, routine or no routine, co-sleeping or cot, solid food at 6 months or before, etc etc? From cooking to nappy changes to needing a cwtsh, and most definitely needing a decent sleep, I wanted my mum by my side. But above all perhaps, I just wished that she’d been able to meet her little grandson, to feel that joy. All of her friends who visited would go quiet before saying, ‘Your mum would have loved this’ – and each time I felt a sharp stab of grief. But having said that, I didn’t mind anyone saying it, quite the opposite in fact, I was pleased that people remembered her and acknowledged her absence.
To be honest the first year of being a mother, without a mother, was much tougher than I’d expected and although the grief is much less ‘present’ these days, 5 years later it still hits me occasionally, usually without warning. You ache for the practical and emotional support and when you see other grandparents out and about with their grandchildren, or see the family snaps shared on social media and it’s hard not to think how unfair it is that your own parents will never experience these things with their grandchildren. And just occasionally there’s a sense of bitterness – when I hear people whining that their parents can’t or won’t babysit, I have to work hard to keep my mouth shut.
But the truth is is that I have nothing to feel bitter about and I’m not writing this for sympathy. I know how lucky I was to have a mother (and father) who was a friend, who was always there for me, full of support, love and wisdom. In some strange way I am glad that I won’t see my parents age and witness the cruel effects that that process can have. I can remember them as fit, healthy individuals full of life and humour, and I won’t have to make any difficult decisions about their care.
My children talk about mamgu and tadcu and are shown photos and hear stories. Sometimes my son, Trystan, will suddenly say, ‘I miss mamgu’ and my heart misses a beat, even though I know it’s really just the ramblings of a five year old.
And so, in many ways I don’t really know why I am writing this. Perhaps it’s just to remind people not to take things for granted – it’s a cliché (a somewhat nauseating one), but it’s true.
And also to say, if you a have a friend who has recently become a mum, but who is missing her own mum, take a lasagne with you when you visit, do something small and practical that her mum would have done for her during those first few weird months of motherhood, it really will mean the world to her.
By Branwen Davies
Mam Cymru would like to say a huge thanks to Branwen for contacting us and offering to share her story, you are amazing X
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