Death of my mother

My mother died this day last month.

The finality of death. In her early nineties, she had not been well but hadn’t been dying. So her death was unexpected. I had been dreading her funeral for years and yet, when it came, it went better than I could have imagined. Like so many of our fears, I might have imagined something positive and avoided myself the wasted energy of fear.

My mother. What can I say? I’m lost for words in this public space. I was reminded of the story of the blind men and the elephant: one, perceiving only the tusk, thought that ivory was the total truth of the elephant. Another touching a leg, proclaimed that elephants were like the trunks of trees.  A third blind man touched just the tail and thought that that was what an elephant was like, while another touched the ear and was confident that he alone knew the whole picture. All thought likewise, though each one perceived something entirely different, limited to the part of the whole that they touched. None saw the bigger picture.

I too am, metaphorically, a blind man. Yet, being her son, I’ve touched more than just the tusk or a leg or an ear or the tail. Yes I know that my mother was more than any one or two or three or four or more simple descriptions of her, and it’s nice that many retained a high regard and affection for her. She was complex, as are we all. I think of things my dad told me, and things close relatives of hers and mine told me. And I recall my own experience – not always a happy one.

One cousin said to me after her funeral that when your ma dies, it’s your whole life before you. And it’s true: I have been reflecting on my whole life, a life so influenced, for the good and bad, by my mother. Leo Tolstoy said it well in his opening line of Anna Karenina: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

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