In a few hours it will be exactly four years since my Mum died, and I’ve been thinking about the Christina Rossetti* poem I read at her funeral:
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
I imagine it’s quite a common choice for that sort of occasion and that a many people find the sentiment in the sestet (final six lines) very comforting; I know we did at the time. What struck me tonight is how as time passes, feelings subtly shift. I still miss my Mum and often think of her but I have reached a point where I can remember and smile – the alternative is forgetting, and that would be sad.
*Oddly enough, Rossetti’s other poem about remembering was a reading at our wedding.
Today should have been my Mum’s 65th birthday; there would have been a party. I could spend the day being angry she didn’t get to celebrate. I could regret missing her 60th for a friend’s wedding (naively assuming she’d have lots more birthdays but they’d only get married once). I could be sad.
Instead I will mark the occasion in a way she would have liked. I will drink champagne (which I won, improbably, in an archery competition). I will remember the fabulous spa day we had a few weeks before her 60th birthday in lieu of a celebration on the day. I will think about her wisdom, her kindness, her humour and her love. I will celebrate the years we did have… and if I cry, they will be happy tears.
Dad posted this on his blog while he was away. Rereading it has given me a boost on a few tough days. I wasn’t going to reblog it, but it’s so lovely to be appreciated publicly that I decided to share.
Thought it was about time I wrote a letter to you – well it did say’ Letters … and others!’
Going away is both a good and a bad experience. I enjoy seeing new places and having new experiences – that’s the good bit! The downside is that I miss you all so much, although I suppose that could also be a positive experience as it makes me realise how lucky I am to be so close to you, Jamie and Ben.
The last 3 years have been very difficult for all of us. First losing Mum and then the shock of Jamie’s condition. Through it all you’ve been my rock, comforting me when I found everything too much, supporting me when I needed it and giving me a telling off when I started to feel sorry for myself. You and Ben virtually gave up your own lives…
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve received about twenty emails urging me to “treat Mum this Mother’s Day”. They all have suggestions of products she might like and they’re all keen to remind me that Mum’s are very special, as if I didn’t know…
This will be my third Mother’s Day as a mother; it will also be my third Mother’s Day without my mother. It’s a day I find hard to enjoy. Obviously the people at Hotel Chocolat, Emma Bridgewater, Tea Palace, The Sanctuary, The White Company, eBay, Vinopolis, Clinique, Mothercare, Benefit, M&S etc don’t know this, but perhaps they should. They know my name and my email address; many know my birthday, that I’m married and that I have a son. They have this information because at some point I’ve bought something from them and agreed to let them keep my details and send me promotional emails. I could decline, but generally I’m happy to see what’s available. Would it be so difficult to add an option to opt out of particular holidays or occasions?
I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. Several friends in the same position agreed with my mini-rant on Facebook earlier in the week. My Dad weathered a similar automated barrage in the weeks before Valentine’s Day. It can be infuriating, upsetting or just irritating, but it certainly doesn’t create a positive feeling about the company in question. Wouldn’t it be in their interest to allow customers to opt out of receiving emails that are likely to drive them away?
If anyone who works in the marketing department of one of the companies mentioned (or any other) would like to adopt this practice, I promise not to take all the credit – though a few freebies or a gift voucher wouldn’t go amiss. After all, I deserve something nice for Mother’s Day too…
Glancing at Twitter this morning, I came across a link to this Facebook page, created by the friends of a brave young man called Will Pope. Will is in desperate need of a heart transplant, but so far a suitable match hasn’t been found. (You can read more of his story here.) Too many people in the UK die while waiting for transplants, despite the vast majority of us being in favour of organ donation.
There are two major problems with the current system, and as a result the organs of willing donors are going to waste.
We have an ‘opt in’ rather than an ‘opt out’ system.
The wishes of relatives are often given precedence over those of the potential donor.
Admittedly, I am not objective about this issue. Jamie’s heart condition means it is almost inevitable that he will need a heart transplant at some point. However, I held the same views before he was born and I don’t think my personal interest invalidates the arguments.
I believe that my body belongs to me and that I alone have the right to decide what happens to it. I also believe that when I die, my body will become merely the place where I used to live. I’m not sure where I stand on what some would call the soul, but I do believe that without the spark of the life, the body is not valuable in it’s own right. (Even if you disagree, please keep reading – I think the changes I’m advocating would accommodate most beliefs.)
1) An opt-out system. Most countries with an opt-out system have a higher rate of donation than those with an opt-in system, though this is not always the case. Perhaps there would be very little increase here but it would avoid life-saving organ donations being lost due to apathy, disorganisation or the sadly misplaced belief that bad things only happen to other people. Around 90% of the population are in favour of organ donation but only around 30% have actually registered. Of course, if someone does not want their organs to be used, their wishes should be respected and protected. People who feel that way are much more likely to act and make their wishes known. An opt-out system would protect their rights while ensuring that the organs of those who just haven’t got around to it, or who don’t really care either way, could be used.
2) Giving relatives the choice. Actually, under UK law, relatives cannot overrule the wishes of a registered organ donor. In practice, their decision is often the one that is acted upon. It’s a terrible decision to have to make, at the worst possible time. I suspect many grieving relatives have said ‘No’ and regretted it later. Organs are only viable for a very short time, often not long enough for a family to accept the death of a loved one and be able to think about how that death could have any positive effect. Sometimes they may not know that the person they loved wanted to donate their organs and to refuse feels like a passive choice, potentially a lesser mistake than agreeing. Taking that pressure away from families and assuming that the person wanted to donate unless they indicated otherwise seems like a act of kindness to me.
Changing the system is a slow process (as we are seeing currently in Wales). Until it happens, the best thing we can do is ensure that our wishes are known, by registering and informing our families.
This brings me back to Will’s Facebook campaign. His friends are asking Facebook to add a simple option to display your desire to be an organ donor on your home page, so everybody knows. It’s a little thing, but if it led to one family saying ‘Yes’ who would have otherwise said ‘No’, it could save several lives. There are so many requests to show your support on Facebook (many of which are gratuitous and even exploitative, as argued in this brilliant post) but few where clicking ‘like’ can actually have any effect in the real world. This one just might and it could be my son that your click saves… Please click here.
I heard The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ on the radio today. For years this has been the song that marks the beginning of the Christmas season for me. It’s was my mum’s favourite too so we’d both listen out for it and whoever heard it first would send the other a message saying simply “Now it’s Christmas!”. Singing along in the car this morning, I noticed my hand moving towards my bag to get out my phone and send the message…
It’s over two years now since Mum died; she was 61. I knowing losing her doesn’t make me special or unique. Without trying very hard I can think of seven good friends who’ve lost close family members (including four mothers), but everyone’s grief is different; we are all special and unique. Although I think about Mum almost every day, I’m not sad every day, that time has passed. Of course there are certain occasions that force you to remember and contemplate what might have (should have) been. Birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas are bittersweet. Personally I find Mothers’ Day difficult too, perhaps because my first one as a mother was also my first one without a mother. Receiving a card is wonderful but doesn’t replace sending one.
The grief (and it is still grief) on these dates is manageable because it’s expected. I know that when the Jam opens his presents I will wish my mum was there to see him. I know I’ll think of her on her birthday and wonder how we would have celebrated. What’s really hard is the unexpected grief, the wave that hits out of the blue provoked by some small event. For example:
Dropping a stitch in my knitting – Mum would have been able to catch it back up, correcting any mistakes on the way. I usually have to unravel several rows and start again.
The new series of Strictly Come Dancing – I can’t bear to watch the early rounds when they’re embarrassingly bad, but I do love the frocks. Mum would let me know when it was safe to join in.
The last Harry Potter films – I still haven’t watched them, partly because I’m so angry that Mum didn’t get to see them. At least we both finished the books.
Mordred resurfacing in Merlin – Mum loved the Arthurian legends. We used to speculate how the BBC version would use the stories and when this happened she was the person I wanted to call to discuss it.
When these things happen it’s upsetting, but when the painful jolt passes, I’m always pleased. My mum is still very much a part of my life, not just on special occasions but every day. She is still my role model and her example still guides me as I try to be a good wife, mother and friend.