It’s four years next week since my mum was diagnosed with metastatic tumours in her lungs and bones, and she and my dad called us to tell us to come home. I remember what I was cooking for dinner that night and I remember what was on the telly. There was the time before that call, and there is now, and they are nothing of the same.
I often wonder about the mother I would have become if she had lived. Less shouty? Calmer? Lazier? We are raising these little people without her guidance and wisdom and support, but not without her love. That surrounds us, still. These are the things I wish I could ask her.
How do you make a really good lemon meringue pie? And is it worth the bother? Because it’s quite a lot of trouble. This question also applies to crackling, gravy and soufflé. Obviously I’ll never make a soufflé, but the others would be useful.
Are my standards too low? I have been known to leave pooy pants “soaking” in the bathroom sink for up to five days before finally tackling them (throwing them in the bin). Is my potty-cleaning regime (a cursory swill) rigorous enough? I haven’t cleaned the oven in three years and when someone bought Eve a toy iron she didn’t know what it was. The baby’s got a dreadlock and the other day I found a fish finger in our bed. So I can sort of answer this one myself.
Did you ever sit in the car in the rain outside your own house just to get away from your screaming children for ten minutes?
How did you cook Sunday dinner for 18 people on a regular basis with good humour and good grace and without ever crying or shouting at anyone?
Will it all be ok? I sat beside you one afternoon that Spring and put my head in your lap and you told me it would be ok. You didn’t mean that you wouldn’t die, because I think you knew by then that you would. You meant that things would be ok even without you. I wish I could tell you they were.
Was there anything you didn’t like about being a mum? If there was you never once let it show.
Should we leave London? The North is cheap.
If we leave London, what should I do for a living?
Did you smile somewhere last week when Eve trotted around Sainsbury’s after me and the baby, referring to him as “you little slug”? Except in her Cockney accent it sounded like slag. And so what you got was a 2 year old following her mummy around the supermarket repeatedly shouting, “you little slaaag”.
Do I take good enough care of my sisters? I want to protect them from harm and hold them close. But I am not you. And it’s you they need.
Remember your dishwasher facial sauna? Every time I open a hot dishwasher I close my eyes and breathe in the steam and think of you.
Why has Dad painted the kitchen that hideous shade of Disney yellow?
Were you as bad at breastfeeding as I am? I am a horrible breast-feeder. I know you tried and it didn’t work, so you (sensibly) bottle-fed us. But did it send you wildly and completely mad? Did it fill you with despair and misery and shame? If only you’d been here to tell me to stop. I’d have listened to you.
Want me to tell you what happened in Homeland?
Were you ever angry? That it happened to you? That you were robbed of your grandchildren? These babies are a gift, and it was meant for you.
What shall I read next? We liked the same things and you always passed on your books. You were far better-read than I will ever be.
Did I let you down that night? The night before you died when I didn’t stay with you. When I let my little sister stay instead and told myself it was because she was a doctor and could take better care of you. But you didn’t need doctors then, you needed daughters. And I wasn’t there. I will always be sorry.
Should I ring Dad more? [Dad shouts, “NOOOO!”]
Did the teenage me give you a hard time? My skirts were a bit short and my tops were a bit low. But that was the worst of it, I promise. I wish I’d told you that.
Do you know that Granny died? I thought I’d think about her more than I do, but my mind always lands back on you.
Should we get a dog?
Will our family ever feel complete again? Will there be a dinner round a table where we do not think you are missing? Will there always be a hole in our lives and a stone in my chest?
Am I enough?