‘The memories I hold of my mother are not vast’
My memories are of comfort, loving eyes, a warm squishy body but also illness and hospitals
My memories of my mum are not
I went on a date recently and it was great. Really great. My knees hopped with excitement on the lbh (last bus home) and I sprang into the house close to waking my dad, bouncing on his bed and announcing that his daughter was now a smitten kitten.
Due to “unforeseen circumstances” the romance was to no more be. I was a little upset but felt it excessive to grieve to my friends about this loss. “Ah sure,” they’d say, “you only knew him a few hours. You’ll be grand.” And the classic line: “What’s for you won’t pass you.” And this was true; I barely knew him. Two weeks previous, I knew nothing of his mere existence. But still, I was a little upset. You see, it was not the loss of our Facebook Messenger conversations or the fun dates that saddened me, but the loss of what could have been.
My friends and I had a phrase that we used as students, “an unticked box”. An unticked box was a situation (generally in the field of romance) that was left unfulfilled or incomplete.
It was the witty, charismatic man you spent all night laughing and engaged in a tete-a-tete with in the Workman’s Club, never to see again. Or the vivacious young woman who disappeared after two magical dates. The mysterious library lad you spent four years eye-flirting with through dusty hardback books but never had the courage to ask his name.
For me, the individuals who fell under this category tended to grow, to expand beyond the parameters of their box and become something that they never would have been. Or maybe they would have. Great modern love stories abandoned at the end of the first page, or possibly not. Who knows – it never was.
Truthfully, I move on. The box remains unticked but gets lost along the way; sometimes to reappear during an annual spring-clean, in the form of a dream, or a conversation or a thought on a nostalgic winter evening. And sometimes it’s lost forever. New stories begin, more boxes are drawn and they reduce these previous experiences to a flake brushed with ease from the shoulder. These positions, you see, can be refilled; a fishing rod and a swarming sea. But there are times when this role or position cannot be replaced with an alternate. A unique box that no other shape will ever fit.
I lost my mom aged 10. Her illness began when I was eight years old. Following her death I grieved, and this grievance was at an age where it was permissible to demonstrate emotions exactly how and when they were felt.
The memories I hold of my mother, unfortunately, are not vast. They are of comfort, safety, loving eyes, a warm squishy body, homemade pizza, Oscar Wilde stories and Percy Pig birthday cakes. They are also of illness, confusion, bad smells, hospitals and erratic moods. When I reflect on the situation now, as a 24 year old, my grievance is less a loss of what was but rather what wasn’t. The loss of a loving grandmother to my future children, of the experience of sharing a glass of wine with my mother and laughing with friends at her attempts to conquer smart phones and emojis and it’s the loss of having that parental female confidant in my teenage and adult years that I can be assured will love me no matter what.
I have a wonderful dad. He devotes, and has devoted, everything to his family. He bought my first bra, he dropped tampon money to my workplace last week, he introduced me to argan hair oil and loved me with more love than a village of parents could demonstrate. It’s not the experience I had that I grieve, it’s the experiences I hadn’t and will never now have. It’s a box I’ll never tick on a sheet that I will not ever lose.
My dad once told me something that has lingered in my mind. My parents were dating in university for a number of months when my mom broke things off one summer and started to see someone else. Eventually (and fortunately) my parents got back together and they remained in a strong, loving relationship until my mom was prematurely taken away.
However, what my dad said was that this “break-up” was, for him, almost as challenging as her bereavement. At this earlier point, my dad had felt that their relationship had not yet reached its full fruition; marriage was not celebrated, children were unborn and a household had not yet been created together. All of which had successfully been created by the time of the latter grievance.
This story made me think about that evening when my mom and dad did finally get back together. I imagined my dad skipping home to his parents’ house, humming Chet Baker, battling to hide a grin from his face and the desire to jump on his parents’ bed and announce his new position as an enamoured cadaver. And though this image makes me smile, it also leaves me a little wistful knowing that each time I meet a box that sets me alight, I will never run home to my parents’ bed, but to my dad’s bed. My wonderful, loving, caring dad, but never my parents.
That box will remain unticked.