Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday here in the UK. Do you remember how I used to send you a card on the wrong day for a few years, until I finally remembered to mark the relevant page in my diary?
You were not amused.
That is what I remember most about you, you never found me amusing. Being amused by somebody and liking them go together and where liking is missing, amusement has no entry. Perhaps you loved me, it’s what mothers do, after all.
Even when I was an adult, you found me irritating, annoying, willful, disobedient, and most of all, ungrateful. You never missed a chance to recite your litany of all the things you had done for me, had had to give up for me; “and for what”, you asked, “what do I get in return?”
I don’t know what you expected in return for having me and raising me. Later, when I had children of my own, I asked myself what I wanted from them and I found I had no answer. Once they had grown up I hoped for an affectionate, adult relationship, on equal terms and free from constraint on both sides. It didn’t work out quite the way I had hoped, but now I know that I did my best, which is really all we can do.
Which brings me back to you and me.
You often complained bitterly about ‘having been the workhorse, the unappreciated drudge’ in your father’s house after your mother died. You complained that you were the one to run the household while your brothers and sister were free to pursue their own interests. You complained that your efforts were never valued, your wishes never considered. You felt unloved.
I remember one particular occasion when, on the drive home after a visit to your sister’s house, you burst into hysterical tears, and resentment at your sister’s selfishness poured forth in an unstoppable flow. I remember being terribly embarrassed at what I saw as a lack of restraint. I wish I had understood at the time, felt sympathy rather than distaste.
Is that what happened with me? Did I also take what you gave, showing neither appreciation nor gratitude? Did you raise me, your only surviving child, with the expectation of a return on your investment? When you said that ‘Annie’, your stillborn child was prettier, sweeter than me, when you said that she would have been grateful while I ‘just took’, were you repaying your own family for the way they hurt you?
It is too late to ask you, you are gone. You would not have spoken anyway, getting close enough to speak of feelings was always to be avoided. When I tried to approach you, you always changed the subject, saying “I don’t know what you want. Things are fine, we get on well, don’t we?” But the day always came when the dam broke and the torrent of recrimination, accusation and condemnation swept over me and drowned me in a flood of guilt.
Did I finally do right when you lay dying?
When the hospital doctors and their medicines kept you alive long after you had had enough, did I do right when you demanded that I took the pills away the moment the nurses turned their back? “Put them in the bin”, you said. “They’ll see them there”, I said, “I’ll take them out with me”. We did this for a week. You calmed down and grew weaker. The doctors couldn’t understand. I sat with you, all day, every day and late into the night, hoping you would finally speak to me.
On your last day, a little girl came to visit the patient in the other bed in the room. You turned your head away from me and smiled your last smile.