Today marks a year since my dear old mum died. I write this not for sympathy, for I have had plenty and it’s been appreciated, but to mark the occasion in a simple and straightforward manner. For it happened, as these things tend to do if the natural order of events is allowed to play out, as people get older. The death of a parent born in 1932, and one that had been ill for some time, didn’t come as a surprise, on April 5 2020. The surprise is that, in their later years, they managed to maintain their faculties, wicked sense of humour and love of silliness and immaturity. My mum, Ida, grew old but didn’t particularly ever feel the need to grow up. And I would be very keen to reach 87, if I’m permitted to reach that age, in the same manner. When I think of mum, which I do often, I mostly think of her laughing her teeth out.
So, no surprise. But, as anyone else that has lost anyone amid this global pandemic will no doubt have experienced, the Covid-adaptation to grieving and mourning has been the weirdest end to lives lived well. The tears, hugs and anecdotage amid a celebratory remembrance providing some sense of closure that one would feel and experience at a large funeral, while the right adjustment to make in order to prevent an even bigger clusterfuck of super spreadage, has left us in an ongoing state of denial, detachment and confusion.
While there’s always a similar sense that lingers after loss, sending someone off with just seven other family members and a vicar and then all going our separate ways almost immediately afterwards, complicates grief and our ability to deal with it. I write this in full understanding that some people, sans pandemic and under ‘normal’ circumstances, do have funerals bereft of any significant others – and for those people I can only say that this experience has done much to increase my empathic understanding of loneliness.
My mum would have enjoyed – and deserved – a big send-off and would have attracted a hefty crowd of admirers, for she was a very popular woman. There would have been a glorious knees up with lots of dancing, for she and my dad loved to dance so much they often wore holes in the linoleum flooring that they preferred (or maybe it was de rigueur) from the 1950s to the late 1970s (at which point they got into carpets). Yes, there would have been dancing into the early hours, until the sun came up, at least. There will still be some kind of gathering of this type, of the kind that I’m sure plenty of other people are promising for their departed relatives, but it will be so long after the fact one wonders if any purpose will be served, and how those gathered will feel, or if they will be pre-occupied with their own problems and issues that have sprung up over the last 12 months. We have all been affected by the changes to life we have experienced, and many of us severely, whether physically, mentally or financially. Even if you’re an anti-vac, Covid denier, there’s no running away from the fact that this shit is real and will continue to be so for many months and years to come. Look after each other, people, please.
On the night that I was informed that my mum only had a few hours to live, we were about to play several hours of music on a Facebook live. There was some synchronicity to this – not because my mum did bad DJ sets comprising funky house and disco on FB (she tried to use the platform but technology was not her best friend) – but that most of my memories around mum, and dad for that matter, are also bound up in music-related moments. They loved big bands and spinning records when I was growing up, their sideboard was full of very good vinyl from the 1960s and 78rpms from a previous era, the house was always full of tunes, of all genres, we were always in the car on Sundays when the UK Top 40 was on and listened and sang along together, we travelled the north dancing – often to live bands – at competitions, our holidays were always a mix of dancing and watching live music, both my sister and myself were always, and I shockingly only realise this now, provided with the necessary funds to buy as much recorded music as we wanted, we’d spend most Saturday nights down the dance hall down the street where we lived, once my sister moved out and took her Osmonds records with her, mum, dad and me would swap and share music, and they tolerated my late 1970s-early 1980s efforts to get them into a load of bands that they no doubt thought were a right pile of shit, then in her late 50s mum decided to learn the guitar, bought a Strat and played the blues, and even in later life I’d talk to my mum, over a glass of Baileys, about her terrible choice of crooners and she’d insist on still playing them to me, and me listening while she went and made us both a bacon sandwich. When my mum died a year ago, the music only temporarily stopped playing. In my heart, there was a mournful, sustained note bowed on a cello. Yet it did not last long. My mum danced to a merry tune that put a big smile on my face, and even though she is absent, her music is still there, singing away.
I hope that all those who have had dealt with or are currently dealing with pandemic-related restrictions placed on funerals, care home visits and gatherings, and have lost people during lockdown are able to cope with the serious impact of recent events on bereavement and the grieving process, and have the support and understanding of friends and family to get them through these tough times. It is difficult, but do talk to others about how you are feeling. There are large amounts of people going through similar events, and, while it might not be apparent, there is a huge appetite for listening to and being there for each other right now. It’s a cliché to insert this here but if that help is not at hand, please do seek support from the likes of Cruse, Mind and The Samaritans.
I read an article in February on the London Review of Books blog that was incredibly useful to me, personally. It is called Grief, Interrupted and is written by Jude Wanga. Jude writes powerfully about loss, funerals, the process of mourning not being complete and the nature of ‘complicated grief’. Jude quite rightly posits that what many of us are experiencing is post traumatic stress disorder. She explains, “Post traumatic stress disorder occurs when the brain can’t process a traumatic event into memory. Rather than fading with time, it remains current and live. Think of a record playing. When it’s running as it should, a song finishes and the needle plays to the next song and on to the end of the record. With PTSD, the needle is stuck, skipping and scratching, the song unable to finish.”
Read Jude’s article, it may help you as it did me. We are not alone.
So it is a year since my dear old mum died. I miss her incredibly. I often wake up thinking that I’ll nip round and see her. This is no more surprising to me than her death. I would still have missed her in the same way had my grief not been interrupted in such an unfathomable manner, which is part of the problem really, I suppose. Today there will be music, a lot of music, and I hope to raise a glass of some sickly Irish cream liqueur, in the hope that the memories remain but that this devastatingly repetitive song gets closer to running towards its fade out grooves.