There are times I’ll see some shoes I know my mum would love, or find myself wanting to talk to her about a little problem I’m having at work for her point of view.
Other times I want to call her to ask once again what the definitive ingredients are for her one-of-a-kind spaghetti bolognese whilst I am tasting my own sauce thinking,“It just needs one more ingredient. What is it?”
The only thing about these moments is that my beautiful, sweet mother is no longer with us. I can’t just pop over or pick up the phone.
I recently drove to my dad’s place to pick up some bits of furniture and boxes of various family items destined for rehousing in my home. He’s moving out, and off on a road trip to spend time up in the warmer climes of sunny Australia. There’ll be picturesque places for him to write, and giggly, chocolate-loving grandchildren to keep him on his toes.
He doesn’t like living alone.
As we pulled onto his street, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be coming to this part of the world for a while—a suburb from my childhood, forever linked to my parents and my siblings.
Now, I was a little hungover from celebrating a wedding the night before, and I tend to get a little depressed when I’m hungover. Nevertheless, I became sad.
Give or take, I’ve spent every Wednesday with my dad over the past year and a half. Just hanging. Working side by side on our laptops. Yes, occasionally going to the pub for beers at lunchtime, occasionally having afternoon naps, and occasionally one of us (okay, me) taking photos of the other napping and posting them on Twitter.
I was sad because I realised I was mourning. Sad that another little family chapter was coming to an end.
One day last week I ate lunch in the park. It was a beautiful, sunny, autumnal day. I wanted to make the most of it as I figured there wouldn’t be too many more sunshiny days before winter hit.
I heard a familiar bird warble. I dropped my book, letting my empty sushi packet blow away, and spun around to the tree I heard the birdsong come from.
The kids rolling down the grassy slope near where I lay looked at me oddly as I waved and warbled at what looked like nobody, “Hi, Mum! I love you!”
I can’t remember when I first heard this particular bird. But I do remember the times when hearing it, that it gave me comfort.
One night I sat and listened to endless YouTube bird sound recordings in a futile attempt to pinpoint the type of bird that was warbling to me when I needed it to.
My mum was one of a kind. She was singing to me. She’s not discoverable on YouTube.
I may sound crazy, but I don’t have to rationalise something that has given me comfort. Mum has been checking in, just wishing me a good morning and goodnight, just like she used to when I was little. She knows I can’t call her, or just pop over for a visit. It’s a way of keeping her alive inside me.
It’s getting colder. Mum hasn’t said hello in a few days; I haven’t been hearing her. I thought she may have migrated for the winter.
But, then, I found places for some of the family furniture in my house, where they now look at home. I opened one of the boxes before placing it in storage. There are folders sectioned out for each of us five children. There’s Dad’s love letters to Mum before any of us even existed! And an unsent postcard Mum had written to a friend in 1997 when she was holidaying in a Tuscan villa, drinking Chianti, and cooking regional pasta.
She wrote, “I’m missing the kids.”
Far out. It’s brutal, but also very beautiful to discover our family archive and know it exists.
It looks like I’ll have to wait until next spring to hear that familiar bird warble, and maybe to take photos of Dad whilst he naps. In the meantime, I have memories.
If and when I need reminding, they’re in the random items that my mum took so much care saving for all of us throughout our childhood living in her nest, and that my dad took care not to throw away once she flew.
I told Dad I was sad that he was leaving the other day. Guess what he said: “I’ll only be a Tweet away.”
People don’t have to have passed away for you to miss them.
People don’t have to be alive to be able to say hello.
It’s always important to remember, though, that they’ll all be around somehow—however you want them to be.
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