My mum died just over 11 years ago. I don’t talk about it too much but it isn’t a secret either. I haven’t yet expressed how her death has made me feel or how it has impacted on me in its entirety. The truth is that it has been tiring to even think about it like that, let alone find a way to conjure up sentences that express it properly.
She was 35 when she died, which seemed miles away to an 18 year old me. But now I’m 29 and I realise just how short her life was. She had barely begun. She had barely started. She had barely lived.
In my fiction, I write a lot about domestic violence and maternal relationships, and this has been a focus of mine for many years. I grew up in an abusive home, in more than one actually, and so from an early age this has been all that I know. When I think back to my childhood memories, there are so many dark areas that I have ventured and many more left uncovered because I have a lock on that area of my past.
The few happy memories I have are those when I’ve been with my grandparents, never with my mother and that is quite sad. Throughout all the difficult times, the upheaval of moving cities and moving into refuge, through scary nights of being locked in the house with a perpetrator intent on killing us all to stop us from leaving, to her finally finding the strength to leave and return to Birmingham to all of our family, my mum was consistent throughout. She was always there. And it’s not to say that she was perfect, what parent is? I’ve learned that lesson myself now that I have children of my own. I know she didn’t always make the best choices but I understand that it can’t have been easy and she must have been exhausted from experiencing abuse throughout her life. I was angry and frustrated at her as a child and as a teenager, but as an adult I have a new respect and understanding of her and I know she did the best that she could with what little she had.
And it wasn’t easy for her. And this I knew anyway, I knew this for years that she didn’t love herself enough to choose or expect better from the men she married. But she never listened, of course she didn’t, why would she?
In the first few years of her death I was so damn angry at her. I felt abandoned and alone, left with all these internal issues with no way of communicating them with a family who didn’t really know me, and no way of making sense of it myself. I was cross because she should have been here, she should have been here to work through it all like families do on the telly. Or like families do in books. But not in my books. I write about realness, about dysfunction and drama, because in the real world there a lot of grey area and not everything is as simple as black and white.
In the last few years I have kept myself busy with my own family and the dysfunction and drama that came along with it. I learned a lot about myself with the challenges I have been faced, and found strength in myself to keep moving forward to create a life I know I deserve. Forever conscious of the impact my decisions will have on my own children but also of the example I am setting for them about what it means to be a woman.
She taught me so much without knowing, all her mistakes I’ve tried not to make. I love her but I don’t want to be like her, not all of it at all. She loved the simple things, the little things that make a difference because she was so used to be treated so badly. With what I know now about domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse, I know she must have battled demons of her own but we rarely saw it. I type that and I ask myself if I am lying, because I do recall one Christmas she took an overdose, but this wasn’t the first time. I only remember that one time but I know my nan remembers more, so I have to ask how much of that am I blocking out? She had been through a lot, more than I can type here because ultimately it is not my business to tell, those are lessons that didn’t repeat with me. And so I give thanks for her lessons from beyond the grave because through those memories she has taught me well.
This year has been a difficult year for me, particularly around the anniversary of her death and Mother’s Day. I don’t know what it is but this year it hurt so bad to reminded that she isn’t here. But she should be. It hurts so much this year to know that her grandchildren were born and are growing without ever having been a part of her lived life. They know about Nanny Sarah but they will never know their nanny like a nanny because she didn’t get that chance. I observe my friends and their relationships with their mothers and it fascinates me. How would it be now if she hadn’t gone? Would we meet up for brunch? Go shopping together? Discuss our favourite TV shows? Swap recipes for dinner? Would we go out for cocktails or share a kitchen on Sunday and cook for the family? Would I go to her with my worries and would we solve my problems together? Here’s another question: would I even be who I am now?
I talk a lot about my mum dying young and without a chance to really start living. She’d endured abusive relationship after relationship and it wasn’t until just before she was diagnosed that she met a man that treated her right. That meant a lot to her and eventually it meant a lot to us too because she got to feel what love was like before she died. I know she always felt incomplete without a man and I know now that says a lot about her own self-worth and her own level of self-love, but that’s the truth. So, her constantly picking men over her children was an act of someone who was just terrified of being alone. She didn’t feel strong without a man, she didn’t know yet that she had been strong throughout regardless. That neither husband had supported her anyway and she did all the hard work. But in the end she got to feel love and I know that was important for her. She had only just started living and then cancer took it all away.
I am so intent on leaving a legacy for my children. I have felt for a long time that my mum didn’t even get a chance to build on anything to leave for us. So for my children I am conscious that I want to leave them with something that they can feel a part of and proud of. Everything I do is for them because I don’t want to leave them with nothing but issues. I know now my mum never intended it to be this way but the reality is at 18 I had to grow up, and I thought I was ready but I wasn’t ready. I still needed my mum and I have needed her for a lot of these years now.
I assumed that she hadn’t lived her life and so when she died she hadn’t left much to show for her 35 years. She left us here, four kids and a whole family who grieve at the loss of her presence. She left us.
And tonight I think about that and it’s like a penny has just dropped. She didn’t leave this earth and leave nothing; she left us. We are her legacy. We are her reason for everything and we are proof that she tried. We are here, still, despite everything. I was angry because I thought she had left us with nothing but heartbreak, pain and unanswered questions, but now I realise she left a legacy. I am her legacy. I am proof that she tried, proof of her strength, proof of her determination to do things her own way, proof that she can fix anything and proof that she loved us and still loves us. I have achieved a lot in my 29 years and I still have a lot to go, but everything I am today is because of her. It is all because of her, the good and the bad. This person that I am today grew from the child she raised, from the teenager she battled with and to the woman who grew without a mum.
I am her legacy, we all are, and that is the greatest gift of all. I am her mark in the world and I am the impact she has made. I am her reason for everything and my achievements are hers. I get it now and I’m thankful to her for everything because without it all, I wouldn’t be me today. Without her, I am nothing. But because of her, I am someone. I am Sarah’s daughter.