I have never been one to open up. It takes years of friendship and more than a skinful before I can be vulnerable in front of anyone. I hate the thought of actively dating – just thinking about the constant flow of new people and new emotional landscapes to navigate both terrifies and exhausts me. Even in relationships I shy away from vulnerability.
There was one person I could bare it all in front of: my Max. The one person who understood me better than I could ever hope to understand myself. I was undeniably lucky that you were also my Mum. My number one go-to for any minor grievance or triumph. My confidant, my sounding board, my biggest cheerleader and an unfaltering pillar of strength. So strong, I naively believed nothing could break you. A sheer force of nature.
It was so hard watching you fade. It wasn’t real at first. The doctors appointments became local hospital appointments. The local hospital became Christie’s. I moved back home whilst my brothers went away to study at university, under the guise of ‘saving money’. Neither of us wanted to admit it was because you could no longer live alone. We blamed your increasing lack of mobility on the heat, it was a particularly hot summer after all. You were dehydrated, you were tired. When a couple of years later you stopped being able to drive, it was water retention, nothing else. A side effect of the chemo. And the Sahara dry skin, the nausea and the pains? Mere symptoms that just became our new normal.
I still saw you as a pillar of strength as I helped you bathe, as I brushed your teeth and I shaved your head. When you woke up in the night forgetting where you were, you were still my hero. And as I held you in my arms when you took your last breath and I closed your eyes, so many things were still the same: you were still the bravest person I’ve ever known.
Even though your frail figure was right in front of me, all I could see was the glamorous Amazonian woman I’d always idolised. The one draped in fur, with perfect nails and flawless skin, who moved to London as a model and in my eyes had never left the catwalk. So, I did your nails while I sat with you, waiting for the funeral director to come. I knew you’d hate to be buried with chipped nails. It’s why I insisted on being the one to do your makeup, and dressed you before anyone was allowed in to see you.
Navigating a pandemic is hard without you, but harder still is navigating life. Just getting out of bed can feel like trying to breathe underwater, and every so often grief hits like a tidal wave and floors me.
Isolation has been been hard for everyone, I know, but it’s been more than hard for me without you, my hero. Scrolling through social media I have really felt the difference between hard and harrowing. I lie in your old bed, in your old bedroom, where I used to sit and tell you about my day. I binge Netflix in your living room, where you died in my arms. I sit and read in the same chair I sat in when I painted your nails. I play with my cat in the passage where they carried you out and slid your body in the back of a black van in between other bodies. Other people’s heroes.
I’ve always been prone to depressive episodes, and now I drift through the haze of one. Quarantine only highlights how quiet things still are without you here and it’s been almost four years.
Mum, if there’s one thing I learnt from you, it’s how to fight. So that’s what I do everyday. I fight tiny battles, I fight mundane battles, I fight professional battles. Mostly I just fight my own anxiety. And I hope I’m doing you proud. I’ve never known a fighter like you.
P.s. it was me that crashed your car into the front gate. Love you.