I visited my mother today. I brought flowers and touched her cheek. She is now younger than me by almost twenty years – her forever-young face smiling from an oval photograph, the image as fresh as the day it was placed on her grave stone.
The cemetery was full of people like myself who were there to pay tribute to their mothers ― and the purple wrappings of a thousand bouquets fluttered like the wings of exotic birds, blown off course on the cold, bitter wind.
Earlier, I had brunch with my family, cooked by my son and his wife, a nosh up that left us replete and convinced we would not eat again for a week. I was pampered and waited upon, and delighted to share this time with those I love.
Later, walking between tombstones, I reached out to my own mother, long dead and gone before her time. As I laid the flowers on her grave, the memories came in a stream, and they were as vivid as yesterday.
I remembered her laughter and mischievous sense of humour, the songs she sang ―for some reason they were always sad ― and I would stand with my face to the wall so that no one would see my tears. I remembered her scent, the colour of her eyes, the imprint of her feet in old shoes, her admonishments followed by hugs, the ginger and apple bread she baked, her unstinting efforts to keep our father (a seaman, and at sea more often than he was at home) at the centre of her family. I remembered the letters she wrote, simple messages of love and loneliness, a day-by-day account of her daily life, asking his opinion on the smallest detail so that he would not feel excluded from her decisions.
Mostly, I remembered her courage as she faced the possibility of her death. The vibrant bandana she wore as she waved me from the hospital ward and promised to see me soon. That was not to be – and the memories that came afterwards had no place in my mind on a day like today.
My mother died on the cusp of change. Her Ireland was an innocent place, pious, respectful, obedient, hidden and controlling. But the women’s movement was beginning to shout, the Troubles to explode, and brutal secrets to be exposed. She was never to have her faith challenged by scandal and revelation, her nationality distorted by those who maimed and killed in her name, to witness confident women demanding the right to equality, to dissect sacred cows and topple the unworthy from their pedestals. She was never to know her grandchildren
She missed much – and was spared much. Such is the balance of life and death. She walked this way for a short while yet the memory of her presence lives deep within the hearts of her four children. The radiance of that shine on Mother’s Day comes from love and loss. Today, I saw it shimmer on the faces to those who walked past me in the cemetery to pay homage with flowers to the mothers they will never forget.