At 34 it didn’t occur to me that I might be writing a eulogy. I knew the day would come of course, but not until, well, not until I was a grown-up.
The call came on a Saturday. We had just moved house and were rushing around trying to manage our as-per-usual stupidly stacked schedule. As busy, working parents to a toddler, the weekends were less of a break and more a case of disaster management; clearing the debris from the past week, trying to get at least a little organised for the next one, all squeezed in between a myriad of activities and playdates to keep the small human entertained.
I knew something was wrong when I picked up my phone. Firstly because I. Picked. Up. The. Phone. How often to we actually use them to talk? And Secondly, because it was evening in England, where all our family is based, and not to our usual Skyping schedule.
I did as I was told. I sat down.
What followed was processed in chunks, as if my brain knew it had to focus on the facts to make sense of what it was being told, so it could find the appropriate responses.
Your Mum has passed away. A suspected overdose. Hopefully accidental. ? In her sleep. We can be grateful for that. Right. It would have been peaceful. Would it? Her boyfriend found her. He’s not coping. She was asleep, breathing deeply, when he left early in the morning. When he came back a few hours later, she was gone. So…I need to come home, I need to call work, book flights… There’s no rush. There are arrangements to be made but they can be managed with you there. They need to do an autopsy. Determine the cause. It’s the weekend. Not much can happen. Right. Her boyfriend said the last thing she told him was she was the happiest she’d ever been. That’s something. Is it? Or is that just really unfair? To have that time cut so short? She hasn’t had an easy life. It’s a release in some ways. Yes, you’re right. And in her sleep, if you had to choose… Did she choose? We don’t know. If I had to choose, I would want it to be peaceful. But was it? God, when did I last speak to her?
I always imagined at moments like these time would stand still, like a soldier to attention, out of respect for this monumental shift. It does not. While you feel like the world should stop turning, it won’t. It carries on regardless. But your perception shifts. Rushing to get the laundry done and tidying away the chaos, for fear your friends may see the way you really live, meeting for quick catch ups before nap time, running to the shops to get ingredients for dinner – which needs to be healthy because you’ve eaten crap all week, because you’re stuck in the habit of cooking two different meals, so by the time the child is asleep and it’s time to make yours, you’re buggered and romantic gestures come in the form of who offers to order the take away first – it’s the weekend, so you have time and should at least make the effort, right? Plus it’s an early start for swimming and you want to get everything organised while one of you does bath and stories…THAT stuff…that is what changes. Because in an instant, every cog in that well oiled machine seizes and it all suddenly ceases to matter. But Time? Oh she’s still going, no longer something to race, to maximise, to lose track of, suddenly she becomes a different kind of burden, a question mark – the ‘what now?’ And the only thing that becomes still is you. Welcome to inertia.
I tried to fight it at first. Looking for things to do; the washing up, the laundry. But every few moments I would just involuntarily sit down. My partner took our daughter out to give me some space, while I just kept shifting from one seat to another, trying to regain my rhythm, yet being pulled down by gravity and the weight of that infamous lead cloak slowly wrapping around my heart. I ended up at a friend’s house, seemingly glued to her sofa. Trying to make sense of it while stumbling clumsily through the shifting sands of shock, grief, regret, anger, guilt. One minute in tears, the next comforting others who called crying as they expressed their sympathies.
I went to the office on the Monday. My work forming a temporary buffer between ‘then’ and ‘now’. My workmates were my surrogate family for the blurry two weeks before I could get home. Treading lightly, giving me space, bringing me the lunches I would otherwise have forgotten to eat and consuming more tea with me than can possibly be healthy. Then I would get home and collapse into a useless heap, to be picked up by my partner in one hand, while he took on all the responsibilities of our little family with the other.
As an only child it was clear I would need to say something at the funeral, and despite my introverted tendencies I actually wanted to. My mother had many challenges in her life and I knew people’s perceptions would vary and that all eyes would be on me, gauging my reaction. As complex as our relationship was, I wanted one thing to be very clear; that no matter what, I loved her and she loved me. I didn’t tell her enough of course, I never really contemplated running out of time. Do we ever? So I googled ‘how to write a eulogy’ and closed the page as swiftly as it had loaded. There was no template for what I needed to say.
As I wrote, sifting through the memories from my childhood, the significant moments weren’t how healthy (or unhealthy) dinner was, or if the laundry was done or how tidy the house was. It was the smell of homemade potato stamps on hot summer days, escaping into books together, catching tadpoles, singing silly songs. It was the knowledge, that no matter what, we always had time.
We played Over The Rainbow at the end of the service and when I got home we looked out of the window and for just a couple of minutes a rainbow arched right over the house. When I see one now I take it as Mum sending me a sign to take a moment and pause and it usually comes when I need it most.
Our weekends as you may have guessed changed dramatically. Less running, more strolling. We let go of the pressure to get everything done and spend more time focussing on the quality of the time we have together. Which does mean the odd take away at the weekend and a tendency to shuffle piles of stuff around the house, rather than actually tidying them away. My closest friends are those who get to witness the chaos that is my real life! Now we spend more time reading together, playing games, we paint and sing silly songs. It’ll be three years today, and the lead cloak is almost gone. My heart is stronger thanks to it, but will always feel a little heavier. And Time, she insists, naturally, on marching forward. But we found a new rhythm, and I am in absolutely no rush to be a grown-up, life’s too damn short for that.