Before I had children, I paid scant attention to Mother’s Day. I loftily dismissed it as commercial claptrap and as just a way for the card companies and florists to drum up some business. I always sent a card to my mother, but more because I thought she would feel left out if I did not than because I felt it was a meaningful thing to do.
After I had children, I changed my view somewhat, realising that there was something very lovely about being acknowledged and celebrated as somebody’s mother and I made a point of sending a (slightly less ironic) card and of ringing my mother on the day. I even managed to laugh along when, on the first Mother’s Day after my first child was born, my husband presented me with a card and gift from our baby son. It was unlike him to buy into Mother’s Day – he did not even send his own mother a card – so I was surprised and delighted. Slightly less delighted, though, when I opened the present to find a bottle of washing up liquid, as an ironic recreation of his first Mother’s Day gift to his own mother in the early 1970s, a story which I had previously scoffed at.
This year, I am facing another first – my first Mother’s Day without a mother. It is the latest in a year of first withouts, hot on the heels of the first Christmas and first birthday. I have never been more conscious of banners in supermarkets exhorting me to treat my mum or emails from companies suggesting thoughtful purchases that my mother would love. Even a week before the day, my Facebook page is filling up with news of treats planned for others’ mothers.
Technology, it seems, will also not accept my mother is dead. I get email reminders that it’s been a while since I played Words with Friends with her – why not start a game? I forget that I stored my parents’ home telephone number under my mother’s name in my iphone and that I haven’t changed it, meaning that a rare telephone call to my mobile from my father several months after her death suddenly lights up the screen with my mother’s photograph and gives me a swift, heart stopping belief that she is actually somehow calling me from beyond the grave.
I have been asking myself, if she was still here, what would I want to say to her? She wasn’t the sentimental sort, so it wouldn’t be anything soppy. I’ve decided it would be a mixture of the big things and the little things.
Eight things I would choose to say to her to mark the eight months she has been gone:
1. You know the way you used to love getting places in just the very nick of time, not a minute too early? Well, you were nearly late for your own funeral, it would have really entertained you. As we sat in the funeral car following the hearse containing your coffin, heaped high with your favourite yellow roses, we all started to panic slightly that the driver’s stately, appropriate progress through the Scottish countryside was not going to get us to the crematorium on time. Urgent messages started to be exchanged between the sisters in the funeral car and the sister waiting at the crematorium. But we swept up to the entrance exactly on time, not a minute, not even a second, early. I think you would have found it immensely satisfying.
2. my first son, your fourth grandchild, now speaks with a deep voice and has a little moustache. He was already taller than you; now he’s nearly taller than me too.
3. Strictly was a bit rubbish this year, after all. Ditto the second series of Broadchurch.
4. we are all getting on with each other and all of us are making a lot of effort. We are looking after Dad and he is coping. He has been to visit all of us and he even came out to watch the children at the swimming pool.
5. I wear the ring you left me every day. It makes me think of that rainy day of ring shopping in County Longford, after which we sat in the pub watching Andy Murray lose at Wimbledon and of how you were so appalled at his teary reaction. You felt it was not how a Scottish man should behave in public.
6. My daughter passed all her grammar school exams and remembered your cautionary tale about not turning over two pages at once, as you did in the 1950s, before she went in.
7. I’m sorry that I did not realise how much you held everything together in the family until it was too late. I wish I could tell you what a great job you did with that. Your influence is still strong and manifests itself in the little things. Everyone in this house knows what ‘Grandma towels’ are.
8. Thank you for the tablet and Scotch pancake recipes. They still go down really well.
Happy Mother’s Day.