It’s been 567 days (and about 3 hours!), since my mum died. Since we watched her gasp her last breath, and feel strangely relieved (well, I did. I can’t speak for anyone else involved). It was on the afternoon of 5th December 2015, and if my memory serves me right it, it was a Saturday.
When someone dies, they leave bits of themselves behind. I’m not talking about feelings and love, or even people. I’m talking about physical things. Actions like leaving an item placed somewhere. But over time, these things become erased.
You see in films and TV, sentimental scenes where someone has kept their dead son’s bedroom just as he left it the day he died. In reality, I am guessing that this rarely happens. People’s lives move forward, rooms are needed for other uses, things get tidied away. Things change.
I am not a prolific gardener, and last year I did next to nothing in our garden. This year, we have a table and chairs. Spending time in the garden recently, I noticed a rusty old lantern hanging on the tree. Inside the lantern is about a quarter of a burned candle. It’s one of those things that has always been there, and so I had kind of looked past it.
Mum put that candle inside that lantern. An action she took long before she died. Maybe even before she moved here! It might have come from her previous house. But it’s something she did on her own. A thought, and an action, which remains here even after she has gone. And it’s something I am currently cherishing.
It’s a preserved part of her presence. I am under no illusions here, I don’t believe in spirits and souls. I know that this doesn’t mean that she is still present. But it means that her actions are still here, in this world, past any memory. Because, despite what people say, memories sometimes don’t cut it when it comes to comfort.
I like to think that the candle will remain there forever, until I die. But the truth is that it won’t. From past experience, sentimentality becomes eroded over time. 567 days is not a long time. 5871 days is a very long time. That’s how long it’s been since my dad died. 16 years. And I feel fine about it. My hope is that I will eventually feel “fine” about mum. But the two situations were very different. My dad was a difficult man, and my relationship with him was very different to the relationship that I had with mum. Mum was my best friend. We lived together for a couple of years before she died. I feel like I have lost a vital organ, without a transplant. I think the candle will stay put for as long as I need it to be there.
We still live in the house where mum died. It’s rented, but we were living here before she got ill, and through her illness, so we took over the tenancy. The bedroom where she died is now my daughter’s bedroom. It looks very different now though. Mum’s hospital bed was replaced with a kids high sleeper. Her wardrobe was emptied, her clothes are gone. The few soft toys that mum had (as a woman of 64!), were replaced with hundreds of Beanie Boo’s and bits of Playmobil.
But one thing remained after everything else was replaced. A framed picture containing the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s song “Make You Feel My Love”. I bought this for my mum and gave it to her for Christmas one year. The lyrics were as apt for my daughter as they were for my mum, so the picture stayed.
My daughter is now 6, and she is able to read pretty well. And she had me take the picture down. She didn’t want it there anymore. She said it was upsetting her. So I reluctantly took down the picture, removing the last scrap of evidence that mum was ever in that room. I still have the picture, but it’s not in the right place.
Nothing is in the right place anymore. So the candle was a comfort. I guess.