Twenty years it took me.
Twenty long, hard years.
Twenty years to discern the meaning of just a few small words.
But then, that’s living and living is all we’ve got.
“You’ve got this,” my Mother said these words whilst wearing a pained smile and then she let go of her very last breath, letting go of my hand and her mortal coil as that warm air wheezed out of her.
The transformation was shocking. I saw the life seep away from her and I wondered where it went. This wasn’t my Mum. Not anymore it wasn’t. She’d left me and she’d left me in the lurch. Those words emphasised that. I wanted to ask her what the hell she meant by those few words. She’d delivered the body of the joke and left me to work out the punchline all by myself.
I felt so cheated. Like those badly edited ads that come in at a point in the film where they really shouldn’t. Like those film endings that aren’t an ending at all, but instead a bunch of questions that wind you up and leave you staring at the ceiling of your bedroom when the witching hour nudges you awake and leaves you with callous thought serpents for company.
My Mum had left me.
I don’t think you ever get over that inevitable abandonment. She broke the contract that came into being as I grew inside her. She was supposed to be there for me. Always.
When she died my life was dominated with a tag line that left me in its shadow for such a very long time.
What am I supposed to do?
My Mum was my harbour. She protected me from the true reality of living. She allowed me to thrive and to be. I was her goddess, but she was no immortal. I dwelt in a temporary, loving falsehood and I took too much for granted and she allowed me to do so, always with an encouraging smile and a kind word.
She indulged me so much! She allowed me to believe that I was a grown up, whilst all the while I ungratefully existed in the protection of an ongoing childhood.
But the curtains fell open in the moment that she died. She couldn’t keep the pretence going once she passed and I was left alone.
Loneliness is a strange and wonderful thing. I had family and friends and good people at work, but for a while after Mum’s death I was utterly alone. Nothing and no one could reach me. My grief kept everything at bay and it punished me for sins I had been oblivious to, and still am.
Frequently I tried to conjure the ghost of my mother, sometimes with a force of will that could smite mountains, and despite her continuing absence, I would ask her, “what is it that I have got?”
I knew she had the utmost faith in me, and that was also a mystery to me. I could not see what she saw and to my shame, I mistrusted her judgement and I chose not to value that faith of hers. In time I realised that I was being disrespectful and selfish, that my failure to see things her way was a deficiency that I was supposed to address. I did this and I did it for me, not her. Only afterwards did I realise that she was the inspiration for this act of mine and so much more.
The force and power of my mother’s love was invisible to me, but that is not to say that it was any lesser for that. It was I who was lesser for a while, but I could not resist her love and over time I understood just how much she had given me. She elevated me in a way that only a parent can. A parent’s faith and love in their child is incredibly powerful. The energy and focus it provides is truly wonderful.
No one tells you these things. But then they shouldn’t have to. They are obvious. I suspect that Mum did tell me and that she told me often, but I was not listening. Listening is a strange thing. For an age I mistakenly thought you listened with your ears. That’s funny isn’t it? Ears are oddly shaped meat that allow sounds to be captured. That’s all they are. Listening is something quite different. Saying ears listen is like saying that shoes walk and run.
Listening is doing. Listening is receiving something and actually using it.
It took me a long time to start listening properly and that was when I think I finally started to get it.
You’ve got this.
She was handing me the baton. Mum was telling me that I was ready. That I was more than ready. That she had done everything she could and now it was my time. My time to be. My time to live and to shine.
Life is a funny old thing, because once I started to understand what she meant I felt so happy! And then in the face of that happiness I felt so utterly sad. Sad because I wanted so much to share my happiness with her. In that moment of wanting, I saw her on a bench overlooking a vast panorama and I imagined what it would be like to sit down next to her for a while and share my happiness and tell her the most simple of things and the most important of things. We would sit side by side and I wouldn’t look at her. That gifted moment was too big and powerful for that. Instead, I’d do what I’d done so often in her presence. I would look at what it was she was looking at because if it was important to her, then it was important to me. I would sit there and share that and her presence and I would allow everything to soak into me. I would listen as intensely as it was ever possible to listen and I would give myself over to sharing this gifted and precious moment with her. Sharing it with every fibre of my being. Accepting everything around me and allowing myself to be a part of something far, far bigger than either of us, and at the end of our time together, when it was time to break the spell, I would say the words.
“I’ve got this.”