The day that you were born was the happiest day of my life. I gazed down at you lying in my arms, and you stared back up at me, your big blue eyes brimming with a level of innocence that only a newborn could possess. I was exhausted and in pain, but my heart was full. I made a promise there and then, to always love you as much as I possibly could no matter what.
I kept that promise with me through the dirty diapers and the terrible twos. I remember your first day of preschool, and how you bawled when I tried to leave. It broke my heart, but we both had to be strong. I missed you terribly that day. When I came to collect you four hours later, you came hurtling towards me, a huge grin on your face, and arms outstretched for a cuddle. I fought to hold back the tears as you yelled: ‘mummy!’ brandishing the same wave of emotion as I was experiencing but, as an adult, felt compelled to hide.
When you started primary school you were somewhat shy, and it took a little time to form close friendships. As I tucked you into bed one night, you told me: ‘mummy, you’re my best friend’. Whilst I wanted you to have school friends I knew that you would in time, and part of me secretly hoped that you would always see me that way.
I remember the day that you came home to find that the dog had destroyed the art project that we’d been working on together. You were in tears, distraught. ‘I’ll never win the art competition now!’ you had wailed. I placed my hands on your shoulders and looked you in the eyes. ‘Sweetie’ I said soothingly, ‘it’s not over til it’s over’. I smiled at you, and you sniffled as your tears stopped. We worked on it all evening, and lo and behold we got it done. You didn’t win but you came second. I told you that same thing many more times throughout your childhood. You had a tendency to give up when things got hard, and it became a sort of motto for me to motivate and reassure you.
You were thirteen years old when I made the decision to divorce your father. I knew that you blamed me and it tore me apart. But you were a child and you couldn’t understand the complex inner workings of a relationship. When I looked at him I saw a manipulative, emotionally abusive man, from whom I had grown apart, but you just saw your daddy. Still, I kept my promise. It didn’t make me love you any less, although it sparked the start of the breakdown of our relationship.
As you voyaged through your teenage years, you preferred spending time with your friends to spending time with me. I told myself that this was normal, although it still hurt. You started spending more time at your father’s house, and you and I drifted further apart. Still, I kept my promise; I still loved you just as much as ever.
The day we dropped you off at university was one of the hardest days. It took all of my strength to hold back my tears, to disguise the fact that I was falling apart inside. 'Mum, I'll be fine' you told me, rolling your eyes as you hugged me goodbye. And I believed you; it was me I was worried about. The house felt so empty that night, and I couldn't bring myself to look at your empty bedroom for weeks. The walls that were once adorned with posters were now bare. I even missed the days of hardly being able to see the carpet beneath a sea of dirty clothes and makeup.
For the first few months, you'd text or call me occasionally. But it soon dwindled as both of our lives got busier. You were just a one-hour drive away, yet it felt like we were separated by miles of oceans and lands unknown.
Your dad picked you up that first December to bring you home for Christmas, and I couldn’t wait. It broke my heart when you told me you were going out to catch up with your friends on the first evening that you were home. You could see it in my face. 'Mum, I haven't seen them in months!' you told me grumpily. 'You haven't seen me either' I muttered. You rolled your eyes, unlocked the front door, and left for the night. You may not believe me, but I always kept my promise with me. I always loved you as much as my heart would let me.
I kept it with me when I got sick. My weary body was falling apart, like our relationship. You were away at university at the time, and I made a decision not to tell you. I didn’t want to worry you when you were busy with coursework. I never made a decision to stop trying to contact you, but in wanting to hide my illness it happened on its own. For the first time in months, you texted me saying that we should catch up on the phone. I couldn’t bring myself to speak on the phone and pretend that everything was okay, and so I did something I grew to regret. I ignored your text.
Over your three years of studying, you mostly only came home during the school holidays. Your final year was a difficult time. I couldn’t fully appreciate it, having never been to university myself. But I was proud of you, and as always I kept my promise. I continued to love you as much as I could, despite your grumpiness and tantrums as you struggled tirelessly with your work. When you came home for Christmas, I had to convince you not to quit your course. ‘You’re so close to the end, don’t give up now!’ I told you. You cried in frustration ‘I won’t pass anyway, I can’t understand this stuff!’ And I told you what I had always told you when things got tough: ‘It ain’t over til it’s over.’ And you knuckled down and continued to work, passing your January exams, your hard work rewarded.
When you came home for Easter, you spent most of your time holed up in your bedroom studying for your finals. ‘Sweetie, leave it for today. Let’s have a girly night and watch a film’ I suggested, desperate to spend some time with you. ‘I can’t!’ you argued ‘I’ve got so much to do!’ ‘I haven’t seen you for months’ I said sadly, feeling once again let down as I stood in your bedroom doorway. You were sat on the bed, laptop on your knee, and surrounded by paper. You kept your head down and said nothing, focusing on your work. After a few seconds, I gave up and turned to walk away. I pulled the door behind me, and you shocked me by piping up: 'And whose fault is that?' I spun back around, opening the door and turning to face you. I stared at you in shock, lost for words. 'I’ve been home so many times over the last three years, and you haven’t been to see me once. Dad has visited me. Everyone else's parents visit!' It was a fair point, and I realised that we had both let each other down. I had never had driving lessons, and the thought of taking the tram into town and rushing to make a train on time filled me with anxiety. I had never quite gotten the hang of the things. Oh, how I wish now that I had faced my fears and visited you when you were just an hour away.
After you graduated I hoped that you might move back home. The issue of distance would be gone, and we could re-build our broken relationship. But you had other plans. You wanted to travel the world. I was disappointed, as any mother would be. I had never caught the travel bug so it was hard for me to understand. I wanted to be supportive, but I desperately wanted you to stay. You told me via text that the flights were booked – you were heading to Australia for a year on a working holiday visa. I was forlorn.
When I thought about you being on the other side of the world I was filled with regret that I hadn’t made more of an effort to visit you when you were just an hour away. I wished that I could go back and make time, face my fears, and take the train up once a month. But those days were gone, and there was nothing I could do to change it. We both cried when you hugged me goodbye at the airport. Whilst it tore me apart to see you upset, I felt an unexpected sense of relief. It was the first sign in years that maybe you still loved and cared for me.
It became more difficult to keep in touch when you were on the other side of the world. The time difference didn’t help, and you were off building a new life for yourself, making new friends, whilst I was busy with work. It may sound awful, but I hated the decision you had made, even though it brought you happiness. Despite that, I kept that promise that I had made on the day you were born, and I continued to love you as much as I possibly could.
If the idea of taking the train had filled me with anxiety, then the thought of flying sent the anxiety overflowing, flooding the house and drowning me. I had once taken a short flight from Manchester to Dublin for a wedding many years ago. I squeezed your father’s hand so tightly for the entire duration, my own hands shaking uncontrollably. The idea of making the 24-hour trip to Australia alone to visit you, and navigating an unfamiliar airport to switch planes, was unthinkable.
I counted the months until your return, eager to see you again. But once again you had other plans. You were having the time of your life, so much so that you had decided to stay for a second year. I was happy that you were happy, but it was another stab in my crippled heart. Part of me feared that you would never come home. But I tried to push those worries aside, telling myself what I had always told you: it ain’t over til it’s over. I didn’t know what you would do yet. Still, I kept my promise with me, to always love you as much as I possibly could.
I kept it with me as the calls and texts dwindled over your first few months away. As I saw photos of you with your 'best friends' whose names I didn't even know. I kept it with me when I bumped into your father he said that he was speaking to you regularly. I had to accept it – at some point over the years, you had grown much closer to him that you were to me.
I kept it with me when my health took a turn for the worst. Just like our relationship, I wasn’t sure if my sick body could be repaired at this point. Yet I continued to focus on getting better. I told myself that if I could fix my broken body, then I could fix our relationship afterwards. And there was a point when the doctors said I seemed to be improving. I had new hope. That was when I bumped into your father in the supermarket again. He told me that he was making plans to go and visit you. He told me that you were having problems. It seemed that when I stopped fighting for our relationship it had contributed to sending you into a spiral of depression. I felt hopeless. It seemed that maybe deep down we both wanted to mend our problems. I wished desperately that I could gather the courage to fly to Australia, to repair our damaged relationship, but you had your demons and I had mine.
You had been away for a year and a half when the world got turned upside down by coronavirus. I felt further away from you than ever. Both the UK and Australia were in lockdown when I collapsed. I was rushed to the hospital. The doctors whispered and murmured, they said that they were doing everything they possibly could but it appeared that I had taken a turn for the worst. Your father surprised me with a visit after hearing the news through a mutual friend. He asked me if you knew I was sick, and I told him no. He asked me if I wanted him to tell you. I was beginning to accept the worst-case scenario – if I don't tell you now I may never have the opportunity to. Your father said that he would tell you, but he warned me that you may not come home. If you left the country now then you might not be allowed in, and you were trying to stay permanently. Furthermore, flights were extortionate and constantly being cancelled. I hoped that unlike my sick body, our relationship could be fixed, but it seemed unlikely.
Whilst I never let go of the hope, I began to accept that I might not see you again. I regretted not doing everything I could to gather the courage to take the flight to Australia when my body allowed it. I grew more tired by the day, and I remained in the hospital for several weeks.
I had all but accepted my fate when I heard the nurse's voice this morning: 'She's just in there' she said gently. I looked up towards the doorway, and there you were. I was shocked and elated. I even managed to muster the strength to smile for the first time in a while. ‘Darling’ I gushed ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’ You perched beside me on the chair, smiling down at me. ‘Of course’ you replied ‘I couldn’t stay on the other side of the world, knowing that you were sick.’ ‘Weren’t the flights expensive? Will you be allowed back into Australia?’ I asked. 'It doesn't matter' you told me. I smiled. Maybe our relationship wasn't like my sickness at all. Maybe it could be repaired. But for that to happen I had to tell you the truth. 'Darling... I don't think I'm going to make it through. I think this is the end for me.' Your face stayed neutral. 'Did the doctors tell you that?' you asked. 'Well, no' I replied. You smiled weakly at me and squeezed my hand. ‘Well then. It’s not over til it’s over.’