The hardest thing about being a mum over 40 after losing my own was that she was always the first person I’d call – good or bad.
It started when I was small. The bedtime stories, the surprise holidays for my birthday, falling over and breaking my two front teeth, hitting my teens with a broken heart, getting married, mam was always the word.
When I became a new mum over 40, I needed her all over again, but it didn’t happen. I always thought I knew when I would lose my mam, she’d be in her 80s having helped me through all the tricky years with little C. But that’s not what happened.
In July 2015, I visited her having just stepped off a flight after a week-long holiday in Rhodes. My dad was packing her things frantically and was going to A&E as she had fallen down the stairs.
She was 63, a size 14/16 and was OK, so I wasn’t overly worried. But I should have been, because that was the start of a nightmare. Mum had snapped her femur bone in two and needed urgent hip replacement surgery.
Having never been one for exercise, the reality was that my poor mam didn’t stand a chance of getting back on to her feet after the operation. She didn’t receive physio after leaving hospital and GP visits only happened when I called them during one of my pregnancy mood swings. The time from diagnosis to death was around a year and a bit.
My dad had to watch his bright, much-loved wife fade before his eyes. And I had to watch it, too. And I had to watch everyone else – friends and neighbours – watching her.
Being a mum over 40 to a young child, while losing your mam is truly awful. I wanted to be there for her, but I was also pregnant with little C and couldn’t help with the daily task of lifting her from one room to another.
She’d been a voracious knitter and crocheter, but was too weak even for these activities in the months leading up to her death. My dad would carry her from her bed in a morning to the living room and back to bed on an evening. As an only child, I missed having other family members to help. My husband and I – both with professional jobs – had to fill the gap as best we could.
When mam went into rehab after dislocating her hip a few months after the break, I remember just hugging her. She was fragile. During this time, I just wished life would get back to normal. Instead I watched her turn to skin and bone in a matter of months, she was distant and yellow in complexion.
In the time leading up to her death, I was extremely concerned about mam’s weight-loss. From 13st, she was down to just 6. According to the doctor (who mam had worked with for the best part of two decades), my mam had expressed a wish that I wasn’t to know anything about her condition. I foolishly listened to the GP – but only because I wrongly believed she had the Big C.
Funeral to plan
Little C was just over a year old when I got the call to say she had died. It was 4am and the day before I was to start a new and exciting job. Instead I had a funeral to plan, the house to clean, and a mountain of death paperwork to get through with my dad. There was all that, combined with having to keep it together and tell my brand new employer that my mum had died.
I was motherless at 41 and while there’s never an ideal age, I felt robbed. My husband lost his father when he was in his 20s. And I have friends who lost their mothers in their teens, meaning they never saw them marry or have children.
If there’s one blessing, it’s that my mum got to meet little C. But the fact she hasn’t seen me progress in my new job or get to hear C’s first words upsets me.
Mother’s Day is usually a day of hibernation for me. I have generally hidden away, but instead today I went to the gym. There were a few mums and daughters our age chatting in the café. I had to fight back the tears.
My husband loves me, but even the strongest bond is based on conditional love. A mother’s love is unconditional. When I was cleaning her house, I found my photo tucked inside her purse, every poem and article I’d written; every birthday and Christmas card I’d sent.
My mam never saw Christmas 2017 or little C turn two. It takes all my strength to keep going in the run-up to Mother’s Day, while wishing she was here.
She is with me in a different way. I read little C the books she read me as a child, wear her ring now and again. If I want to feel close to her I write, because that’s what she was all about too. I miss my mum most at a weekend, when I would call in and put the world to rights.
Losing a parent
Losing a parent is difficult, but as a mum over 40, I feel robbed of the future I expected. I also feel little C’s loss, knowing he is missing out on a grandma. Then there’s the other issue, fearing I will die young too.
My mam died of a condition called Primary Haemachromatosis – which is an overload of iron in the body. Only one in 5,000 people are diagnosed with the condition in the UK. This means my mam was just one of the unlucky ones.