Monday, February 26, 2024

Mum and her mum

I'm not usually much of an anniversaries kind of person. If someone forgets my wedding anniversary, I'm not devastated. After all it falls on an arbitrary date nearly 3 years after we actually wanted to hold it, decided partly by the date my ex finally gave up his nearly 4-year battle to not let me divorce him and was brought forward when my husband was threatened with redundancy leaving us without the funds to marry when we'd actually planned. Romantic, huh? I always wanted a summer wedding as I love summer. My wedding anniversary is in February🙄

Maybe it runs in the family? As a child I remember asking my granny when she got married, to which she replied 'it was either 6 o'clock on September 7th or 7 o'clock on September 6th. I can't remember...' either that or she didn't want to, she always found my gramps a bit of a handful. 

My own mother, her daughter, was the opposite. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day etc were big. Expensive cards and flowers marked every occasion and you daren't forget. Long after I had given up sending Christmas cards, for the sake of the planet, honest, I still sent one - to my mother. Dad was a bit more forgetful, often wishing me a happy birthday on my brother's birthday or similar, but he wouldn't have dared forget one of their special couple dates. 

Death anniversaries, well deaths that marked her, mattered too. I once noticed the symbol 'x' on her kitchen wall calendar. The year was 1986 and there seemed to be an 'x' on the 11th of each month, starting in March. I enquired what the 'x' meant and was told each 'x' marked a month on from the day someone had run over her cat, Snoopy. A decade later there were no 'x's on 27, the date of her own father's death. Hmmmm.

I've always found grieving to be more something that can hit you unexpectedly. I can hear a song I associated with my dad, happen upon an old photo, smell mum's perfume or catch a look in my kids' eyes that reminds me of how one of them looked, or I even a glimpse of myself in the mirror first thing in the morning with no makeup and that sets off the pain much more than a simple date on a calendar. 

Maybe I relate less to dates because I have moved time zone in my life. Had I had my boys where I live now, both would have a different birthday to the one they actually have, given both were born in the UK after 11pm, so dates are less set in my head.

Years later, mum's date obsession became an issue for me. My dad died on May 11 2012. Every 11th of the month that year, her usually sad and lost demeanour visibly worsened and she wanted to talk about little other than how awful the 11th made her feel. This broke my heart at first; she had never been without him in her adult life; she, like dad, was only in her 60s; it just wasn't fair but as the months passed I got more agitated. It felt almost like she was deliberately gearing herself up to be extra miserable on the 11th of each month, than she already was and I had a vested interest. Of all 8 of her grandchildren, only one had a birthday that fell on the 11th and she was one of mine. Approaching 3, I didn't want her birthday tied up in the spiral of sadness that the 11th was becoming. And give her her due, she didn't let that one 11th descend into depression just eight months on, but I certainly dreaded it more than I should had dreaded my baby's birthday that year.

So, today my mum has been dead for two years. It feels both like she's been gone for a decade, and simultaneously like she died last week. Growing up, February 26 was always a fun day as it was my gran's birthday. We knew we'd get nice fairy cakes and we'd spend the weeks beforehand saving up to buy her a little something: a cotton hanky with flowers on, a pin cushion, a hairbrush, a vase from a corner shop, something small that would be greeted with great appreciation. Even after she died, I still tended to remember Feb 26 with a smile as it had always been a big deal. It also marked the beginning of a big surge of birthdays in our tiny family. There were only the four of us, two grandfathers and one grandmother and of those all except my brother had their birthdays in the six weeks around Feb 26. To me that date was synonymous with endless cake and the making of cards. And by adulthood one of my best friends also had that birthday so there was always something to celebrate, usually over a shared plate of chips in the Collins canteen.

So now I'm not really sure how I am meant to feel about Feb 26 anymore. There's something rather unnerving about mum dying on her own mum's birthday. 

I really am at a loss.

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