After leaving LA and heading up the coast to San Francisco, I checked into what turned out to be the worst hostel in town. I could only handle one night, and moved. I’m normally not that fussy about where I stay, but haven’t stayed in a backpackers place since I was a lot younger. Backpackers now really get on my nerves I discovered, so bloody young free and happy, and dirty & noisy, I’m too old for all that I realise. I’m glad I’m not that age anymore, but that place made me realise I’ve aged a lot in the last few years. The year I turned 30 my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and since then that event has influenced and changed my life more than anything else, it has aged me considerably I think. Everyone says your 30s are your best years, so far they have been my worst, now half of them have gone. I used to be really angry about this, angry about spending my 30s in and out of hospitals, hospices, ambulances, funeral parlours, crematoriums, seeing my mum lying dead in a bed, pissed off that it all happened to her to me to us all, but now things have changed in my head, I no longer feel that anger, and in a weird way I wouldn’t change anything, obviously I don’t mean I wish my mum was still dead, I would give anything for her to be alive, but rather what I mean is the whole experience changed me, and I wouldn’t want to go back to or know how to go back to the person I was before, before all this happened.
Grieving for my mum lasted at least four & half years, it only really occurred to me the other day that I don’t feel like I’m grieving anymore. I never felt myself come out of it, I just kind of realised I no longer felt that way. It’s peculiar as I kind of miss the feeling, the heavy weight became part of me, like my mum was always around. I don’t think a day goes past that I don’t think of her, especially not when I’m working on this project about her, but my mind isn’t as fixated on the mourning of her. I don’t constantly remember the death part, those memories no longer haunt me like they used to. I don’t know when things changed, it wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided to stop it, something just shifted, I suppose finding a great councillor this year helped undoubtedly.
I recently read the book A Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, a memoir about her husband’s death. It’s an amazing book about grief, and one I can relate to more than any other I have read. She speaks about her ‘magical thinking’, about not wanting to throw out any of her husbands shoes, because when he comes back what is he going to wear on his feet? If she does then how could he possibly come back? This makes total sense to me, this is exactly how I thought for all these years. That explains why I have an attic full of my mums stuff, why I brought all her things to my new house and boxed it all up and am keeping for her return. I have boxes full of her chefs clothes, because how could she return to work without them when she comes back? I have all her (hundreds of) books, because she needs something to read when she comes back, if not then maybe she won’t return? I have all her kitchen stuff, because you can’t throw out a chef’s equipment, how could she cook when she comes back if I have? She would never forgive me. She will need all of this, otherwise how can she come back? I’m not sure for one minute I really believed she would walk through the door but in another way I totally did, every time I heard the key in the front door I expected to hear her voice call up as she always did. This made such sense in my mind, this is the first time I’ve written about it, it might seem a little somewhat mad, but in my head it was complete fact.
When I was grieving my head was constantly in a weird state. My logically and illogical ways of thinking had complete equal control over my mind it felt. Perhaps it’s a little close to madness, but it allowed me to process things, to understand and except what was happening. It was rather nice, if you could take the sad part away it would have been a great high. The voice of reason was silenced, the voice that would tell me normally that these ‘magical’ thoughts were nonsense, farcical, deranged even, was not there. If you are lucky enough to have lots of family around you going though the same thing maybe you don’t need this, I didn’t have that so I got the ‘magical’ thinking instead, and I’m really glad I did. I could happily think totally illogical thoughts, and be comforted by them, perhaps that’s why my brain did that, to get me though the hard & dark times, without them I might just have jumped off a bridge.
Having made the decision to move out of my house when I return to London, it’s a good time to clear out all these things of my mums I’m hanging on to. Unfortunately the magical thinking fades, I know now she is never coming back, but I wish she would. I miss the magical thinking, I wish that hadn’t gone too.