The first year

I woke this morning at the same time that Mum took her last breath 12 months ago. I remember every detail about that moment. In fact, I can recall, hour by hour, every detail of the two days leading up to it. Apparently, the cortisol released by our bodies in times of stress embeds memory very deeply in our brains. In the months after Mum’s death, that was actually a challenge.

But here’s something interesting.

I said to my friend last week that this was going to be a big week. I was about to refer to the end of the financial year and the invoices that I still needed to send, find or pay.

‘It will be,’ she said. ‘You have your Mum’s anniversary.’

I hadn’t thought about that. 

I rang Dad on the way home and we racked our brains to remember the date. I ran through the events over those two days, and as we sat in our vehicles, he spraying fencelines and me in our driveway where I’d pulled up, we agreed it must have been the 28th.

Another girlfriend texted last night, ‘Lunch tomorrow?’, and, since she thinks of everything, it made me realise it must have been the 27th.

It was.

Was I so busy living life that I hadn’t thought of it being a year? No.

Was I still picking myself up after crawling through the ‘firsts’? Perhaps.

Or was it, as Dad and I agreed on the phone, that it was not a date we wanted to particularly acknowledge. We want to acknowledge and remember the good times. There were so many. Seventy-one for Mum. Fifty-one for Dad. Forty-four for me.

For us, as we navigate this new landscape, we want to carry with us the happy times. That’s not to say we’re not sad. That we don’t bawl easily or often. Or that we loved Mum any less just because we don’t want to mark the day she died.

For me, 12 months indicates the end of the firsts. I didn’t think they’d be hard. People told me they’d be hard. They were hard.

But they’ll happen year after year. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers Day, Christmas. We have the rest of our lives to endure or enjoy them. Without Mum. But there are 365 of those in a year. Every day this last 12 months was a first for us.

Was any really easier or any harder than the others?

I listened to a podcast in which a lady whose husband died of brain cancer said that she sometimes misses the anniversary of his death. I judged her instantly. How could she move on? Had she forgotten him that easily? She sounds heartless, I thought.

But it’s those who judge that lack heart.

I get it now. There is no moving on. No forgetting.

Nora McInerney puts it so beautifully in her TED talk ‘We don’t “move on” from grief. We move forward with it.

Some days I move forward clutching the memories of those final days.

Some days I move forward embracing memories of the good times. 

Some days it feels like I’m moving backwards.

But I’m not. Armed with those memories and the love and support of family and friends, we move forward.

Your absence has gone through me like a thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its colour.

W.S. Merwin


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