Being a Daughter (Without a Mum)
by Charlea Glanville
Your twenties are all about change. It’s the period when life’s hamster wheel really picks up the pace. Jobs, happy hours, schmoozing, partners, dinners, picking out new sofas, starting your savings, go go go go.
Since graduation day (four years ago), my life too has been stuck on accelerate. The personal, professional and mental have all developed beyond recognition. Which I guess is expected from a 25-year-old, but is frankly a bit WTF from someone who spent the first part of this life stage watching her mum die.
Amongst all the adulting and bravery I’ve summoned to face dark day after dark day in my twenties, being a motherless daughter is the one that’s taken the most courage. And the one I’ve admittedly still not mastered.
A short list of cancer/poorly parent things that require personal strength: attending chemotherapy sessions, dispensing tablets at prescribed times, pretending you’re not crying when you cut their hair off, pretending you’re not crying when she wears her new wig for the first time. Turning a blind eye to frequent bouts of sickness (and other, scarier bodily functions), and an even blinder one to what’s on the bed sheets you have to wash. Pretending not to hear howling cries of pain in the night. Putting on a brave face at university. Plucking up the nerve to ask your tutor for an extension on your dissertation, because you think your mum might die before you hand it in.
“But the little things are the ones that demand bravery every day.”
Most of these were almost a breeze – handled by a daughter’s love and an instinctive, aggressive ‘fight or flight’ instinct. I wouldn’t even classify most of these things as ‘courageous’. Because they’re just things, that happen no matter what, and have to be dealt with.
But it’s the bit afterwards that really gets you. The bit when the mourning is over, the mail-order flowers have wilted too, there’s no ‘just in case you need it lasagne’ left in the freezer, the fuss and flurry of cards and support has started to tail off.
Prematurely losing your mother leaves you with a big hole. And it never really goes away, so missing them never really goes. Sure – I’ve found ways to build my life around the hole. I’ve had good jobs, even better trips, and I’ve met the love of my life.
But doing all of these things without your mum’s guidance requires a new kind of courage – fight or flight simply won’t do. It’s a bit like impulsively auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent completely alone, with no unfaltering encouragement in the crowd or safety net backstage when it inevitably goes tits up.
The big things hurt a lot: the graduation without her there, the birthdays and Christmases, the thought of your future wedding and the missing spot at your table.
But the little things are the ones that demand bravery every day. When something big happens at work, and you can’t tell her. When your boyfriend tells you he loves you and you know she’s never going to meet him. When you’re not sure if your new jeans would survive the tumble drier. When you’re off sick and you need chicken soup and dry toast on tap. When you see someone you know texting their mum, or worse when you see anyone in the street actually with their mum.
I think it’s clear: navigating the complicated, messy, emotional terrain of grief is tough. Living with nothing but a legacy to learn from is tough.
But it’s also bloody brave. There’s remarkable strength in getting out of bed every day and tackling life face on, on your own. There’s strength in mastering your own spaghetti bolognese that’s almost as good as hers was. There’s strength in every laugh that once would have been tears. There’s strength in letting her memory mould you, not destroy you.
Take it from me: you’re doing great, and we’re doing great.
Move forward, but don’t expect yourself to move on. Sometimes the spark is still as knocked out of me as it was on the first day she was gone.
But I’ve finally learned: that is okay.
Charlea is a 25-year-old writer and social media manger. She’s an advocate of pink peonies, polo necks and pugs, and usually found doing it for the ‘gram.