When my phone rang on January 13th, I hoped against hope that it was my alarm waking me up, although I knew, deep down, that it was the middle of the night.
That could only mean one thing: Mum had died.
It was 4 am and the carer’s voice on the other end of the line sounded too lively and upbeat, given the hour and given the news she had to impart, or perhaps it was simply matter of fact. Mum’s passing had come as no surprise to her and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, given her rapid decline over previous days, given how thin she had become and how she could no longer take in water or food.
But it was. It was a shock. Maybe it always is. Maybe nothing can prepare you for that moment.
Half-an-hour later, I sat with Mum on her bed, held her hand, touched her beautiful face, stroked her soft, silver hair and kissed her lips. And then I did it all again and again, until it was time to leave.
It’s just over three weeks now from that dark January morning and I don’t know what to write – I just know that I want and need to write. It’s what I do. It’s my natural response to big life events and to feelings that are hard to process.
I want to tell you how surreal it feels to be without Mum – my first love, my first human connection, the person who’s known me the longest and who I knew before I was born.
I want to tell you how much I loved her, how soft and cuddly she was until she became ill, and how much I wanted her to be well and happy my entire life.
I want to tell you that for years I have been acutely aware of her struggles, often feeling them as though they were my own, but now all I can think about is her beauty and her strength – her courage, her resilience and her determination to keep going on, even when it felt dark, and even when her body was giving up.
I want to tell you that my heart aches sometimes and everything feels bleak and that there are moments when my brain feels in a fog; that I feel weary and my energy seems to deplete at a much faster rate.
And then at other times I get caught up in what I’m doing and forget that I am grieving, that she is gone, and then I wonder how that happened, where the feelings went, and I wonder if I’m doing it right (ever the perfectionist, even in grief).
I want to tell you that I’m OK too a lot of the time, which surprises me, that I have hope, purpose, passion and my own unique brand of strength and resilience.
I want to tell you that I am writing a novel, whose pages I edited at Mum’s bedside in her final days, and that to continue to write and eventually publish it feels like the biggest gift to me and to Mum. I want to tell you that the writing sometimes flows and I can’t contain my excitement and then other times I wrestle with it and want to delete it all and start again.
I want to tell you that I want to honour mum in so many ways, by fulfilling my dreams, some of which were hers too:
I want to be free, live free, free of the constraints and the behaviours and habits that keep me trapped, circling my true, authentic life but not quite diving in.
I want to dance and swim and cycle and climb and see Nature’s wonders near and far.
I want to speak my truth, with grace and courage, and stand tall rather than cower, hide, dissimulate or lie to please or appease others.
I want to experience an abundance of time, money and love, and let my worries go, let them float away on the breeze.
I want to write, and write, and write and write some more, spin tapestries with my words, touch hearts and souls as I open mine.
And I want to experience peace and quiet, on the inside and out.
It’s funny, I had this idea that after Mum had gone, I’d be a different person, that I’d change overnight, that I would no longer procrastinate or worry or stress or waste time scrolling through Facebook.
But it was a fantasy. I’m still me, with my strengths and my struggles, with my ever-present, internal tug of war over whether I should turn this way or that.
But perhaps there’s a subtle shift – there’s grief, yes, an entire container of emotions yet to be resolved – but there is something else, more subtle than I expected yet there all the same: a little bit more determination, a slightly more focused mind, a marginally more courageous heart and, perhaps, once some time has passed, a sense of freedom that comes from no longer having parents.
Because both have gone now, Mum and Dad. It’s a strange feeling, being an orphaned adult (yes, there’s a term for it). At times I feel like I’m floating, suspended in air, or like a puppet whose strings have been cut and who momentarily crumpled to the floor but soon learned to stand up again.
There is nobody directly above and nobody directly below me now, as I have no parents and no children of my own (I have some other blood relatives yes, but no direct line).
There is, however, someone right by my side (she writes with a smile), a rock of a man whom I chose, incredibly wisely, to share my life with. Looking back, it was a genius move. Our family of two may be small but it’s beautiful. And on the days when I struggle with its size, when I long for something more, for more people in our little unit, I can allow myself to grieve and to heal and to cherish what I have, while keeping up the search for a new addition, a dog, when the time is right.
I’m so proud of all the work I did to be able to make such a marvelous choice and fall in love and I hope, if you’re still searching or waiting for your life companion, you take heart from my story (which you can read in my book), because I never thought I’d get here either. I really didn’t.
There’s another huge comfort I take right now, even if it’s a poignant thought: I am not alone. We must all go through this. And while some of us will experience a more complex grief than others when our mothers and fathers die, nobody escapes this particular fate (unless, sadly, we depart before our time, before them).
That knowledge that I’m not alone in my grief has given me strength over the past weeks. If others can get through this level of loss, then I can too.
It also gives me hope and purpose because I now know that when others lose their parents, as they inevitably will, I will be able to help them through.
I will leave it there for now and say more another day, as there’s so much to say. In closing, though, an acknowledgement of where I am today, almost ten years after starting this blog, which began, as I turned 40, with so many questions related to not having a partner and not having kids.
I am now rapidly approaching 50 (my birthday is in mid-March), with no parents and no children but a wonderful husband and a precious marriage.
I wonder what will happen next. You’ll be among the first to know.
If you like my writing you might enjoy my book, How to Fall in Love.
And if you like my book or the sound of it, you might enjoy my courses, How to Fall in Love – Laying the Foundations and Date with Courage, Clarity & Confidence, available as self-paced courses and as small group courses.
My group courses resume in a few weeks so please take a look at this link and then get in touch at email@example.com if you’d like to join us.
Dear Katherine, I just wanted to say how sorry I am for the loss of your mum. Such a tough time; look after yourself and lean into all the love and other treasures you have in your life. I know we haven’t met but we have a couple of lovely people in common…Mark Winter & Perry Rendell. So, I’m wishing you peace as I mop up my tears, having read your beautiful and deeply moving post about your mum. Brilliantly honest writing. Thank you. Good luck with your novel… Sending love and light, Julie
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Dear Julie, thank you so much for reading my blog and for your lovely comment and warm wishes. It’s lovely that we have some people in common. Best wishes, Katherine
I am so sorry for your loss, Katherine. Your post is beautifully written, as always, and deeply resonates with me (like you, I have a family of two (not by choice) and turned 50 a few days ago). I hope your husband and friends can bring you strength and comfort during this difficult time. Please keep writing!
Thank you so much, Benedicte, for reading and your kind words. Congratulations on your 50th and your family of two. Warm wishes to you. Katherine x
My condolences on the loss of your beautiful Mum. Thank you for sharing your grief with us. You are not alone.
Thank you so much.
I am so sorry for your loss – there is no one like your mum! I have frequented your journey for some years and also approach my 50th birthday with no children and no parents (but a lovely partner and a recent cat!). Virtual hugs from my little corner of New Zealand heading your way. Thank you so much for your openness and great writing. I wish you peace and many many more years of sharing with us willing listeners x x
Thank you, Felicity, for reading the blog, for your support and for sharing a little bit of your faraway life with me. Wishing you a wonderful 50th with your partner and cat. We are looking for a puppy and a cat to add to the family! xx