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She died on a Sunday…….

By 22nd November 20086 Comments

She died on a Sunday; it was Remembrance Sunday, November 9th 2008.

She was 63, and it was only a handful of weeks since her birthday… a birthday I missed, the first one I had ever forgotten since I was born. My life has revolved around her survival for so long, that dates like birthdays had dissolved into the grey matter that was everyday life. She passed two weeks after I last saw her, I had received the ‘call’ to come now… only to arrive and find it was a false alarm, and so after a few days I had to return to England…. to wait for the phone to ring again.
It has rained for 4 days now, hard dark torrential rain, swept up by a relentless gale that has lashed at the windows and doors. Its like the world knows… it echo’s the darkness swirling inside my empty body. I hurt,… my head aches.. my feet drag and I need to wash my face. I have laid in bed and ignored my phone, I’ve lashed out, I’ve cried, … I’ve been normal, insensitive, broken, hysterical, calm.
Somehow, I knew……. The night before I completely broke down and cried like she had died in my arms. I had sat in the dark on my bed and watched the local Guy Forkes fireworks fracture the night sky over the rooftops, and with each one I felt an overwhelming sense of loss.. time was running out… I felt it in every part of my body.
The next day I was up at 7am, and did something I had never done.. I took my camera, lenses and notebook and went to London for the Remembrance parade. I went on my own, and stood in the crowds, two poppies pushed through the yarn of my hat…. I wanted to meet the war veterans, I wanted to hear their stories and spend some time with them. I was so ashamed I have never been to Whitehall to pay my respects, and as the 2 minute silence started, I found myself crying, overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment, but suddenly filled with the loss of mum. I should have stayed at home, but something had pushed me to go that day.
As the guns fired to signal the end of the ceremony I realised the veterans were marching in the opposite direction to where I was standing. I ran through the crowds, only to be stopped by fences and diversions, everyone stood and clapped for the ex servicemen, but in a strange quiet way. There was no cheering or shouting, just the hard slap of hand against hand, ringing out through the bleak morning air, bouncing off the buildings and mixing with the beat of the veterans footsteps. I had to run through St James Park until I finally came to the end of the route. Breathless and embarrassed I stopped some of the men as they said their goodbyes to each other and headed for the coaches. I dropped my pen as I tried to write down their names, and asked vague and timid questions about their service and where they had been based. I realised I should have prepared more and felt even more ridiculous with every second. I only spoke to 6 men…….. all of whom were over 80 years old, and had marched the whole route on that freezing Sunday morning. One had joined the army in 1938 serving 20 years, he was 86 and waited patiently while I dropped my business cards and thrust my camera in his face. He had a beautiful smile and stood with his arms behind his back the whole time. He shook my hand when he left, and had said it had ‘been a pleasure to meet you Kirsty Mitchell’ – he must have read it off the card I had dropped in the mud, … I had asked his name and written it down , but I couldn’t even remember it as he walked away. None of this had been disrespect – it had been the opposite. I had found myself in the company of men who had risked their own lives for people like me, who have seen horrors that most of us could not even dare to imagine. I felt humbled and overwhelmed by it all…. And suddenly realised I was shivering and completely exhausted. Normally I would have stayed for much longer, but my legs began to give way and I knew I had pushed myself too far. As I walked back to the train station I began to cry, it was like I had reached my limit, there was nothing left… I felt like mum had died, I felt like I could not get up and go to work again for a month. I didn’t want the phone to ring, I didn’t want to see anyone, I just needed everything to stop.
The rain had stopped for the parade, but started again the moment my train left the station, I lent my head against the window and watched the trails of water stream against the glass… the sky grew dark and the weight on my back grew heavier. I finally got home at 2pm and crawled into bed… until my father called. I already knew before I heard his voice, it had been in my heart the whole day. She died in her sleep, it was over.

I had taken my camera to the hospital the last time I was there…. I had wanted to take her picture, because I wanted to remember everything, and never forget her in all the good and the bad times, but it had felt wrong. I had dreamt about photographing her hand in mine as a picture of our bond… but none of it was right. It was a lesson to me, I knew she hated how she looked, I knew it would have upset her…. And so I left it in my bag. It was wrong, our life together was about everything we done and shared. The love she had given me, and the beauty she had instilled in my heart. Someone dear wrote to me and said that being there when she stopped breathing was not ‘the sum of us’…. And that on reflection is so true. My mum was fanatical about the plight of the World Wars,. She had taught every single one of her pupils about the atrocities of the holocaust, despite it being removing from the national schools programme. She maintained it was mans greatest lesson, and that no child would ever pass through her doors without understanding it. I suppose what I am trying to say in some messed up way, is that she was with me on Sunday… I think she would have been happier that I took the time to go to London, than stay in bed and cry all day like I so easily could have done. So the pictures I have from that day are not of her, but are of the men she felt so passionately about.

Some say every picture taken is a self portrait, that somehow whatever is happening is always reflected back from the subject. The picture I chose for this entry still haunts me… looking into his eyes now, it is almost as though he knew before I did. There is something indescribable that hits me time and again which maybe only I will ever see. His name is Len Hale, he was 86, he served in the Air force and had marched the entire parade route on that freezing Sunday morning. I guess he will never know what his picture now means to me……………………

** I wrote this entry a few days after mum had passed away, and so much more has happened since. The funeral has been and gone, and I have finally come back to England. I don’t know If I will ever be able to write about the last few days, or how I feel right now. I woke up this morning thinking that I must ring her, it had been a while……… I was half asleep, and then froze as I realised my mistake.
I never want to go back. The thought of getting on a plane at Christmas is unbearable right now, but I know I will have to for my fathers sake. Nothing prepares you for grief, you feel guilty when you have a moment of normality and then suddenly you realise the floor has been taken away again. I can’t sleep, all I see is her in the hospital, everything I touch is her, everything I taste, smell and feel. I have sudden bursts when I feel its time to see people again……. followed by the overwhelming knowledge that I can’t. I’m at the beginning, and all I want to know is when its all going to be over, and when I’ll stop feeling like this.

The one thing this has shown me is who the important people in my life are. Who the true friends are, who the real people who love me are….. I wont write a list but they know what they have done…. and I know I wouldn’t have the strength to write this without them.

I miss her, I love her so much,
My beautiful, wonderful mother Maureen…………….

Author Kirsty

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