She used to sing.
The sky would be swollen with morning clouds, a mist that clung to the mountain like a thick duvet, like a child unwilling to get out of bed. She’d wipe frost from the windows and buckle our seatbelts, as my sister and I fought over the front seat, beneath early morning skies, we’d drive to school, and as we navigated those familiar roads together, we’d sing.
As time passed, as we grew, as we morphed from little girls into young women, she always had the driver’s seat. From London to Cape Town, the three of us shared this sacred and habitual routine every morning, every afternoon. Her presence was protection, safety, and reassurance. She was our guide. I never saw those days as numbered. I never foresaw the day when I would have to be the driver of my own vehicle.
She was always there.
The best part was singing together. It started with “Nelly the Elephant” and eventually led to “Westlife”, ” Robbie Williams” and “Eminem” (NB: British children in the 90’s), hell there was even a “Crazy Frog” stage. She never minded. Whatever we blasted she sang along, humming a tune, her eyes bright with the joy of being surrounded by youth and lightheartedness and the opportunity to sing and dance and play. She only ever really wanted to sing out loud. To dance like she had as a teenager growing up in Canada. One of her favorites was Celine Dion. I’m listening to Celine Dion’s greatest hits while I write this now, just to remember her.
To remember what it was like to be so small, to look up to this person, to feel the warmth of this matriarchal figure, this woman whose hands were soft and wrinkled and felt like coming home. Who held me tight and tucked me in at night and let me sit on her lap in the movies where I was scared. Who sucked butterscotch sweets and smelt of oil paint and the La Coste perfume I bought for her birthday every year.
She was warmth and Christmas morning and sandwiches with the crusts cut off and tennis hats and suncream and Sunday walks with the dog.
I am growing. I am an adult now. I operate in this world independently. I live abroad. I work. I pay my rent. I navigate through this world without her. And I’m ok. I’m ok.
And yet, she is always with me. She never leaves me. I carry myself through each day with her inside of me. I can’t get over her. I can’t let her go. How does a little girl let go of her mother? How do I let go of her now even though I’m grown? How do I move on?
I don’t. I cant. I won’t. I think this is my lesson. This is all of our lessons. We don’t get to forget. We don’t ever get to truly let go. But we do get to heal. We do get to carry on. Our wounds do start to feel lighter. We discover new joys. We meet people who show us what it means to love, what it means to be loved. We find ourselves being held again by someone who makes us feel safe and alive and protected. We find a home in new places, new faces and within ourselves. We find we are able to laugh and cry and dance and sing out loud again. We find that despite the loss we are capable of carrying on.
But the memories and the reminders and the feeling of missing them doesn’t go away. Maybe that is a good thing. Maybe pain is a necessary reminder of who we are and where we come from and what our lives are made of. Maybe our childhood and our parents and our past are meant to linger, to humble us, to ground us, force us to remember that we’re all just little boys and girls playing dress up and it’s ok to cry.
We had them. That in itself is enough. The fact that we got to experience their light and their love and the way they sang along beside us in the car.
And I think ultimately the hardest part of losing someone young, particularly a parent, is just not getting to know them as an adult. The things I would do to know my mother now. To engage in a conversation, to drink a bottle of wine with her, to dance around the house with her, to walk hand in hand on the beach with our family dog Benji, her dog. To have her see me. Not as a child but as young adult fighting to survive in this world, being brave and vulnerable and unafraid. To have her by my side in the hospital when I was experiencing something no child should ever have to experience. To have her visit me abroad. To travel with her. To sit, curled up on the floor of her studio like I did as a child and watch her paint. To feel her express her pride in who I am and what I live for. My heart aches for the moments I will never get to have with her.
And yet we carry on. We carry on because life is beautiful. Because there is so much to live for. The Friday mornings and the cups of coffee and the airplanes and swimming in the ocean and books and songs and dogs and decadent meals and friends and travel. Exploration and growth and understanding. There are a myriad of wonderful things all around us just waiting for us to appreciate. There is never a shortage of things to love.
And loss has given me this. Losing her has given me the realization that there’s nothing else for us to do but be grateful for this moment. To realize that it’s all so temporary and we cannot hold onto it. We can only love. Loving people is bliss. Feeling the love of others is bliss. This is why we live. We are put here to love. Deeply and profoundly and with everything we have. To share that love with everyone we meet. That’s all we can do. That’s all we can do with this little time we have.
Love everyone. Hold them tight while you have them. Be open and vulnerable. Be messy and wild and raw and send messages at 3am to your first love and dance around your house naked and speak your deepest truth and don’t be afraid to talk to strangers.
She never was.
Oh, and sing.
Sing in the car. Sing in the street. Sing in the shower. Sing when it feels like you are broken. Sing when you feel like exploding with joy. Sing along to the cheesy songs, to the ones that remind you of being 4 years old driving to nursery singing “Nelly the elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus…”