It’s curled around the edges and blemished by time, but this is one of my favourite photographs. It’s my mum, taken before I was born but part of my own memories because of what it meant to her.
She was May Miller then and had just turned twenty-one. She told us the gifts and well wishes kept coming for a week. I think it was her favourite birthday ever. Mum was from a working-class family in the north of England where money was tight but that week, she felt celebrated. She was a glowing young woman who took the love she received and poured it into her own family, starting with me.
Mum died last month aged eighty-two. She’d been admitted to hospital on Monday and by Thursday we came to say goodbye. It was unexpected. Despite her ongoing and complicated health issues, she had always won the battle to go home. Not this time.
May’s final day was an outpouring of love and appreciation, like her twenty first birthday. By now she was Mum to three and NanMay to fourteen grandchildren and a great-grandchild. That day, we shared the room with Dad and sat holding her hand as life loosened its grip.
So now it is time to grieve and in this shocking year, I know I am one of many. Some of us are grieving loved ones. Others are grieving what the pandemic has wrested away: certainty, plans and dreams. This year has brought grief inside our homes and it is not done with us.
We are facing a future with holes and jagged edges.
But grief can have a flip side: the growth that will endure.
Grief lets me pause long enough to examine what my life holds and what it means.
Is this life I’m leading now what I want for the future?
I don’t know but asking the question is enough for now.
I am guided by words that came to me in the early hours of the morning after Mum died. They helped me see there can be a purpose for my voice and yours beyond the hard lessons of 2020. This is what I told our family at Mum’s beautiful funeral.
We are May’s legacy. We are her gift to the world.
Be kind and generous. Be brilliant in the way that is your way. The world needs what only you can give. Find out what that is and give it.
Take the ashes of what you had for that has passed bu you can take them and mould them into your own brilliant diamond of a life.
Shine when and where you can. But let yourself be less than your best when you need to, and she will be with you then. She will be holding your hand and your heart and giving you the love that you need until you can be strong again.
Trust yourself and trust love. Cry when you need to but then be happy. Love each other and make that your highest goal.
She told me to tell you that we are a gift to the world. All of us.