The fact is, she was ill
It’s funny what you remember. Some days I can barely remember to brush my hair in the morning; and yet the moment my Dad told me my mum was dead, is as vivid in my mind as if it only happened last week.
6.04pm. It was a Tuesday and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air had literally just started. I was sitting in the front room, curled up in ‘my chair’ cracking on with my home work as I did every day. Dad hadn’t long been in from work. I had called up to mum; who was in her bedroom, when I got home from school, but hadn’t got a reply. It wasn’t unusual for her to be asleep when I got in; and so I thought nothing of it, and thankfully, as it would turn out, hadn’t gone up to see her.
I remember the words: ‘Charlotte, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I think your mum’s dead’.
I imagine that people would think that they would crumple at being told such a thing, but all I felt was annoyance. I know that sounds like an odd reaction, but my Mum was pretty ill, I realise this now. At the time, her manic episodes and her crushing lows were a usual and irritating occurrence. It sounds awful now, but as a teenager I got so exhausted of her bullshit. Crying uncontrollably because she saw an old woman struggling to cross the street. Buying tin after tin of reduced-to-clear items at the supermarket every day. Doing other things that I won’t mention, because it’s not something I would want my mother’s memory tainted by.
The fact is, she was ill. It doesn’t excuse some of what she did but it does go some way to explaining it.
Anyway, back to finding out my Mum was dead. After my Dad told me, I think I swore under my breath and got up intending to go upstairs and tell her to pack in attention seeking again. I stormed up stairs, my Dad following behind, no doubt in a state of shock. I entered her bedroom and there she was on the bed. The room stank as per usual, of general uncleanliness, urine, cigarette smoke and was unnaturally still. I can only describe it as if all the ‘life’ had been sucked out of the room. I moved over to the side of the bed she was lying on; I think she may have been face down but I can’t really remember. I know I felt for a pulse, and as soon as I touched her skin I knew she was dead.
I don’t really remember a lot of what happened next. I called 999, the operator told me how to perform CPR, I related that to my Dad who performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. Then we went downstairs and waited.
It turned out, that despite telling me that she had stopped drinking, her room was full of bottles of spirits. The official cause of death was ‘alcoholic cardiac myopathy’ and secondary sclerosis of the liver. I’m no doctor, but I believe that she basically drank so much that her organs shut down.. She’d been in hospital a few times and had always told me that the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. I know now that she was lying and she in fact had sclerosis and was told that she either needed to stop drinking or die. We all know what decision she made.
I think for a long time I’ve tried to make excuses for my Mum. She was a very unhappy person, but that doesn’t excuse some of what she did, some of the things she exposed her daughter to. She could have chosen to accept the medical help that was offered. She could have chosen to stop drinking. She didn’t. She died.
For a long time I was sad that she didn’t think that I was worth living for; that her child didn’t give her enough to hope to try and get better. It’s definitely the cause of a lot of my insecurities and self-esteem issues. If your own mother doesn’t think you’re worth fighting for.
It was bitter sweet when I became a mother. My mum wasn’t there when I was pregnant to warn me about things like how painful it is when your milk comes in. I didn’t necessarily miss it. My mum died when I was 15; so by the time I became a mother, I’d lived longer without her as with her. If anything I feel really angry with her for being so bloody selfish.
Looking at my girls I can never imagine not fighting for them, I would never give up on life while they’re here to live for. I understand what my Mum did even less. I feel so resigned to it now though that I don’t have the energy to be angry. It won’t change anything. I think I have however realised that it’s ok to be angry with her. It doesn’t mean I love her any less and just because someone has died doesn’t mean you have to make a saint of them. Christ knows my Mum was no saint and she’d be the first to tell you that.
I will never understand her and the decisions she made. There are days when I’m angry, there a days when I’m sad, but more often than not I feel abandoned and I will never leave my girls the way she left me.