My first year without you

27 November 2020

On 27 November 2019 my mum passed away. I’ve been reflecting on the past year and I ended up writing her a letter:

Hey Smelly,

Can you believe it has been a year already? The anniversary of day you left. The anniversary of the day my world fell apart. My first year without you being here. And what a year it has been.

The celebration of your life. You know I don’t like speaking publicly, but I decided to read the eulogy at the service. Neither Lynette or Lorna wanted to do it, and it felt wrong to have someone who didn’t know you reading my words. My voice cracked when I read out your name. It felt so final. It felt so heavy. What once was sweet, tasted bitter. I glanced up for the briefest of moments, there we so many eyes on me, filled with their own grief, pity, awkwardness, some averted their gaze. I carried on. Melzea was there, she flew over from Barbados. All four of your daughters together to celebrate you. To support each other. At the reception, people stood up and talked of the impact you had made on their lives. The support you provided them and the community. Even through your own hardship and pain you showed up for others. They gave colour to distant memories. I met up with Marky a couple of weeks later, he said he wish he had known about those stories before, so he could’ve asked you about them. Those stories. I said it was just life. You being you. My childhood. Our Family. Us. People still talk about the day. The Love. The memories. The music. The dancing. The food. Oh the food. I hope we did you proud.

I’ve learnt that there’s no timeline where grief is concerned. It’s not linear. You can’t ‘just get over it’. The saying that time is a healer really isn’t true. The wound is still deep. What happens is that you learn to live with it. You feel the weight of it. You find different ways to carry the grief. Something that worked yesterday, may not work today. You adapt. Some days the pain of losing you is still as intense as the night you left us and the days/weeks that followed. It can still bring me to my knees, where I find myself curled up in a ball as the pain radiates deep from within. Most days I can navigate it, live with it. I heard someone on a podcast say that you should hold your feelings with softness. I’m trying, but it’s not always easy. In the beginning there were days when I just wanted the world to stop turning. To give me a chance to catch my breath. That didn’t happen. Life goes on. On and on.

The firsts. They came in quick succession — first Christmas, New Year’s Eve/New Year, and my birthday without you, all within eleven days of your funeral. That was tough. Really tough. Lorna, Lynette and Melzea’s birthdays. Mothers’ day. I stayed off social media that ‘Hallmark’ card day, I didn’t want to resent other people’s happiness whilst they celebrated their mums. Your birthday. Did you enjoy the over-proof Bajan white rum we poured out for you? You were probably tipsy for a couple of weeks on that stuff.

Talking of firsts, you’ve even missed my first pandemic. 2020. I planned to travel more, try new things, create new experiences and memories. Unfortunately, the universe didn’t agree, maybe she thought I was running away or distracting myself from the healing process. Whatever the reason, along came Covid-19. Bit by bit, the world shut down. Not seeing Lynette and Lorna for three months. Zoom. People panic buying. Zoom. Long queues at the supermarkets. Zoom. Clapping the NHS. Zoom. My hands consuming more alcohol than the rest of my body. Zoom. No physical contact. Zoom. Boris Johnson. Zoom. Don’t go to work. Zoom. Go to work. Zoom. Don’t use public transport. Zoom. If you can work, go to work. Zoom. Go outside. Zoom. Stay indoors. Zoom. Confusion. Zoom. Job losses. Zoom. Death. Zoom. Friends losing loved ones. More grief.

In other news. You’ll not be surprised when I tell you that black lives still don’t matter. It never changed in your lifetime, and if I’m honest, I don’t see it changing during mine.

Ahmaud Aubrey. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Those are just the names I remember. The names that were hashtagged. There were others, there’s always others. The world’s eyes were opened (when I say the world’s, you know I mean those of a lighter hue) when it saw the footage of George Floyd’s murder. Mum, I can never unsee the calmness in that policeman’s eyes as he looked directly into the camera while slowly taking a man’s life. A man calling out for his dead mother. Another black man uttering ‘I can’t breathe’. With eyes being opened, then came the sharing of videos and photos showing other black people’s bodies being brutalised, disregarded, dehumanised. I was silently screaming Please. Stop. Sharing. We know. We have always known. The pain and trauma of being black has been passed down the generations. It sits deep within our DNA. Then came the black squares and the hashtags. The ‘oh its not that bad over here’. The ‘let’s post peaceful protest MLK quotes’. The ‘at least it’s being caught on camera’. Again, I took myself of social media for a couple of weeks. I didn’t need the constant reminder of being less than. The reminder of my lowly position in society as a black woman. How shocked friends were by how upset I was when we talked about it. Or how loud the silence was of the friends who didn’t mention it at all. Yet another layer of grief.

I’m learning to lean into the things that bring me joy. I fully immersed myself in music — listening, singing along or dancing to. As you can imagine there’s been a lot of Luther Vandross, 90s RnB, House and Garage being played. A lot of Nina Simone too. Lord knows what my neighbours think of me caterwauling along to the likes of Kirk Franklin and Jill Scott at all hours of the day. I’ve raved at home, attending Club Quarantine with D-Nice and Sunday Brunch with DJ Spoony. I’ve stayed up to all hours to watch the Verzuz battles. I, of course, listen to our song, mainly when I’m visiting your grave, it makes me cry every time. It is currently being used in an advert. No, no, no. I mean I can’t be crying every 15 minutes whilst watching something on ITV or Channel 4. Mute. Fast forward.

Art — looking at, creating (hhhmmmm maybe not creating but thinking about creating, surely that must count for something). When the galleries briefly reopened, being able to stand in front of a work of art without anyone nearby was a joy. Among the Trees. Andy Warhol. Toyin Ojih Odutola. Alexis Peskine

Eating. Cooking. Eating. Baking. Eating. Deliveroo. Eating. Uber Eats. Eating, eating, eating. Thank goodness for Lycra and all other stretchy material available.

Exercise. Did I say the things that bring me joy? Kettlebells. Yoga. Dancing. When we were allowed back into the gym, lifting heavy shit (excuse my language) and putting it back down again. Long walks. Maybe not always joyful, but therapeutic.

Friends. Social distancing meet ups. Zoom. WhatsApp. Phone calls. Laughing. Crying. Comfort. Staying close to those that held me up when the world was crumbling around me.

Unfortunately, one friend hit rock bottom. Something stopped him that night. I’m not sure what, but I’m grateful that it did. He went deep into the darkness. Places I can’t even imagine. Places I don’t want to imagine. I felt helpless, but I reached out. I kept reaching out. Some days he would respond, other days he wouldn’t. I would worry, but I kept reaching out. Letting him know that I was there for him. That’s all I could do. That’s what you would’ve done. He sought professional help. Went on a healing retreat. His Greek Odyssey, he calls it. He put the work in. It wasn’t easy, but he made it through. I’m so proud of him.

Through all this, we did manage to meet up. I walked all the way to bloody Mile End to meet up with him. One of the hottest days of the year. Stepping and sweating for 90 minutes. He cycled 15 minutes. The things you do for a friend in need during the middle of a global pandemic. You know I’m bringing this up on every occasion I can. It was great to see him, to talk, to listen, to laugh. We met again, I didn’t have to trek as far, Canary Wharf. This time I was his muse. Hahaha, you can stop laughing now. A. Muse. Ment. I was an awful model. Strike a pose. Flash. People walking by giving me the side eye. Flash. Awkward. Flash. Act silly. Flash. Sashay. Flash. Step aside Naomi. Flash. I think you would like the photos.

I did manage to get away in October. As far away as bonny Scotland. A landscape photography weekender. I took so many photos, and probably only liked five. But I finally took the camera off auto and used some of the other functions. Winning. Drank more that weekend than I had all year. Eat. Hike. Photograph. Eat. Photograph. Eat. Photograph. Eat. Drink. Bed. And repeat. It was fun, a much needed respite.

Some good news. Trump lost. He doesn’t seem to think he has. Black women came out in force to vote against him. I have an image in my head that come January, the special forces will have to step in and drag his sorry orange arse out of the whitest of houses.

At the cemetery today, we met one of the groundsmen, Roger, who I think said he’s been working there since 1999. We had a long chat with him, mainly because he wouldn’t stop talking! He was lovely and funny too, had the three of us in giggles. But, he also said some profound things that, for all of us, really hit home. I guess when you spend most of your time surrounded by death, loss and grief it gives you some insights and clarity about human nature and life.

I could go on, there’s so much to say, but I’ll leave it there for now. My first year without you and I am emotionally drained. So, so tired. A year filled with so much pain. Both globally and personally. Filled with grief. Chaos. Guilt. But at times sprinkled with moments of joy. I’m slowly learning that grief and joy can live side by side.

I miss our Friday evenings and Saturdays together. I miss listening to Magic Soul knowing every word to every song played. Not that I can listen to that station anymore. I miss singing with you, I miss singing to you (you might say I sang AT you). I miss watching silly cat videos with you to remind you of Cindy. I miss trying to make you smile.

I miss holding your hands, the hugs, the kisses, the unconditional love. I miss you.

Even though you are not here physically, you are in my heart, in my spirit, in my sadness and in my joy. You are in my dreams. There are subtle reminders everywhere, sometimes in ways that don’t make any sense. But you are here.

Thank you for being my mum

Eternal love




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