The days before and after my mother’s death were sunny and warm, really warm. More like summer than I was used to in Northern Ireland. The birds were singing. Listen, said my brother, they’re saying to each other: The nice lady who used to feed us has gone.
In the evenings we sat in the kitchen and drank rosé wine, for which my brother had recently developed a taste, and we told stories. I told the story of how I got a lift from Hull to Cheltenham on the back of a motorbike when I was nineteen, and my dad said, Your mother wouldn’t have approved had she known, and I said Yeah, that’s why I’m only telling this now. Which I hope didn’t sound bad.
I think some people brought food and I don’t particularly remember eating it. She died at 4:15 on the Sunday morning and in the late afternoon I watched The Castle on TV so I could distract myself for a couple of hours. There were a lot of things to do. Go to the funeral home, decide the wording for the announcement in the paper, go to the town hall and register her death, track down the hospital chaplain she’d liked and ask her to lead the funeral service, figure out what I was going to write on my card with the flowers.
I wrote something for the funeral. Miriam read it out for me because I knew I would go to pieces if I got up there and did it myself. Miriam also picked up my mum’s friend at the airport, brought me supplies from Belfast, and organised my other friends’ attendance at the funeral. After that, she went to Prague and gave me her room in Belfast so I could chill for a few days, pretend I was on some sort of holiday in happier circumstances.
I remember how warm it was. How I got drunk with Carolyn in Auntie Annie’s one night, how I sat in Botanic Gardens reading Pedro And Me and analysing whether I was going to cry and whether that was because of the book or because of my own bereavement or whether I was too numb to feel anything much about either anyway. I was always analysing. Part of me was a detached observer saying, Oh, this is an interesting way of reacting to things.
Two weeks later, I was out in the car with my dad and brother and sister. I don’t remember where we’d just been. Maybe we had gone out to lunch somewhere or maybe we had just gone for a drive, but I got them to let me out on the way home, said I would catch up with them later. As soon as the car was out of sight I took off my t-shirt: I had a vest top on underneath but I also had tattoos which even now are still a secret from my dad. I figured he didn’t particularly need to know about them since he would automatically disapprove and plus I didn’t want to hear him tell me that my mother wouldn’t have liked them. It was so hot, it was a relief to finally shed that layer. I walked to the beach, which was full of people because it was a nice day, and I turned left and climbed up on some rocks and sat there looking out to sea and thinking about my friend Andy who had died the previous day, and wondering if I should cry now while I had the opportunity or how should I react and what did all this mean. Then a couple of people started to get closer to the rocks and I didn’t want them to come near me so I climbed down and walked home and we scattered my mum’s ashes in the garden.
Saturday was the fifth anniversary of her death. The weather has been sunny and warm, really warm. The birds have been singing. I walked a lot on Saturday. I spent a lot of time with my heartbroken friend and we talked about her heartbreak. We walked to Friedrichshain and stumbled across a demonstration and then a punk street party and I had tiramisu ice cream. I wondered if I had put on enough sun lotion. We walked to Neukölln to find a church where I could light a candle for my mother, something I had never previously managed to do on her anniversary, even though I’d tried and tried. One year I’d even called a local church in advance and been assured it would be open, but when I showed up it wasn’t so I just sat in the grounds and cried for a while and then went home.
In St Clara’s there were already a dozen or so people sitting in pews. I couldn’t see anywhere to light a candle so we took a seat for a while and I looked around me and then closed my eyes and wondered when I would feel like I’d got whatever it was I’d come here for. My heartbroken friend put her arm around me and I cried on her shoulder for a while. Eventually I decided it was okay to go. The bells were starting to ring and a service would be starting soon and I didn’t want to stay for it. As we headed for the door my heartbroken friend stopped me and pointed to the room at the back that we hadn’t noticed before, the room with the candles. I put a euro into the box and lit one, stood in front of it for a moment, then walked out with her. In the entrance area she hugged me and I sobbed while she held me and the church bells grew louder and louder and sounded beautiful and then we went back outside, blinking in the sunshine.