“I won’t mention Mum unless I have to” I say to Evee before meeting someone new.
I am prepared for when someone asks me what my mum does, “She was a clinical nurse specialist, in rheumatoid arthritis”. I skip over the ‘was’ so much so it almost disappears in the sentence. “Did she say was or is?” the listener might think. But I don’t pause to allow for any more questions, I simply add, “which has been a big influence on my own career”. From there I can easily navigate the conversation and steer clear of anymore Mum questions.
Sometimes people are surprised that I drive quite a nice car – “yeah it used to be my mum’s”. One time, I even added “she doesn’t need it anymore” …. I can’t believe I said that either, I just panicked. But you must admit, there is something a little bit funny about saying that. And it’s the truth (!)
People are interested in my hobbies – “Oh, you write a blog, what is it about?”
I don’t lie – “Mental health and lifestyle”
New people wouldn’t know that my mum has passed away. I don’t pretend that she is still alive, I omit that she no longer is. I don’t want them to know, until I know they deserve to know. Until I know that our friendship can handle that weight.
It does feel wrong to avoid conversation about someone who occupies so much of my mind. I wonder whether they can tell that I am acting, can they see that this costume doesn’t fit me very well? Did I avoid eye contact when I said that?
But why does my grief have to be dressed up in a costume and lead its audience to think that my mum retired from her job, she got a new car, or, most heart breaking of all, that we just aren’t very close?
I say these things because it drains me to see a potential new friend flounder and not know what to say. It makes me uncomfortable when my grief makes other people uncomfortable. People stammer “I’m sorry”. I don’t always have the energy to save the conversation by skipping over it with “it’s okay” because it’s not okay to have lost my mum at 23. Most of all, I don’t want to be the odd one out among a new group of friends. So, I avoid the conversation and protect them, myself, my mum, and my grief.
When the curtain comes down and I return home, I finally let out a big breathe. Just before I go to sleep I tell her all about my day. I thank her for putting me on this path and sending me such lovely people.
Since the creation of this blog, Evee and I have been so passionate about writing about grief or speaking with you at our cafes. But it is still jarring to have those conversations infiltrate into our everyday lives where other people don’t necessarily know our past, like when I moved to a new city not so long ago.
I used to treat my grief as a secret in my everyday life. A secret that, at then end of a heavy day, I could come to you, dear reader, and share. In turn, each and every one of you has taught me so much about what it means to live with grief, rather than despite it.
I can’t believe how fast life is moving, the strides I am taking and how many new people I am meeting. I am learning that when people get to know me, they get to know my mum too. I am learning that with the right people, grief isn’t too heavy at all – but that deserves a whole post of its own.
Thank you dear reader, for being such a fundamental part of my journey. Thank you also for choosing to entrust us with your As Told By You posts. I hope you know how much of an honour it is for us that you don’t avoid the conversation and that you trust us with your grief as we trust you with ours. I think that is what I am most passionate about here, in the community we find ourselves in – no one is the odd one out.