It’s almost a month since my birthday, one of the… no, strike that… THE most difficult birthday I ever had. I have always loved February, because it’s my birthday month. This year, the further we got into February, the more I felt like my head was dipping under water again; like someone was choking me, and definitely not in any pleasurable kind of way. Back in November 2018 I had an EMDR treatment which helped me to see the light again, but towards the end of February, I noticed some darker thoughts returning again.
I went to my mom’s grave on my birthday, and stood there for a while, thinking about the journey we had together. Not only the journey of her illness, but the journey of the 50 years we spent together as mother and daughter. As a little girl she held my hand, to keep me safe and to guide me. In my teenage years she held my hand when I decided to raise a child on my own. She never approved of my pregnancy – it came as a shock to her to be a grandmother at the age of 36 – but she never pushed me away either. Where up to that point I had been the apple of my father’s eye, suddenly he didn’t want anything to do with me, and started giving attention to my brother who before that, he didn’t like very much. As from that moment my mom and I became ‘best friends’.
I remember when she had a hysterectomy at the age of 37 and I visited her in hospital. No huge bouquet of flowes, but a single carnation in a test tube vase and a small heart-shaped red box next to it on a wooden plateau, and the box simply said: “I love you.”
I found that box when we packed her stuff after she had passed away. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, so it went into the ‘memories’ box and is currently still there, in our attic.
Years later, just before my 25th birthday, my mom was the one holding my hand when I had my hysterectomy. Three years later she was the one helping us to leave South Africa and coming to the Netherlands, where she had been living for four years already. We lived together then, and it happened several times after that again that we lived together; she, the kids and I. All through my life she had been there, literally and figuratively holding my hand. Sometimes it was for emotional support, sometimes just a loving gesture and sometimes it was because we were doing one of our 40 kilometer hiking trips.
Then came 2017 and we learned how ill mom was. That was the moment our roles changed. Where I desperately needed someone to hold my hand, and thankfully I had my husband and briefly also my kids (I needed to hold their hands too, as they were losing the grandmom who meant so much to them) to do so, I also needed my mom. But, she wasn’t capable of holding my hand anymore. She needed hers to be held. And I did. From the moment she called me at the office and all I heard was her crying on the other side, until the moment she blew out her last breath, I was there to hold her hand. It wasn’t easy. It never was easy, as every day I felt her life slipping from our hands. I saw the change in her eyes the moment she understood that the cancer would take her, and I touched her ice-cold hands when she lay in her coffin.
I know she’s holding my hand now. She will always hold my hand; she will always be with me. I know she’s watching over me and she always will. Next year February I want to hold onto her hand harder than I did this year. I want to lean on her, want to be aware of how fragile my mental health is, especially when I am confronted with the day she gave birth to me. That’s what I did at her grave this year: I grabbed onto her hand and held on for dear life; felt the love she always had for me; felt the strength she gave me to carry on.
I know she lives on inside me, as she gave me life, and am so much like her.
She will never let go of my hand.
I will never let go of hers.
© Rebel’s Notes