How To Cope After Your Mother Dies

‘Her legacy and everything she taught me will never die’ says writer Lena de Casparis

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My mum, Anna, died on a sunny afternoon on 16 July 2006. My family and I had been sitting around her bed for weeks, holding her (and each other), saying goodbye, and playing a hell of a lot of Scrabble.

My dad was on the loo when the exact moment finally came -but you know what they say about best-laid plans.

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She had a brutal form of Parkinson's that, after six years, fully took over her body at age 56. I don't agree with people who say you can fight an illness - it's medical- but she was certainly never tamed by it.

In spirit, she remained that same 18-year-old radical student, the one who climbed over the police barriers in Paris in 1968 at the university protest, right until that summer's day.

Her death came just a few days after my 21st birthday. Not quite the same Jagermeister-fuelled pissups my friends enjoyed to celebrate their coming of age. Relatives told me she'd held on to see me through my entire adolescence. I think it was more coincidental than that, but their words were comforting all the same.

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In the years since, I've mainly missed the mundane aspects of having a mum. Watching TV together accompanied by her incessantly groaning about how mind numbing it all was. Cooking ratatouille on the first day of every autumn and sharing a chopping board for the mass of aubergine. No matter how many times I've tried her recipe, mine never tastes as good as ours. I often long for the crackle of her laugh when she witnesses some poor sod's misfortune. Normally me, spilling jam down my school shirt. And how I crave for her cold hands stroking the nape of my neck to send me to sleep.

Of course, her absence is more complicated, sometimes torturing. But as the years pass I've come to realise that if you get along with your mum as I did with mine, she never dies. I knew her so well that she stays with me, her voice in my head, it lives on.

The two of us had 21 years together, after all. As an only child from friendly but separated parents, most of the time it was just us against the world.

She taught me everything: my first words in English, then she cursed me daily for not speaking French (she was fluent in five languages, I'm clearly not). She was the one who found me crying on the bathroom floor when I freaked out about starting my period aged 13. The expert chef who made me my first bacon sandwich after an arduous, year-long animalrights-

fuelled, 'no meat' protest at 16. My teacher, my cleaner, my counsel, and, of course, my chauffeur. I wish I could apologise for the wasted hours she spent waiting in her Golf outside friends' houses, school halls and sports centres.

But mostly she was the woman who showed me how to be a feminist and demand equality. Having dedicated her life to politics and women's rights in her job as an academic, and in every aspect outside, she led by example. She was a walking, often yelling, manual on how to be strong, independent, resilient, and to always fight for other women, in the way she always fought for me.

Now I have to fight for me. But she's always there in my ear, telling me how to throw the ultimate uppercut. When I came out of a five-year relationship, all I wanted was to climb into her king-sized bed and cry into her soft Habitat-cased pillows. Instead I heard her voice saying, 'You don't need a man to make you happy,' a refrain that had played like a record on repeat throughout my childhood, and it made me tough.

And when I was made redundant from my job and worried that I'd never be employable again (I get my melodramatic side from her, too), I knew in my gut that she'd have never let that discourage her. Sure enough I had a new job within weeks, just like she would have predicted.

The awful reality is that there will come a point in your life when you, like me, will live without your mum. Nobody wants their parents to outlive them; it would be too cruel.

Shortly after my mum died, one of my best friends poured us each a huge glass of cheap white wine and said, 'Well, thank god it's happened to you first, now you can help me through when I have to do it.'

On the surface it might not seem like the most soothing of remarks, but in reality it brought me the most solace and still does today. You see, in my darkest hours, the ones where I feel entirely alone and desperately sad, somehow the knowledge that it comes to us all helps.

But the thing that brings me the most comfort is that while my mum may no longer be with me in the exact ways as yours, her legacy and everything she taught me will never die.

Motherhood, well, it's immortal.

Follow @LENADECASPARIS on Twitter

Pictures: Vantage News

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