Instead, it’s been over twelve years since she took her last, loud, tired breath, and longer since she had really left us. The end of her life was spent asleep, struggling to breathe, and unable to communicate. Cancer took those things from her by crowding her brain and lungs with tumours before they took her from us completely. Twelve years ago.
And still – standing in that sweets shop on Prince Edward Island – she was right there. For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I looked over at something and thought to myself “oh, Mum would love that” and started making a mental note to pick her up a treat. It caught me completely off guard. The tightness of grief in my chest returned as I suddenly, almost violently, remembered that she was gone. The raw pain of loss. A feeling I hadn’t had in many, many years.
My mother and I were very close. At her funeral, I overheard my father refer to us as two peas in a pod. He was right. She was my best friend. She talked openly when I was teenager of the bit of travelling she had done before she had settled down, before she had gotten married and had me. San Francisco in 1969 to look for hippies with her close girlfriends (there were very few – they had moved on from the Summer of Love). St. Lucia for a hot holiday. Virginia Beach (with warnings of what too much alcohol could do). Seattle. Then, after she and my father got married at the airforce base chapel here in Ottawa, they drove across the country to Comox, British Columbia where he was stationed. She talked about the roadside motels and the narrow, frightening roads through the Rockies. And how she’d never do that part of the drive again.
She picked up and collected postcards. So many postcards. Many that I now have framed in my home. Thinking back I now know a camera may have been too big an indulgence for her. The postcards, though, tell a story of the places she’s seen, and her life before mine. Some were sent by her and retrieved from her own parents belongings after they died, some were received from far-away friends, and some were just kept as mementoes. All bundled together in a black faux-leather portfolio for me to look through as a child and find after her death.
She also spoke often of the places she hoped to see. New York – to see Broadway, of course. London, and the land of Coronation Street. And Prince Edward Island. She and I shared a love of the romance of Anne and Gilbert, and the stories of Road to Avonlea, and the red sands called us both.
So it was no surprise that spending a week on the beautiful island brought back so many memories and thoughts of Mum, but the sharp reality of her death hit harder than it had in nearly a decade. My longing for her, my grief, is usually wistful, not raw. I was taken aback. But I know, she is with me always, especially when I am exploring a new place, or one from our shared wishlist.
And so I think of her on holiday. Visiting places she’s been, and places she wished to go makes me feel close to her again. This makes me feel as though I am continuing her life through mine. This is our connection. These places. Her dreams have become intertwined with my own. To travel Canada. To take our children to experience the Disney magic. To head to Europe.
One at a time, I’m getting there. I’m buying a postcard. And I’m taking her with me.