Graduating University 13 years on
I guess I'm just looking for an outlet today because in 4 hours I'm due to stand on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in London and receive my Ba(hons) diploma... but my mum won't be there.
I suppose everyone has this feeling during significant days, but you see this is the same university my mum went to, and basically the same course and those were the years that, aside from her marriage, completely defined her as a person.
In the summer of 2000 my mum was rushed into hospital for an emergency hysterectomy. She'd been complaining of pain for almost a year prior, but the doctors had simply said she was wheat intolerant. When they opened her up she was riddled with cancer. They removed the bulk of it but it had spread to her liver, so she started on chemo. She fought the good fight for almost exactly 365 days, but in the summer of 2001, when I was 13, the cancer finally won.
My mum was the heart of our village community. She ran endless parties, assisted in the church (of which I sang in the choir), ran the village fair costume parade, and started an art group. Needless to say the church was packed out for her ceremony, and still pretty full 10 years on when we had an anniversary ceremony. Everyone sings her praises as a human, and comments on how talented she was at dress making. You see she worked in costume before she met my dad, and spent several years working at the English National Opera.
I'd love to say that was the only real hardship I've faced, but I struggled long before mum even got ill. I was different. I thought differently, I expressed myself differently and I didn't conform to what the kids at school deemed 'normal'. My mum was the only person who seemed to truly understand that side of me, and embraced it for what it was - individuality. Living in a small village bullying was inevitable, but my mum fought for me every step of the way, and insisted I should never change myself to adhere to someone else's expectations of what I 'should' be. After she died, there wasn't much support in that area anymore, but I was a teenager, and thus had all the usual teenage issues to occupy myself with.
A year later we moved away. Dad had re-connected with an old girlfriend and decided we were all going to live together elsewhere. Moving was moving - I figure it’s similar to everyone whether your mum's dead or not - but to say this new woman was an 'evil step-mother' is sort of an understatement. I lived for 4 years in silence - my sister protesting to dad every chance she got, but I remained quiet. Eventually I realised he was living with the abuse too and I came clean. It ended when I was 18, but only after I suffered a severe mental breakdown, mostly due to her abuse, and had been in recovery for a year.
Life moved on, I went off to university and struggled further. I drifted and didn't know what to do with myself. I left and spent a year working aimlessly in London until a friend pointed out I could do a degree in Costume.
As I mentioned before, my mother was a costumier. It had never crossed my mind that I could study it too, because sewing was something I'd only recently started doing myself. I'd worried so much about 'becoming my mum and not finding myself' that I hadn't noticed I had a passion for this entirely of my own.
In 2011 I got onto the Costume makers course at Wimbledon - where my mother had studied costume design many years ago - and that brings us to now... to today.
My family is coming to support me, but we all still have issues there. My dad has since married again, and once again he has got himself into a horribly abusive relationship that's slowly destroying our family. As we're all older now though, it's quite different.
My sister, who is the youngest, graduated a few years ago and I know she felt it that day too. My brother, who is older, refuses to acknowledge feelings so I don't pry.
I guess a lot of what I'm feeling is a lack of pride for what I've achieved, but also a severe lack of mother's appreciation. I am so lucky that her best friend from uni has somewhat adopted me since I moved to London, and been amazing and I suppose the best non-mother one can have... but she's not my mum.
I just wish I knew... anything. I wish I knew what she thought about me doing this course, or what she thought of my work. She never coddled me - if she didn't think my drawing was good enough, she always told me. She'd make me practice and practice and work hard to get a genuinely good result - something I lost over the last 13 years for sure.
Everyone tells me 'she'd be so proud', but no-one really knows the relationship we had. No-one knows how much she pushed me. I'm not saying she wouldn't be proud - at the end of the day I'm graduating university - but there are just so many questions.
I guess we never stop having those.
I just want to also mention: I got to say goodbye to my mum. A close friend of the family took me and my sister away for a week, and we knew mum wouldn't be there when we came back. We sat in the room and waited our turn to say goodbye. I hugged her and apologised for every time I'd screamed 'I hate you' in a childish rage... but she'd already gone by this point. I could see the frustration in her eyes about how she wasn't capable of verbally responding correctly. The chemo that eaten away at her brain and she could barely make sense or form sentences. People always say they wish they could have said goodbye... but that memory of her is horrible. She was so weak when we hugged...so brittle I thought she was going to snap in my arms. That look of incapability... The frustration of not being able to tell her daughters how much she loved them, or give her parting advice to... I don't know if it would be easier to not have these memories.
I don't think I'll be out celebrating with friends... I haven't done any to be honnest. I don't think they quite understand, I haven't really explained, but I just don't want to be a debby downer - this is their day too and they should enjoy it. I just don't want to go... basically.
13 years on... does it ever get less painful?
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