Soft. It’s not exactly the word I would use to describe my mother or my relationship with her. We have never been very close, but it hasn’t been a particularly strained relationship either. I’ve often felt that she lacks some fundamental “mumsiness”, and as a result we’ve always been quite detached with each other. She told me once that when I decided to move to Canada at the age of 19 she had to make a choice, either worry herself sick every day, or switch off and let me go. And she switched off. Although I’m certain she did that long before then. I have often felt disappointed in her disinterest in my life and there have been long periods when I have been very angry with her for that.
But as she ages I have found myself softening towards her. I have been able to let go of expectations and instead started accepting her for who she is. She grew up in what was East Germany during the war, and I’m sure her experiences from that time go a fair way towards explaining her detachment. The stories she tells, with flourish and phenomenal attention to detail, are both spell-binding and horrifying, and we made a silent agreement some years ago to remain in that era, rather than talk about us and now. And as we moved onto safer ground, our relationship improved tremendously.
The real turning point probably came when she had to have hip replacement surgery a few years ago. Thanks to a very understanding boss I was able to go back to Sweden and spend 10 days with her following her operation, and helping out around the house, making sure she did her exercises brought us much closer. And when she was diagnosed with kidney cancer last spring, I was again able to go back, this time for three weeks.
After stubbornly refusing to think of her as anything other than my mother all my life, here I found myself face to face with her ill and ageing body and it didn’t scare me. In fact I welcomed the role reversal and it felt right that I should now look after her. It also felt important to acknowledge and accept that both she and my father are by now quite old. Thankfully my mother made a complete recovery and although we will never have an open relationship, I treasure the mutual understanding and appreciation that has developed in recent years.
My mother turns 79 today. Happy birthday mamma.
In the photograph my mother is in her early fifties, I remember how much I loved that fur coat she’s wearing. I loved its softness and how it smelled.