Why I miss her most on Mother’s Day

Paula Burns was just 16 when her mother died on a family holiday.

It’s a loss that will feel particularly raw on Sunday

FOR me, Mother’s Day isn’t about fancy lunches, bottles of perfume and boxes of chocolate. Instead it entails a visit to the graveyard and a heart full of loss. I was only 16 when my mum passed away. There was no warning, no long illness. Right up to the day she passed away my mum was happy and full of life. We were on holidays in Spain and four days before we were due to come home, my mum woke up with an unbearable headache. By that evening there was no hope. Jun 23, 1996, was the day my life changed forever.

Just before I started writing this piece I watched an interview with chef Marco Pierre White on The Saturday Night Show. He said that the death of his mother defined the rest of his life. I’ve always shied away from allowing my mother’s death to define me. I think the reasoning behind it is that I don’t want to lay any guilt at my mother’s door. It was also probably a teenage thing where you didn’t want to be different to everyone else, so I tried to remain the same.

I don’t believe it is her death that has defined me as much as she did when she was alive. Though I am sure if a psychologist got a hold of me, they would tell me that many of the things I do is because I lost my mother at a young age.

I never realised just how young I was until recently. When you’re 16 you think you’re so old and I was going into sixth year, so in my world I was at the grand age of things. A few weeks ago my 15-year-old niece had an argument with her parents and arrived at my house. In the car on the way back to my sister’s house, I was trying to explain to her that her parents love her and that it’s normal to argue with them. I told her how I was the same at her age and that I fought with my mum all the time and that it wasn’t until just before she passed away that I started to talk to her more and realise that she wasn’t the enemy. Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore that friendship more. It was taken away from me in one quick swoop. I told my niece that it may not seem like it now, but her mum will be her best friend and that she is a very lucky girl to still have her. I am lucky too that I had 16 years with my mum. Some people aren’t so lucky. Though I will admit there were times I envied my sister because she had 26 years with her and got to be best friends with her. But I know how much my sister treasures that and I could never begrudge her of it. I have so many good memories of mum and so many loving memories. I am so lucky that I had a mother who loved me dearly and expressed that love. If I needed a hug, I got one. If I needed to talk to her, I could. When I got teased in the playground, she was the first to my defence.

After walking the Wicklow Way for two days, she had the fire on and a huge fry waiting for me to devour when I got home. I could always tell how proud she was of me too. When I got my Junior Cert results (which were average), she beamed and told all her friends how great I was.

My mum had such an influence on who I am today, which is something I am proud of. She always dressed well, loving clothes and fashion. In the 1950s when she married my dad, her signature style was the blouse, cinched-in waist and below-the-knee skirt. She also rocked the beehive. It is a look which I try to emulate. I remember wearing a gingham shirt pencil dress with my hair in a beehive and my dad giving me a hug and telling me how much I look like my ‘mammy’. I beamed, I was so honoured that he said it.

On Mother’s Day I miss my mum the most. Maybe again it boils down to the teenage anxiety of not wanting to be different. Her anniversaries, her birthday, are private. Strangers or new colleagues don’t know when they are, or if they exist, so they can’t ask questions. Mother’s Day is universal, we all have one and so the questions are asked.

Not that it bothers me so much now. It’s more the loneliness of not having that person there. It’s the one day of the year when it hits home that she’s not here. The rest of the time I can block out the fact that my friends are having lunch with their mum, or that their mum is helping them pick out their wedding dress, etc. I accepted I will never have that.

I’m not going to preach and say that all of you out there whose mothers are still alive — just don’t take her for granted. But I will say that I would love, even just one, Mother’s Day with my mum so I could treat her to lunch and tell her I love her. That would be better than having all the riches in the world.

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