Living without mum: simple things like washing for us

My sister and I often talk about living without mum. Since losing our mum in 2015, we’ve had quite a period of adjustment. We each used to talk to mum at least once or twice a week, but it wasn’t uncommon to talk to her for 4, 5, 6 days in a row and or for 3+ hours at a time. We were close. Very close. And the day we discovered conference call (where we could all talk together) was a pretty happy day!

Now my sister and I talk pretty much every day, often twice a day. If we go 3 days without talking to one another, we start to chase each other down. It’s now a routine. My sister calls on her way to work and often we talk on her way home again, too.

You might wonder what my sister and I talk about. (Sometimes I wonder, too!) But lately, I’ve noticed a theme. We’ve been talking about all the things we didn’t think we would miss when we lost mum. I’m not sure how many people think about all the things they’ll miss when they lose someone or are faced with losing someone. I did, but I’m well aware that I’m not like everyone else.

Substitute mums

I actually remember a period of time where, in my mind, I was trying to find mum’s replacement. How could living without mum actually be possible… without her? Eventually, I had to come back down to earth and realise that was never going to be possible. I have, however, found many people to replace parts of her. In a way, this relieves (slightly) the burden of living without mum.

The gardeners

A good friend of mine who I studied with is my ‘go-to’ for gardening. All the questions I would have asked mum about for gardening, I ask her now. Often, I imagine mum laughing at me and telling me ‘it doesn’t have to be edible to be grown, Tige’. Mum would work for hours in the garden and I often wondered why she spent so much time out there. Oddly, since losing my mum, I have become quite the green thumb. And not just with the ‘edible’ variety of plants.

I also have another friend – one who also knew my mum – who I spend much time with in the garden. Sometimes we’re apart, but both simultaneously enjoying the grounding and sunshine of the earth. But it is with this friend that I have developed my love of the outdoors, sacred spaces and the healing, relaxing relief I get from the garden. And now I understand why mum spent so long out there.

The fur foster parents

Strangely, one of the more difficult hurdles for me was finding foster parents for our beloved four legged baby, our dog. If we went away, it would always be mum who would look after our beloved ‘first born’. Even though she lived 3 hours away, she would go out of her way to meet me half way and pick him up. He stressed her out on occasion, but she just called him a ‘little bugger’ and still loved him as her own.

Now I realised we took her completely for granted. But now we are not only grateful for all that mum did for us when we went away, we’re incredibly grateful to our dog’s fur foster family. Our very close friends who take care of our baby when we’re away. We know he’s loved so much and even though he gets up to way too much mischief when he’s there, they still love him and we’re so thankful to have a beautiful family care for him so well that we never worry about him whilst we’re away.

The parenting mentor and educator

For all things parenting and educational, my sister is hands-down my go to. Mum was a primary school teacher with a gazillion years of experience and very well respected in her profession. She had a down to earth approach to everything in life and used to encourage me to talk about how other families raised their children because ‘it’s important to know what you do and don’t like about their parenting – it helps to form the way you want to be as a parent’. Respecting everyone’s choices obviously formed part of that lesson. A lesson my sister also learned and who also encourages me to find what it is my heart is saying rather than other people. Just like mum did.

The fact that my sister is also a primary teacher helps. A great deal. But what helps more is when she said ‘and if mum were alive, she’d say the exact same thing’. That brings a tear to my eye every single time. It’s like a message from mum right there in that moment which may seem rather obvious to you, but for me, it’s a powerful reminder that mum’s legacy lives on. The fact that it lives on in my sister is even more precious to me.

The irreplaceables

But there are a number of roles that are simply irreplaceable. And this is what my sister and I have been talking about lately. Living without mum is more painful than we ever knew possible. There are spaces in our hearts that simply cannot be filled, even by the best intentioned friends and family.

The memory

Having a fairly ordinary memory myself, I often catch myself saying (to myself) “I should ask mum about that”. Of course I can’t ask mum. And mum would be the only one who would know what happened when I was in kindergarten and crying in the bathroom. Or how she planned a 3 month trip around Australia when I was 7 and what activities she organised. The stuff dads don’t remember or worry about. The stuff my sister only remembers through the lens of a child.

The home base

Perhaps the most difficult challenge of them all. Having nowhere to just escape to. After selling our family home, my father moved over 5 hours away to a house that can only be described as just that. A house. Ie. not a home. At least not a home for me.

Jealousy envelopes me at times as I long for a place to just get away to for a weekend. Somewhere there is an open fire and good conversation about past good times. A comfy bed to sneak up to on a Sunday morning to snuggle up to your mum while looking out the window at the birds playing and listening to ABC talkback radio as your child and her grandchild keep you amused down the hall.

The respite

Similar to a home base, nobody can quite replace the respite one gets when their mum comes to stay with you for a while to help out. Anybody else and it feels like an unfair exchange. With your mum, it feels like a dream come true. She does the washing, she folds the washing, she entertains (and spoils) the child and she does the shopping. Other mums might cook, but my mum hated cooking. That’s ok. I was happy to cook for her in exchange for everything she did for me.

Even being there as an adult to talk to during those early childhood years was a relief. She also protected my child from getting in trouble on more than one occasion. Something my grandfather was renowned for doing for me! Living without mum is tough. Really tough.

The endless non-judgemental love

Nobody loves me the way mum did. Nobody. People judge me and that’s fine. Even my extended family. But mum talked to me about what she disagreed with me on without judgement and with interest. She knew I was unique and free thinking and loved me for it. She appreciated the thought that went into my considered decisions and respected me enough to enquire about my choices. The love was pure and it was a connection that is unmatched. And that simply cannot be replaced. Ever.

Adjusting to living without mum

So the other thing my sister and I talk about is our adjustment to life without mum. How we feel when other people complain about their mums. When they clearly take their mums for granted. It hurts. We would do anything to have our mum back – even if it was just for a day. But we know that’s beyond our reach. For now, we take comfort in going through the adjustment together. And so we talk every single day. Often twice a day.

Living without mum
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Phillipa Huynh

Phillipa, a kinesiologist working in Park Orchards and Thornbury, Victoria, teaches you how to make your life ‘fit’ again. A big believer in positive change, Phillipa teaches you how to understand your past so you can map your future.

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