YOU Magazine - Irish Daily Mail

The first December it snowed. The grounds outside adopted a picture postcard look. The Christmas tree lights in the hallway twinkling as the snowflakes drifted. I remembered all those times from childhood when I decorated the tree and was given the job of putting the fairy-angel on the top. That morning as I walked into the lounge, I could hear someone singing Auld Lang Syne. It was a woman called Mary. She and my mother used to hold hands like lovers. My mother was asleep in her chair as I watched Mary dance, waltzing around the room with a space where a partner should have been. I imagined her as a pretty young girl beaming with life.

Mam soon discarded Mary for a faded toy monkey who then became her new best friend. She would talk to him like you or I might talk to one another. One day she asked Monkey if he wanted some lunch. My mother used to say she preferred children to adults. Maybe loving children is partly why Monkey became her new friend. She told me all about him every single day. Repeating things is part of the disease. When things get lost you might miss them, when friends, family, loved ones die, you cry. A space replaces where you once seen them, held them. I didn’t know this woman in my mother's space. She would smile at me often and liked it when I made a fuss. There were times when I dared not ask her who I was. I would simply say, 'Remember me, Mam, it's your daughter, Louise.'

Monkey would sit watching us. No one knew where he came from, a bit like the way I didn’t know where she had gone. Sometimes I could see a piece of her old self, like when she laughed or blew on her cup of tea to cool it down. She used to enjoy singing and like bird song it would come from nowhere, in the middle of supper at the table with the other women, or when I’d wash her back or change her nappy. She enjoyed bath time. 'You're a good girl,' she would say. She liked the warm water too, running her fingers through the bubbles. One evening my tears dropped into the water. I’d hoped they would sooth her, somehow find her memory.


I asked her if she wanted me to wash Monkey, but she wasn't having any of it.

'No way,' was what she said, as if his smell and dirt meant more to her than me. That was hard. Other moments were difficult too. Like when I’d sit in the car and wonder if I could face all the missing bits again. Soon Monkey was moved upstairs. He sat on the bedside table with the framed family photographs. I asked her if she wanted to give monkey a name. 'He has a name,' she told me, 'Monkey.' I smiled back. Why not? Better that than cry.  


The following winter she passed away. I was given her belongings in a black refuge sack tied at the top with two large knots. I remember carrying the bag out to the car, putting it on the back seat where she sat whenever we went for a day trip or a hospital visit. I turned on Lyric FM, her favourite station. I thought about speaking to the bag, but I didn’t. When I got home, I placed it at the back of the wardrobe, leaving it there for months.


The afternoon I opened it, something had changed inside of me and I knew it was time. I removed the contents garment by garment, item by item, photographs, small treasures, my mother’s glasses, even Monkey was there. I placed them around me in a circle as I lay embryonic as in a mother’s womb. I let out a huge sob. A form of acceptance that I was ready to grieve the mother I’d lost in life, long before I’d lost her in death.