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That hum of M-U-M

by Katie Hannah

Expressing yourself is a battle, an internal resistance and an external pressure. Combined, they often keep me quiet. And I’m not that closed, but recently I discovered that I’m a lot less open than I knew myself to be. So talking about that space which hurts – a time that feels so obscure and abstract – well, the words don’t come too easily.

Last year, my mother passed away. From one day to the next – no warning – no brewing illness. At the time, I was thankful that it had been so instant, I hated the idea of her suffering a long drawn-out decay. But the suddenness brought with it other things too, a numbness, something others called a “calm acceptance”. Honestly, I still don’t know if I know anything about what happened.

Illustration by Katie Hannah

I was there, I saw the coffin, I felt its woven wicker under my fingers (we chose the wicker basket style from the surreal funeral magazine of coffins). I carried her weight on my right shoulder, and as the coffin, heavier than I’d imagined, dug a deep imprint into my skin, I was terrified that I might drop her and see that which I had refused to see. It was a choice I was given one day, “…to see her or not to see her” and, to this day, I am not sure what the ‘right’ thing to have done would’ve been. But now, writing about this for the first time, I am surprised at how easy it is, the words falling onto the page, one after the other. Much easier than speaking.

Moments, memories and feelings about my mother, return to me in the night and when I’m cycling to work. For the most part, they don’t plague or taunt me, they are simply there. Reminders of the incomprehensible reality that she is not here anymore, my mother. But she still feels here. Every day I feel her warmth and love.

Every instance that my mind forms each soft humming letter of the word – m u m.

Every instance that my mind forms each soft humming letter of the word – m u m.

Illustration by Liv Page
Illustration by Liv Page

This can only be a testament to what she gave me, the strength she infused in me. A true feminist. I always knew she was intelligent and academically skilled, but it was only at her funeral that I first heard about the multitude of her qualifications and professional experience. She was not one to boast, nor to monologue her achievements, she would recount moments from her past only when it was relevant to the conversation at hand. She would call and ask how I was doing, always curious to know what I was up to, what ideas I had and what I was reading and studying. The hardest irony to swallow is that when my mother died, she was the first person I wanted to call. She would’ve helped me to understand, allowed me to feel, to cry.

I always knew the significance of my mother in my life but losing her awakened me to the subtle intricacies of that relationship. Her presence marked all my significant life decisions, she was with me through everything. Always on hand to help me untangle the knotted weave of it all. Where is she now? I ask that question and a nothingness echoes back. If I can still hear her voice, feel the warmth of those gentle smiling eyes, then she must be here still. She is within and outside of me – I remember her saying (as a solid atheist) that when we are buried, we stay in the ground. Although she didn’t exactly say ‘worm food’, that was definitely the implication. She did not believe in reincarnation, nor the floating presence of souls. Instead, she told me, we live on through peoples’ memories, peoples’ stories. Through these stories you set free little pieces of life and allow them to diffuse into other peoples’ realities. So that is what I am doing, letting her live on by sharing with you a small piece of her.

Illustration by Liv Page
Illustration by Liv Page
Illustrator

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