Mum died from a stroke on the 12th of November last year.

She had been so proud of her good health: At 87 she wasn’t taking any pills or anything, had no major concerns what so ever. She stood straight, tall and slim, taking care of her weight gracefully, like she did with her friends, unaware of that blocked artery leading up to her heart.

She drove her car, swam, walked, got her few remaining friends together once/week for a game of bridge  that lately had become a game of snap… doesn’t matter she used to say, we’re together that’s what matters. These last few years she used to come to us for lunch on Thursdays after her water aerobics. We used to play Rummikub, she loved that game and played as if her life depended on it.

When she was feeling a bit down she used to come for a long weekend too. You’re my life-boy, she used to say, I feel so good with you two, even though we fought a lot her and me. She always said she didn’t want to end up in an armchair, useless and dependent on us.

Well, she got that alright.

Except that it is always too early for those left behind.

We’ve cleared the brambles around the farm , emptied and cleaned her house with my brothers and sisters and some of their spouses. It’s going to be put on the market at the end of next week.

My mum’s house is a massive Bourgeois house of the XVIII century that has seen better days, standing on a hill facing North-West and surrounded with now sick old trees. In summers we used to have our dinners on the terrace in front of the house enjoying the magnificent sun sets under the oak tree.

Attached to the back of the house are the stables and a pigeon tower.  The narrow door leading to the lower level of the pigeon tower has a date on the supporting stone reading 1603. It’s the oldest part.

On the left of the house as you come up the drive and standing proud, are huge barns of mud and straw in surprisingly good shape, with their four beautiful arches, so typical of the area. Dad made his wine in one of them above which we stored the grain. In another he had his workshop and above the empty fruit boxes in their hundreds.   In another we used to sort the peaches out with our cousins in summer. And in the holes in the walls left by beams of a by gone floor, wild ducks used to lay their eggs in the spring. When the eggs hatched the mums used to call for their chicks from the ground and the chicks jumped down the 5 or so metres separating them from their mums and the pond. Sweet little yellow balls in a queue….In the furthest away part I remember the hay.

The cleaning got done in 10 days flat. A ginormous job. 4 X 15m3 skips ( plus 2 more for the barns later) and a lot of sweat…. A lot of emotions too but not unfortunately the pretty ones. For the furniture, the cookware, mum’s few bits of jewellery and all those objects that were part of our childhood and had no real value other than in our imagination, we played short straw. Some laughter, some lightness sometimes. But also anger, jalousie and resentment.

All of that was underneath, sneaky and unspoken. Kindness had gone into hiding in the brambles and tenderness, oh well, it must have been thrown into the skips.

Is it really possible to go through these pivotal moments of our lives with peace in our hearts when our early year’s siblings rivalries, hidden from our adult’s consciousness but salvaged silently all these years, suddenly get up our nose like mustard?

We got out shattered and empty….Mum would have wanted so much for us to keep on caring for each other. You’re the only one who can keep the family together she used to say to me. I could not answer; I knew I wasn’t that generous. The kind one was her. She was loving, deeply altruistic and spontaneous without filters. She was the one who kept us together. She loved the phone and spent hours on it. During the days  spent cleaning her house, our house, I prayed and asked her and dad to be with us, to help us. We had some moments of  closeness and intimacy, but quickly followed by harsh and thoughtless words. All the while I had mum’s smiling face in my mind “oh my children! What an amazing job you’re doing!” I was so proud of us for her but I couldn’t share about it, there were no ears to listen. Tiredness from days of dust, sweat and dirt had eaten away at our hearts.

We now need to stand back a bit, turn that page of our lives and let time do its thing. Then we’ll have to re-invent a way to be a family without mum.

Will we really be able to do this?

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