by Liss Smith
Liss was born in Brisbane, Australia, raised in Brisbane, and currently lives in Brisbane. Her life goals include eventually living somewhere other than Brisbane. She is a calligrapher, obsessed with all lettery things, making the world a little more beautiful, and encouraging others to do that too. Liss is a single mum to six amazing people, aged 3-14, who are all just as loud, creative, and slightly weird (in a good way) as she is. She is a coffee snob, and believes that parenting is only possible with high doses of quality coffee.You can find Liss on her website, Instagram, and Facebook.
For a few years I avoided the shops all together in April and May. It hurt too much, walking around and seeing all the pink things. Thinking of her, and what I would buy her … what she would like, what she would just laugh about because it was so ghastly … then remembering, suddenly and painfully, she wasn’t here anymore. That awful remembering, because she was so much a part of my heart, and so “always there” that being gone was so new, and unfamiliar, that somehow it could be forgotten all together ... until I thought of her, and it all came rushing back in one crippling blow, the intense pain of it all, all over again. She was gone now. She wasn’t coming back. There was no buying for her, or sending her a photo of that awful pink floral thing she would have hated.
I was 30 when she died. Already a mum, and in my mind, I was somehow supposed to know how to deal with it. I’m 34 now and I still don’t know how to talk about it. She passed away … died … let go. I don’t know how to say it or what words to use. I just know she’s gone.
She had been fighting to hold on her entire life, born with a congenital heart defect, she was living on borrowed time. My childhood was marked by regular trips to the hospital, sometimes finding out she was there again because someone else picked us up from school. That was our normal. We said our goodbyes with a weird regularity, because we never really knew how long she would be here. Once I was an adult, she would remind me where her will was kept, because I would need to know one day. We had the hard conversations that most people get to avoid. But it didn’t make it any easier when it finally happened.
She wasn’t even supposed to have children. Too much stress on her heart. She wasn’t supposed to live past 13. So having me and my brother, living long enough to meet five of my children was so much more than anyone had hoped. But that didn’t make it any easier.
And then there’s the smallest of my children, the one she never met. The one growing quietly inside me when she died.
I was 20 weeks pregnant. She had been unwell. I stood beside her, and through tears told her it was ok if she didn’t get the treatment they told her she needed. I was for her, and I would walk beside her through whatever she chose. I promised her it wouldn’t ruin my pregnancy. Her grandfather passed away while her own mum was pregnant with her, and our family legend says that the death caused her heart defect. Sure, we all know it didn’t, but family stories can be powerful things. I told her I loved her and I would support whatever choice she made.
She chose treatment. She seemed to be doing well. And then one morning she didn’t wake up. She left in the most beautiful, graceful way one could hope for. If death can ever be beautiful, or graceful. There were so many things I was thankful for in that. For her, and for us.
The week after she died, I sat at a table with a dear family friend at one end, the one who would guide us through the celebration of her life. A woman I had known my whole life, who held my hand when I saw my mum for the last time, who gave me the courage to even step into that room. At the other end of the table sat one who has become so dear to me, she began as my midwife and now I tell people she is my sister, it’s easier to explain our bond that way. Because when you’re planning a homebirth and a funeral all at the same time, somehow those women end up at the same table together in a way that speaks powerfully to your heart about beginnings and endings and love and belonging.
She died in June. I didn’t have to face Mother’s Day for almost a year. Her birthday was hard. Christmas was painful. But all the pink things, the “Best Mum Ever” things… I was undone.
For a few years I avoided the shops all together in April and May. It hurt too much. The remembering.
But now, four years later, I don’t forget anymore. I carry the remembering with me everywhere. I see her in my children’s smiles and I remind them of the parts of her they carry within them. I hold my smallest one and grieve for the Granny he will never know, while rejoicing in the precious memories she sewed into my other children’s lives. I take the imprint she left on my heart, her unwavering belief in me, and use it as my inspiration. I reflect on the words she spoke over my life, the power they had, and still have; and I seek to share that with others.