I did my first official speech last night at an Addiction Centre on the outskirts of Oxford. It was to launch a book called Steering the Mothership, The Complexities of Mothering, by Lisa Cherry. Each chapter is written by a different mother, including one by me.
Here’s what I read out:
A mutual friend introduced Lisa and I in the Spring of last year after I had been complaining about feeling my life was losing direction, as although I knew I wanted to write, I just kept putting it off. She said “you need to talk to Lisa Cherry” and Lisa kindly agreed to meet me for coffee. Lisa seemed so confident and motivated and I knew that I wanted to feel that way too, but one thing she said particularly stuck in my mind and that was “even if you give up on your dreams, they’ll never give up on you”.
Less than 3 months later, I got a phonecall from a stranger telling me that my 15 year old daughter was gravely ill and they were trying to save her life. Martha had swallowed half a gram of what we now know was MDMA powder, more widely known as ecstacy. It was 91% pure and wiped out her beautiful life within 2 hours of taking it. She collapsed by Hinksey Lake and never woke up again.
My life became unrecognisable in that moment and beyond as I tried to put together the fragments from the pieces that lay on the ground around me. Everything was distorted and unfamiliar, all my senses seemed amplified and the world looked as though a layer had been peeled away. Colours were more vibrant, everything seemed in slow motion, a teaspoon placed on a saucer made me jump as though someone had bashed my head between 2 cymbals. It was as though I was floating above the world in the fog of the shock - a numbness that was protecting me from accepting what had happened.
The morning after she died I started writing my feelings down, I was trying to clear up the mess left behind and document anything precious and important. It flowed out making complete sense and once I started I just couldn’t stop. I wrote non-stop for 36 hours until my parents took my laptop away and made me have a bath. I sat in the bath weeping, my head bent forward watching my tears drop into the water. Each tear splashed up and then formed a mini circle that cascaded and became blurred as my eyes refilled with a new supply of tears.
But in the minutes and days that followed, I was held up by friends, family and my local community. It was mesmerizing to witness the best in human kindness and warmth that glued me back together again as I began to notice that the beautiful world around me was still there and my precious life was patiently waiting.
Being a mother was a role I took incredibly seriously, has she eaten enough, doesn’t she need sunscreen, is she dehydrated? A constant conveyor belt of love and devotion to my girl, now running empty, going round and round aimlessly, looking for something to do. All these thoughts and concerns that made up my life as a practising mother. A role I now view as one that was a privilege to experience. I had 5742 days, 7 hours and 36 minutes as the active mother of a healthy, vibrant and witty daughter.
She’d peer over my shoulder and catch me googling google and say “why are you googling google again mum, you’ll break the internet”. I’d laugh and carry on regardless. Three days before she died I took her to Ikea to get her some new bits for her bedroom as we’d recently moved house. She stood at the entrance and did some lunges to limber up and we laughed at how ridiculous she looked – but we didn’t care who was watching as this was our lives - our special relationship. I am so incredibly grateful for that and although I now see myself as a non-practising mother, the tools I have will always be put to good use throughout my life.
Next week I am going on my first trip abroad without Martha, my old passport contains the numerous journeys my girl and I took together over the years and my memory can carry me back to precious moments we had on those trips in an instant. My new passport is blank, a bit like my new life, eagerly waiting for stamps when I cross new borders and embark on new journeys and adventures. I need to take a deep breath and admire the view from the vantage-point of my new life – and I will.
So I climb aboard the mothership and fasten my seatbelt, the ascent makes my stomach churn and I close my eyes and fill my head with happy thoughts. As we descend, my ears pop – I hold onto the arm rests as the plane lands. A wall of heat hits my face as the cabin doors are opened and I look cautiously down at the steps and peer out at the hazy, unfamiliar landscape.
With each new step I take, I move further away from what was and move towards what is. My shadow follows me like the love I have for my girl. Sometimes the shadow appears on the wall beside me and keeps me company as I walk along.
I wrote my book 5742 Days, a real-time account of the first 102 days without my daughter and finished it on what would have been her 16th birthday on the 30th of October last year. I’m incredibly proud of this achievement, although I really wish it was a work of fiction. But despite it being a tragedy, it depicts how we can find strength from nowhere and positivity and determination to survive and hold onto our precious lives.
On Martha’s twitter account she tweeted ‘Life is a gift and that’s why they call it the present’. So I urge you all to accept that gift graciously – it’s precious. Make your life incredible, make it interesting and full of love and empathy for everyone you hold dear. Life will always pay you back with abundance.
I’d like to finish by saying that I could never have imagined that the moment when I met Lisa and she reminded me that my dreams wouldn’t give up on me, would become so meaningful in working my way through my greatest loss and I’d like to thank her for that and for letting me be a part of her beautiful book. I’ve read it – it’s a truly incredible account of motherhood and all its complexities. I now see being a mum as the best and most worthy job in the world.
“I could see people trying to discreetly wipe away their tears as I read out my speech, my knees were shaking and my voice was breaking throughout as I hate my story, I hate hearing myself say these words as they’re true and I don’t want them to be. But I will continue to do whatever it takes to raise awareness as I know that others can learn from my story.”