After hanging up the phone, I remember my mind attempting to process the notion that Mum was going to die. Not as some abstract concept, that we like to explore in some philosophical way, but the stark reality that she, incredibly soon, was no longer going to someone I could call, fret about, get angry with, share news with. The whole part of my character that had been formed by this woman would no longer have a point of reference. That I somehow would be adrift.
It wasn’t a space my mind was happy playing in for long. It was like lifting the lid on a chasm of nothingness, peering into a void that – quite possibly because I had no experience by which to measure – I backed away from pretty damn smartish. Imagine preparing to abseil forwards into a dark space that has no sense of depth or width. Without a rope.
So you rationalise what you do know. Busy-ness is a wonderful tool for keeping emotions at bay. It gives you something you have control over. And we had a lot to do. Tell our respective employers. Tell the kids. Tell the school. Book flights. Pack.
By nature, I am an activator. I like to get things done. Years of meditation and yoga have taught me to balance that but in times of stress our most base instincts kick in. Ticking items off a list gave me purpose. It was my first experience of the early stages of grief and loss that everyone goes through. Denial. A response that takes you through the first waves of pain. I rationally knew my Mum was going to die, but by making my lists and focusing on the short-term goals of simply getting on a plane, I was able to deny the emotion and delay stepping into that void.
Packing was bizarre. A normal task I had undertaken countless times before turned to wading through mud. A rogue thought would fly up from the black chasm and sideswipe me as I was folding clothes. It bothered me that I didn’t know how many pairs of undies I should pack, because I didn’t know how long I would be away for. No matter that the UK has washing machines and M&S lingerie departments, my brain needed something concrete to fuss over.
Worse, the idea that I was going to have to pack something to wear to a funeral lodged in my brain. Whenever I thought about it too long, hideous globs of emotion would start to fight their way out. This wasn’t like packing for the holidays we’d taken to visit Mum in the past. This was it.