As you all know, my 30th birthday was on Tuesday, which means I’ve now been older than my step mum for a whole three days. Well, technically I’ve been older than her for a while – she died just over a month after her 29th birthday – but that’s something about the number changing that makes it seem more official. So I’m dedicating this week’s Friday letter to my step mum. I apologise now for any abundance of emotion, and also for the length.
It’s weird to think that I’ve now reached an age that you never did. For all these years, I’ve thought of you as the adult and me as the child. And now I’m 30! I wonder what you would think of me now? I was 12 the last time I saw you. You didn’t see me though… you were in hospital and although you’d woken up that morning, by the time we came to see you in the afternoon, you were sleeping again. It was the 23rd of December, and the next day my mum was picking us up to take us home. The plan was to come to the hospital before making the drive back down South, and my last words to you were something like “See you tomorrow”. I never saw you again. At 1 a.m., you stopped breathing and quietly slipped away. Christmas Eve – your favourite time of year. I still can’t remember if I told you I loved you before leaving the hospital that day, but I hope you knew.
We didn’t always get along. Of course we didn’t! I was an argumentative child and you could be incredibly stubborn. But I never once resented your marrying my dad. You made it perfectly clear from the start that you weren’t there to take my mam’s place – to this day, I remember you saying “You’ve already got a mum. I’m always here if you need me, but your mum is mum. I’m Shirley.” So instead, my sister and I would make you mother’s day cards labelled “To the world’s best step mum”, and in my eyes you really were. You were always interested in what we were doing at school, you listened to me recite my times tables for hours (although I’m sure it must have bored you senseless!), and whenever we came to stay, you were perfectly happy to bake and do crafts with us – no matter how much glitter we got on the dining room carpet! It’s true, you were not our mum, but there was a time when you were more of a mum to us than our real mother was. I wondered why somebody so great did have kids of their own, but you always told us my sister and I were enough… and I’m sure that was true. But It wasn’t until later that I discovered breast cancer ran in your family and now I believe part of the reason was that you didn’t want to leave your children without a mother. Losing you broke mine and my sister’s hearts as well, but like you always said, we at least still had a mum.
After I moved to my dad’s at 13 (just over a year after you passed away), I would have loved to speak to you on many occasions. I love my mam, but 360 miles is a long way, and back then phone calls were expensive. I love my dad, too, but as a teenage girl, there were some things I just didn’t want to discuss with him. Since then, there have been many occasions that I wished you could have been around for. My 18th and 21st birthday parties, the day I graduated and, more recently, when I became a godmother. I always wondered what you would think if you could see me in whatever situation I was in … finally becoming a legal adult, getting a degree, moving abroad, being chosen as a godmother. Not being religious, I have trouble believing in a “heaven”, but if you can somehow see me now, I hope I make you proud.
You’ve been gone for more than half my life now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t remember you. I still think of you often. You may not be here, but I still love you with all my heart, and always will.
Love from your now-older-than-you step-daughter