Up Front by Emma Hart


Giving Me Grief

Dear Mum,

It's alright, I haven't gone crazy. I know you're dead, and you can't hear me. But if people continue in some way as long as others remember them, and with the intensity that they remember you in particular, then I reckon you'll be around for a while. It comforts me to talk to you, too, and I know you'd approve of that.

It's odd how conscious I am of shaping the memory of you. I particularly notice it with the house: what we keep, what we throw away. The stories we choose to retell, the things we all learn from each other. I have your Public Service Exam papers from 1943, your testimonials from when you went to Teachers' College, those astonishing swimsuit photos Peter took of you. We can only choose from the things you chose to keep yourself, of course, and I can't help feeling slightly relieved that you weren't well enough to use that shredder you bought.

You'd've liked your funeral. I mean, you did plan most of it yourself, but still, I don't think we did a bad job. People kept telling me maybe you didn't want that swimsuit photo on the service sheet, but you know what? You kept it, and that flirty exuberant fun part of you was always there. That's what people told me I'd inherited from you, you know: your sense of fun. Well, that and the legs.

You picked your own speakers at the funeral too, though they pretty much picked themselves, and I have to say, given there were four of us, you got a pretty good spread of sexual orientation there. It's okay, we won't tell Probus. Bev pointedly didn't tell all those stories from when you and she went hitch-hiking round Australia in the fifties. But you should know I know the semi-trailer story now. Again, we won't tell.

You didn't get clean away, though. With help from the Drama League, they put together a pretty bloody rocking series of photos and film clips, and there you are sashaying your way down the catwalk in your seventies and four-inch heels. And then we completely blew your cover with you singing "Getting a Man In" from Dirty Weekends.

Thank you, you know, for letting me share that part of your life, the League. We carried you out to "Hallelujah" (the 'correct' version, of course, the boys were very insistent), and when it got to the chorus they all started singing. We did what you wanted. We cried and we laughed and we sang.

Then I came back home to Christchurch, and Mum, it was so hard. I've heard people talk about losing someone, and going to tell them something, or thinking they'll do something for them, and then belatedly remembering that they're gone. I can't do that. It's like I carry your death around inside me, and it is so heavy. Don't worry, it's not like I'm sad all the time, or I cry, or I think about it all the time. I'm just always aware of it. I'm still working out how to live my life carrying it.

I feel it most when I'm in the garden. I stopped out there the other day: moving, thinking, everything. I only realised because a spider spun a web on me. Sometimes I find that I'm standing and walking more like you, more upright. You were always so elegant. It seems impossible that it hasn't even been three weeks since you died. It seems like so very long.

You're hard to describe. I'd like to be able to share you with people who never met you, not least because it doesn't seem fair on them to have missed out. Everyone liked you, but it wasn't because you were nice, or kind, or gentle or soft. You were strong, and your compassion and service was always backed with a staunch pragmatism. You were so intelligent and insightful, and so good at speaking out in an entirely respectful and cool-headed way. You were clever and witty without ever being cruel. You were full of life and energy too. We thought you were going to live forever. Even with the cancer, until the last month you were pretty much yourself, just a little shorter of breath after the tumors spread to your lungs.

And then you started to fade, physically and mentally, and I knew you wanted us to let you go. You had that last Christmas that you wanted, out of the hospice for the day, with all of your children and grandchildren, and the boys even behaved themselves. Your sons, not your grandsons, but you knew that. I'd sit with you in the hospice while you slept, and do the crossword. Like we always did, I'd get stuck two clues from the end, but you weren't there to ask. There to love and care for, but not there to ask. We weren't there when you died, and I regret that, but I've also been about that banged up on morpheine, and you wouldn't have noticed. I'm sad about that for me.

I'm sad that you're gone, for me and for everyone who loved you, and Mum, there are so many of them. You did so much that you've left such a huge emptiness behind you. You died in the holidays, too, so people are going back to picking up the patterns of their normal lives, and finding your absence. Strange that a lack of something can carry so much weight.

There are things still to come: our first Christmas without you, your next birthday, the selling of the house. They will be hard, but I will bear them. You know I will. And whatever happens, I will always, always be your daughter.


(Hazel) Audrey May Hart (Cone, Kearins)

22nd  March 1928 – 3rd January 2011

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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