I did visit her grave, eventually. When we had the headstone finally in place. After we all argued over what should be put on it, what shape it should be, what colour the fucking lettering should be.
As if any of that matters.
She didn’t even want a headstone, she wanted to be buried with a tree planted above her.
But, then again, she always used to love walking around cemeteries and graveyards, reading all the headstones; trying to find the oldest one. She was fascinated by them somehow. I remember all the times she made us take shortcuts through graveyards on the way home, and I hated them, they really scared me. I used to imagine the bodies reaching up out of the ground in that cliche way they do in movies, and pulling themselves out of the ground. That was only because I’d seen my friend at the time playing stupid zombie video games that kids our age shouldn’t have been playing though.
Now I just find them sad. Sad and quiet and peaceful. There’s something terribly touching about seeing other people there visiting the graves of their own loved ones. Just standing still, head bowed, staring down at the ground; sometimes a hand laid on the top of the stone, trying to feel some connectedness to the person whose name it bears.
I didn’t really feel anything different when I saw mum’s grave for the first time. I thought it would hurt like a stab to the heart. I thought I might crumple to the ground in tears at the sight of this very solid, very real proof that she was gone forever. I suppose I must have already accepted that she was gone for good a long time ago.
I walk past it now on the way home from work about once a week. Sometimes I stop to stand and stare for a little bit, but mostly I just carry on. I don’t feel any connection to her there. It’s just a memorial, just a stone with her name on.
She’s not there.
When my sister and I were little, our mum used to always come to say goodnight to us at bedtime. Some nights she would read us stories from books. She would always sit on my sister’s bed because I had the privilege of the top bunk. I remember we used to have a big hardback book of all the collected Narnia stories, that she used to read us a bit from each night for a while. And then there were the picture books – Kipper the Bear, Each Peach Pear Plum, Where’s my teddy, “Hoho for the robbers, the cops and the robbers hoho”. One of my personal favourites was “Where’s my hairy toe” which was a very strange story now that I think about it, but I liked to scare my sister with the big double page spread illustration of the big hairy monster yelling “You’ve got it!”, pointing out of the page at the reader. She used to hide under her blanket from it. I was a good big sister.
Then some nights mum would tell us stories that she made up as she went along. They were always about two little girls with the same names as us, and they would always have magical adventures with a big purple dragon named Herman. It’s a shame that I don’t remember more specifics about the stories, but I do remember there being a part where we found the dragon egg by tripping over it in a forest. And we also had magical jewellery that gave us magic powers, though I forget what kind of powers. They would be different ones each story I think – invisibility or being able to fly, things like that.
Another game we used to play (it was just a way to get us to be quiet and go to sleep really I’m sure!) was where mum used to trace a face over our own with her finger, and we’d guess who or what it was meant to be. Sometimes it would be a clown, sometimes animals, or even one of our own teddies specifically sometimes. It would go something like this:
Mum: “a pink little nose” *traces a little triangle on the end of my nose*
“Biiiig whiskers” * traces three lines on each cheek*
“pointy ears” *traces two triangles at the top of my head into the hairline*
“and two green eyes” *gently traces two circles over each eyelid*
Me: “I’m a cat!”
And then I’d ask for another, and she would even though she had to awkwardly lean over the wooden edge of my bunk-bed while standing on my sister’s bed to reach me. Her hands were always dry and her fingers would be scratchy on my face. I feel like I can still remember exactly what it felt like now. That was so long ago.