Tears, not rolling, but pouring down my cheeks. I’m listening to the radio. It’s a mother talking about her son. She is articulate, well spoken, sounds upper middle class; as though she has a charmed life, as though nothing bad could happen to her.
I missed the beginning but it seems Ben was her third child out of four, and a difficult boy. She says how much she loved him, but she also says he was difficult to love. Apparently this boy started taking drugs at the age of just ten or eleven. By 15 he had cleaned up, but it seems he went back to drugs, on and off, for years. Went to university, had jobs and girlfriends etc but also had periods of homelessness. He kept in touch with his mother with emails. Then these stopped.
She describes how she gets a phone call from her ex-husband, the father of her son. He tells her he has heard from the Student Finance Company: they want an official copy of Ben’s death certificate for their records. That’s how she finds out that her son has died.
He died in a car park. I suppose he was sleeping there. He died of alcohol and heroin poisoning. There was someone with him, another homeless man. She tries (and fails) to trace this man to thank him for his efforts to save her son. Of course, by the time the family hears of the death, her son has been cremated, so this mother is denied the opportunity to bury him or see his body.
I am bawling my eyes out listening to this. And every so often, my mind flits to the question: is this what is in store for me?
My estranged daughter does not take drugs, as far as I know. While she is still at school and I have access to her report cards I know that she is doing well academically. Apart from that I really know nothing about her. About the little girl who was so bonny and blithe and good and gay. With whom I laughed and cuddled. Who used to say, if I ever mentioned not wanting to be a burden when old (and the others cheerfully agreed to do away with me when the time comes) ‘Mummy, when you are old you can live with me and I will make you eat vegetables’.
It hurts. There is some shame, too. Of the ‘I must be a terrible mother’ kind. And guilt. ‘How much of this is to do with me? With my part in our bad marriage? With my reaction to being left by BH?’
But what hurts is the lack of her; the not knowing if she needs me, not being there to hug her and laugh with her and argue with her and help her and see her and smell her. I love being with my kids. And one is missing.
Image: I used to work as a volunteer flower arranger at the school of this daughter. Selecting a photo now, it struck me that this one, part of the work I did for an event at the school years ago, also puts me in mind of a coffin.