Something inside me must believe in the occult gravity of anniversaries, even if I can't really see how the fact that my mother died exactly one year ago today makes this day any more significant than yesterday or tomorrow. But humans abide by rituals, and I am, in my secular way, as ritualistic as any church-goer.
So driving back from Wexford to Dublin earlier this evening it hit me, surely as a cloudful of rain skittering across the windscreen. Perhaps it was all the stronger because I'd spent the day with my cousins Pat, Dave, Fiachra, Niall and his son; a satisfyingly busy day photographing and bubble-wrapping Pat's paintings (which we had also spent hours doing yesterday) and loading them into a removal van, to be driven to my inlaws' place, where there was a spare stable to store his life's work (approx 500 paintings and drawings) and give his house in Bray some real breathing space. I hadn't had time to dwell on the day that was in it. My wife Sam and I had meant to visit mum's grave that afternoon with some flowers, but this plan had to be abandoned. Sam needed to get her car NCT'd in Dublin so she left before I did. Once on the road I had nothing but my thoughts as a companion.
There is something about that familiar 50 minute drive, alone in the car's hermetic dream-space, the road smoothly swerving or rolling over long straight hills, anthropomorphic ivied tree-silhouettes, evening coming on, the Sugarloaf sailing its dark fin. My mother used to enjoy driving before she gave it up prematurely in her 50s. But it wasn't only that. The anniversary of course is part of it, as is the loss of a routine that had developed over the years when I was caring for mum; whenever I left her for a few hours or (when she was less dependent) overnight, I would call her the moment I arrived and let her know when I was on the way back. Now, the absence of the need to make these calls intensifies a sense of heaviness that is also lightness, a phantom wind-resistance, that is also a kind of parting, in which the passing landscape appears less (or more) real.
All these things are part of it, but the feeling has overtaken me before on this (and sometimes other) longish drives, even when mum was still alive. What else then? What stirring, what embedded pattern, surge, cascade of chemicals setting off memories and half-memories, spirit-stuff, ripples in the neural net? Whatever it was/is, I continue to miss her. I wish I could believe in her continuing, being out there in some quantum time-leased apartment, something more than dispersed carbon, her breath now the wind's fucking poetry.
I often think of something a friend of mine, Johnny, said to me shortly after mum died: when your parents die you become an orphan. This is I suppose especially true in my case because I never knew my father and was brought up an only child (though I have a wonderful half brother I later met). I've been lucky though, with my mother, my wife, son and some very close friends/relations.
I took the photo above a few years ago, for a disabled driving ID that enabled me to park in wheelchair slots when mum was in the car. She closed her eyes at one point, an involuntarily moment that made her appear youthful: as if she's having a good dream, or someone has told her to close her eyes, make a wish.