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An Ode to my Mum

Martha shares her mum's story, and explores their relationship as mother and daughter. Martha is nervous to publish this.

It’s probably fair to say that pretty much everyone has a difficult relationship with at least one of their parents. For me, it was always with my mum. I always knew that she loved me, fiercely. It was just that the way that her love often manifested itself could be cruel. And that was quite a confusing thing to try and grasp as I was growing up. It still is.

My mum has lived a very difficult life. Aged seven, she was forced to leave her home in Uganda under the decree of the dictator, Idi Amin. In the early 1970s, Amin ordered the expulsion of 50,000 Asians who carried British passports from Uganda. My mum, with her elder brother and sister and my grandmother sought refuge in the UK, as they had British passports. My grandfather had to be left behind, as he did not. My mum was seven years old when she left her dad. She was sixteen when she saw him again, and six months after that, he passed away from a heart attack. In the UK, my mum and her family were moved around a number of refugee camps in both Wales and England. You can imagine what it was like to spend the formative years of your life in that kind of environment. None of the family spoke English. It was bloody cold. And England in the 70s wasn’t the most welcoming place for a family of Indian refugees. Eventually, they were assigned housing, and my mum was able to attend school. She loved it. She’d been to school for one term in Uganda, but in Cardiff, and later Watford, she developed a real passion for learning that she passed down onto me. She loved History and English. She played pranks on her French teacher. For an Indian girl, she had an unusual fondness for learning about the British monarchy throughout history, and that remains with her to this day. She absolutely adores the late Queen, and I think partially that lies in her gratitude, and her luck, in having a British passport in Uganda in 1973. It signified her escape from a much worse fate if she had remained in Uganda. The death of the Queen raises very mixed feelings in the non-white British community and justifiably so. But in our house, the main sentiments were respect, gratitude and genuine affection.

I underline this with the context of my mum’s start in life as I think it shows just how tough she is - and had to become - to survive. Compared to her, I’ve been unbelievably fortunate. And that’s all down to the efforts of her and my dad. However, going through that much trauma at a young age will inevitably leave its’ mark on someone, and it hardened my mum. She lost a lot of her empathy. In my teenage years, we would fight all the time. They could range from lots of small, petty fights to huge screaming matches, the aftermath of which would be an awful tension that would last for days. I would tell her my insecurities and my vulnerabilities and she would use them against me in fights. I stopped trusting her, or confiding in her. She would drink a fair bit too much every night, and it would warp her into this volatile and bitter woman within the space of an hour. Eventually, the alcohol and the stresses of her life caught up with her, and in September 2019, nine days before I was due to start my first year at uni, she suffered a very bad stroke. She was rushed to A&E, and my dad and I were told to prepare ourselves for her death.

But she survived. Although the woman that she once was hasn’t. Three years down the line, bits of her remain. She has an impeccable memory of almost everything in her life from before the stroke, right down to what was in the freezer the day before it happened. She can remember her childhood and working in London and meeting my dad and living in Singapore with total clarity. She can’t remember a lot of the daily occurrences of the present day though. She struggles with change. She’s still incredibly stubborn, and still a bit of a food snob. But now she has a lot more sugar in her tea, and the cruelty is pretty much gone. It still occasionally pops up, but it's far less frequent, and far easier to calm her down.

As her child, I find myself in quite a unique position. The woman I absolutely adored as a very young child has, as I have known for a very long time now, gone. She morphed into another character altogether - someone I was afraid of. But now that woman has gone too. Who is she now? Who’s child am I? I find myself looking at this woman, essentially unable to place who she is. The stroke caused a significant loss in movement on the entire right side of her body, not too far off paralysis. The brain damage has, to a degree, reduced her mind to that of a child. So, here we are, at the dinner table. I am looking at her, and she is the person who has loved me unconditionally since I was born, she is the person who has always fought for me when no one was in my corner, and she is the person who has caused me so much harm, but now - she just isn’t. She even looks different. She’s now effectively harmless; she’s gone soft. She needs someone to help her dress every morning. She needs someone to cut up her food for her. She compliments me. She tells me she’s proud of me. Where has the other woman gone? Who is this one? Which do I prefer? Does it even matter?

As with everything I write, there is no real purpose to this post. I have no answers for myself. I’m still working it all through in my head. I find writing about it does help, if only to organise my thoughts. My mum is a very unique woman. She’s very tough. She’s been through an awful lot, and from a very young age. I admire her, I cherish her and I am incredibly angry at her. And I miss her. It’s quite a bizarre thing to mourn a person who is still alive. I think I just have to wait and she who she becomes next. Is this version of my mum her final form? I think it might be. But she does always surprise me. We shall have to wait and see.


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