Life & Culture

‘Normally I’d have bought her a Mother’s Day card, some chocolates and flowers’

This Sunday is Mother’s Day and Rosa Doherty’s first without her beloved mum. She can’t send her a card, but her gratitude could not be stronger


Rosa and her mum Claire have tea at the Ritz in 2019

Normally I’d have bought Mum a card and some chocolates and flowers on Mother’s Day.  I’d have scribbled in the card and written my own cheesy poem, like I’ve done in the years before, about why Claire was the best mum in the world and I’m so lucky to have her.

I can’t. Mum passed away 12 weeks ago and all the cliches are true. It is like time has stood still and an eternity has passed at the same time.

As we’ve begun the difficult task of going through her things, I’ve been confronted with the cards I wrote her in the past, squirrelled away in drawers or boxes, some even framed. Only a mother would keep the cards bought for them by their children in high street supermarkets. I have two small children and of course I will keep the cards they make for me, their scribbles on cheap cardboard, priceless.

The timing of Mum’s terminal diagnosis coincided with my first pregnancy in early 2020. At the same time a global pandemic loomed. I was lucky enough to be able to care for her at home along with the help of my sister and husband. My mum was able to see me become a mum in close quarters which in a different world wouldn’t have happened and she got to watch not one but two of her grandchildren in their first years of life.

Becoming a mum and a carer at the same time is not what I had imagined for my own journey into motherhood, and it was not without difficulties, but it was the best gift to be able to give and to receive. Her presence and encouragement was stabilising at a time when I was metaphorically learning to ride a bike for the first time. And having her with us brought so much joy.

My mum is the reason my kids listen to songs on Spotify which span all kinds of musical genres and bath times are punctuated by a ‘family dance party’ where we forget who is watching and to quote Taylor Swift, “shake it off.” My mum loved to be silly. In her working life, she was a teacher who was unfailingly kind and generous, I always knew this, but as one does, discovered it even more so after she died after hearing from people who have benefitted from her advice and time, be it friends, colleagues or former pupils.  She loved to learn and never stopped embracing new technology: everyone would flock to her for help with their technological needs, even her three-year-old grandson with his iPad.

Now I’m getting used to being a mother without one, which presents a new set of challenges.

The part of the sofa where she sat, quietly observing my mothering is now empty. And with that has gone a sense of grounding. ‘Am I doing this right?’ I would often think on long days, after the long nights and a cursory glance over my shoulder to a silent but happy observer would tell me all I needed to know. Like a ship without a compass or an anchor, I do feel a sense of being lost at sea.

Like all good Jewish mothers, she was always there. She supplied chicken soup when I was ill despite not being much of a cook. Crawling into her bed when I was sick was something I did well into adulthood. The stereotype of the neurotic Jewish mother was true of her, but only in the most caring way and if she wasn’t searching for my name on Twitter/X we were sharing locations with each other on iPhone so she could see that I was OK. It continued, this need to know exactly where we were, even though we were   living together in these last few years.

I’m told that I’m especially unlucky to have lost both parents in my 30s, but I’m not the only person to have lost loved ones before they should have. And Mum would have reminded me of that. Life is hard and bad things happen to good people, she used to say. Sometimes there is no rhyme nor reason.

And she should know. Because despite a very happy life, bad things happened to her. Secondary breast cancer for one and a stillbirth after I was born in the late 1980s another.

In those days baby loss was dealt with differently and she was sent home to get on with it. In the last few years, we often talked about the impact that experience had on her. And when I became a mother for the first time four years ago I got an even deeper understanding of what she must have been through.

‘How did you come home and carry on being a mum to me after that?’ I asked her during my pregnancy with my second.

“You just have to,” she said “being a mum doesn’t stop.”

And she taught me that. As well as the countless other lessons, like see good theatre, always wear a coat, look up the best place to park before you leave, and (as my sister mentioned in her eulogy) you can’t have a good time in uncomfortable shoes.

This year I might not be able to send her a card, but it goes without saying that I am grateful for it all. And I always will be.

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