Happy Death Day! Or Happy Birthday…

A framed photo of a young woman with dark hair and pale skin holding a very alert baby in a traditional christening dress. It does look a bit Edwardian. There's a rose lying in front of the photo.
My christening: my mother Jane Sholl (nee Donavan) 1979

After someone dies, their birthday suddenly doesn’t need marking anymore. But the 15th of June will always feel enormously significant to me – it was my mother’s birthday, an important date for 24 years of my life. It’s hardwired in me, this date, far more than the date of her tragic, unexpected death.

This photo was taken at my christening. She was only 25 or so – the age I was when she died. She died a few weeks before her 50th birthday. It was 2004, before camera phones, and before everyone had digital cameras. So it’ll seem to my girls like their Grandma lived in a completely different era.

Actually, I too grew up with that idea – as a direct result of this photo – I thought I’d somehow been born in the Edwardian era, and things had just changed very quickly. (It was 1979, Edwardian chic was in style.)

I always mean to mark her birthday. I often fail. It’s still surprisingly raw after all these years. My life is segmented into the before and after. Her death contributed to a chain of events that made my condition dramatically worsen, I lost the ability to walk etc.

But she of course knew nothing of that. It’s easy for the person you loved to get lost in the circumstances around their death.

She was a very warm woman, whose eyes smiled like nobody else’s I’ve ever seen. She was fiercely intelligent and loving, with a personality that could swing somewhat alarmingly. She never, through the sparse nineties & noughties, plucked her eyebrows – they’d be achingly fashionable now. I regret she was robbed of that “I told you so”. Our relationship was often hard, and complex, but I loved her terribly. I still do.

We had macaroons and tea in the garden on the anniversary of her death. Mainie ran in saying “happy death day!” in the morning. (She was wearing just pants and brandishing a stick. It was unnerving to be honest.) There was a card too, she drew me and my family in black, and children throwing rose petals onto Grandma’s coffin. (This did happen – she asked me about it and was clearly fascinated.) I posted about it on instagram stories and everyone was so lovely. Next year I will mark her birthday instead, as I always mean to. She deserves a place here I think.

Lucy Catchpole

(First posted on instagram 15.6.20 in a slightly shorter form.)

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