We've just returned from our family week in Ballyvaughan in the Burren on the West Coast of Ireland. The family week we have every year with my mum and dad, my brother and his family, and me and mine. The family week mum and dad organised last summer before my mum's stroke. The family week that no longer involves my family. Not as it was anyway.
This time last year I was there with my mum. We pottered on wild west beaches, collecting shells with the girls, enjoying choccy buns with our tea, sitting side by side with our faces to the sun. This year, her absence was present everywhere. I never knew it was possible to feel so much pain without bleeding. The pain continues, as the realisation dawns that the trauma will not end. The trauma is constant. As my three girls delighted in the company of their cousins, the house was filled with their laughter, the laugher that made my mum's life happy. But she wasn't there to hear it. And amidst the noise of childish chatter I would be suddenly struck down, paralysed on the spot, cup in hand, children scampering around me, lost in my loss. While the world went on around me, I was still. And in my stillness I could see her. Her blue fleece walking along the beach, her white T-shirt soothing Ruby's screaming teeth, her sun hat tilted back as the sun scorched our skin as the view scorched our eyes with its beauty. A bloodless coup has taken place, not a mark on my body but my head and my heart beaten and bruised.
It was possibly the hardest week of my life after the two following her stroke, made more intense by the beauty of the landscape and the glorious weather, both of which my mum appreciated more than anything. People often use the phrase 'breathtaking' to describe a stunning view, but the beauty of the Burren is breath-giving. The expanse inflates your lungs, the beauty makes you breath deeper, sucking it in, absorbing the glory of the landscape into your bones, as if your eyes are not enough to capture it all. It gave me the strength to carry on, to enjoy the moments of pleasure as we all pottered on wild west beaches, collected shells with my girls, ate choccy buns with our tea, and sat with our faces to the sun. And feeling her with me still.