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Opinion

I never knew my mother before her accident. Maybe I was the lucky one

Recently Robin has been recalling the tremendous bravery and fortitude of his mother, whose life was changed forever by a dangerous driver

Boarding the train at Taunton, I remember the last time I disembarked from here. Now, after 14 months, I am off to the final Bibliomaniac bookshop talk at Liskeard Books. Then, my final destination was Stoke Mandeville hospital. My father was dying, so after a 12-hour holiday in Dunster, I left the family and paid the excess fare required to reach the vigil as I was no longer travelling with “friends and family” and there are no excuses for shortfalls in payment on our privatised rail network. 

Since my father died in April, I have been thinking a great deal about my late mother. She was nearly 10 years his junior but died seven years before him. So often, the questions that come to mind are only conjured up when they can no longer be answered. 

I never knew my mother before her accident. My sister Sarah and I were in the crash too. I was unscathed, my sister was lightly scathed and my mother suffered injuries that very nearly killed her. She would have died had my dad, who was only a few cars behind, not vociferously argued with the paramedics who were going to take her to the local hospital. Somehow, he knew she would die if she wasn’t taken to a major hospital. We later discovered he was correct.

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When rifling through drawers of my dad’s old letters, my sisters found correspondence from the ambulance crew thanking my dad for his letter which had made them “the envy of the station”. Despite the pressures of dealing with a severely ill partner and three young children, he took time to send a thank you letter. Now they are both dead, I think more and more on how their lives were changed by an accident caused by a dangerous driver. 

My sisters think it is a little sad that I never knew my mum before the accident, but I wonder if I was the lucky one. What is it for a child to meet their mother again and see that she is not who she was. How disturbing that must be, both for parent and child. When she first came out of hospital she was in pieces and came very close to being sectioned. Then, she pulled herself together. I don’t mean that in the stiff-upper-lip, pull-yourself-together way. I really mean that, with an enormous act of resilience and fortitude she became whole.

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I was the lucky one because, being only three, I didn’t know her from before. She was only ever the one person to me. I wish I had spent more time thinking about what it is to wake up and find that your face is changed and that your body and mind are changed. I don’t think I focused enough on her courage. We knew little of her depression. I don’t think we understood her erratic behaviour.

When you are little, you just want your parents to be ‘normal’. She was a woman who loved fashion and wearing striking clothes and headscarves and yet, as she “put her face on” in front of the mirror every morning, how often she must have been upset by what she saw. In later years, she would have quiet moments of anger and mention “that man” whose idiotic driving had caused so much sadness for her.

In the last decade of her life, my mother had dementia, though it was only diagnosed on her death certificate, so many decades of depressive illness led to uncertainty for all of us as to what was really going on. 

At the Wigtown Book Festival, I watched the activist and author Natasha Walter talking about her new book, which is all about her mother. The interviewer noticed that halfway through the book, she stopped being referred to as her mother. She had now become Ruth. As Natasha explained, there was a point in writing where she could clearly see the three dimensions of Ruth who was also her mother, not only her mother. 

Time to open more drawers, time to write, time to find Pam. 

Robin Ince is a comedian, writer and broadcaster.

Bibliomaniac by Robin Ince

His book Bibliomaniac (Atlantic Books, £10.99) is out now. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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