I was in a horrible, frightening place after the death of my mum. Then Les arrived and the fog began to lift
Growing up, your parents’ friends can feel like extras in the drama of your life: there, but peripheral to the action. Les was that for me. She was my mum’s best friend: the giver of the ceremonial birthday £5 note and bestower of strange charity-shop finds. We rarely lived in the same place. While I was in Yorkshire, she was in Bristol, and she moved north only when I went south to university. We would share a hug and a chat a few times a year. I liked her, but our paths rarely crossed.
Then my lovely, huge-hearted mum died. It was a violent freak accident in a foreign country, and her death was a catastrophic rip in the fabric of our family. I was 29 and pregnant with a confused and understandably demanding one-year-old son. My sister was barely 18, my stepfather quite unwell and spent his days making and receiving endless unbearable phone calls as the news reverberated around my mum’s sprawling network of friends, family and colleagues. Her many siblings flocked round, filling the house with comforting but stressful activity – small dark women I would cross on the stairs who looked so like her, but weren’t. We were lost in the twilight-zone bureaucracy of sudden death; a time when there was nothing and everything to do. It didn’t even feel like grief (or how I had imagined grief before experiencing it). We were just stuck in a horrible, frightening place I hadn’t known existed.