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On turning thirty

The day before her thirtieth birthday Annie Broadbent, author of We Need to Talk about Grief, wrote a letter to her mother who had died nearly five years previously. Here she shares that letter . . .





It’s my birthday tomorrow. I’m going to be 30. Yikes. I’ve spent the evening with Tim, talking about age and change and our relationship. He said today how fed up he was that you’re not here. It was so nice to hear that he feels that too – frustration and indignation that you haven’t come back yet. My god, our life would be so fabulous with you in it.


I wanted to write to you to mark the departure of my twenties – the decade in which you knew me when you died. This change in my life is yet another marker of becoming more unrecognizable to you, to your last memory of me. Nearly five years on – I’m 30, married to a man you’ve never met, living in a house you’ve never seen, I have a different job and I’ve also chopped all my hair off. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel disloyal, not to feel like I’m betraying you by becoming something you don’t know. Although, you probably saw my potential as a human being a long time ago. You magical woman.


Most people aren’t recognizing me at the moment. I cut my hair off as my self imposed rite of passage to mark turning 30. I’m not sure what you’d think. In some ways I feel closer to you as it’s more like the style you had when you died. It’s taking me a long time to get used to, but I’m pleased and proud I did it. I want my fourth decade on this earth to be even bolder and braver than my 3rd.


Lara said to me today that it’s nice that I’m entering into the decade in which you gave birth to me. That was comforting. That made me feel closer to you. And then it made me scared – because I realized I’m getting closer to the age that you died. What if I die then too? What if I die before? What if I die after, and I transcend your whole experience of life?


I really, really, really want to feel happy tomorrow. And to feel you with me too. I miss you, Mama. So much. I miss your love of birthdays, the birthday breakfasts, your overwhelming generosity, your great capacity for celebration.


When I look at photos of you for long enough I realize that I only really get through life without you because I allow myself to forget that you are dead. Just a little bit. But enough to let me get on. I forget the feeling of you. I forget the feeling of having a mum. I park it, put it away. And then, if I wait, and linger over a photo, it comes . . . the flip in the gut, the sickening, disgusting moment of realization, of remembering. Now I’ve got it. I don’t want to cry, but I feel heavy, and sad. And angry. Here they come, here are the tears.


I wish you would call. I wish I could call you. I wish you would text. I wish I could hear your voice. Your smile, that look of happiness when you see me, when we’re together. I wish I could do that for you.


I love my life, mum. It’s so full and rich and exciting. And I’m so proud of myself for making it like that, without you. But it’s so fucking shit you can’t be in it too. Why couldn’t I have both? It’s a load of crap to know, every day, that life would be better if you were alive. And that there is absolutely nothing I will ever be able to do about that. Ever.


I love you Mutti, so beautiful . . . what a gift you were.