A Life Without My Mother

Eliza Deacon is a photographer living in northern Tanzania, and is also our latest contributor. Here, she writes beautifully about living the majority of her life without  her mother. Living, loving, traveling---it seems she is never really without her mother, something I can relate to in my own way. Thank you, Eliza, for sharing this beautiful and honest glimpse through yours and your mother's eyes.

By Eliza Deacon

When I reached the age of 33, it was something of a milestone: my mother had now not been present for more of my life than she had ever been in it. She died when I was 16, had been ill from when I was 13.  At 13 I remember her sitting down with my twin sister and I. I can remember the room we were in and where we were sitting, I even remember how I was sitting, legs tucked up beneath me in a brown armchair. She told us that she had this thing called cancer and that she was going to be away in hospital but that we shouldn’t worry. With the innocence, and ignorance, of a 13-year-old I remember thinking ‘wow, I wonder what that word means, but I can’t wait to tell my friends at school’.

I didn’t think then of how I would cope without a mother, I was too young. But how did I negotiate my way through the rest of my adolescence, my tricky teens, my 20s, 30s and into my 40s?  I did of course, admittedly with what seemed like more than my fair share of crash and burn disasters, but it’s a loss I’ve always felt. You get over it, you learn to live with it, but it’s always with you isn’t it. Your mother, any parent really, isn’t meant to die when you are 16 and your mother especially not.

Aren’t mothers meant to guide you, be something of a blueprint to show and teach you how to be the woman you’re going to become: a girlfriend, wife, lover, friend, mother, adult . . . all those things that we intrinsically are, but somehow also need to be shown. And whilst you do find your own way, you rather stumble through the complexities when oh lord, how on earth do you know who you are meant to be when you really have no real idea where to start!

My mother was the most amazing woman I will ever know. She was born and grew up a barefoot “jungle child” in India, she rode horses as a cowboy on the Colorado plains, she became a top model in the swinging London 60s scene, and she was a Bond girl in the original Casino Royale (the one without Daniel Craig!). I know now what I didn’t see then, that she often had a far-off look; she gave up many of her dreams when she---not unhappily, I hasten to add---met my father and settled down. But I don’t think she ever stopped yearning for distant horizons.

As soon as I could, I started to travel with an ignorance is bliss attitude, a sort of ‘I want to do this because I want to know how it feels’ attitude. I discovered it very quickly, in war zones and far-flung places. I wanted to be able to look back and say what an incredible time it all was. And yes it was, I was very lucky. I think my life, whilst not the same as hers, was set on a pre-charted course to somehow follow hers, but yet on a different parallel. Exploring, finding new horizons, new adventures, and in the process learning more about myself and the person I would become. Knowing the synergy of our lives makes me very happy. It’s also the knowledge that she would love my African life, this wild and wonderful continent I’ve lived on for the past 18 years.

At times I have felt her gentle presence and steadying hand in my life. How I waited patiently and, at times, not so patiently to find this beautiful man who now shares my life; my coffee farmer, my life-partner who walks his own parallel path in his quiet way and whose feet stand squarely next to mine. I rather think  that she had something to do with that.

I don’t have children and am unlikely to now. It could be an overwhelming thought, if I let it, to know that I won’t share that mother-daughter bond that I experienced so briefly. But I don’t dwell, I figure that things have turned out the way they were meant and I don’t wish to live with regrets. Life sends you on strange tangents and I can’t imagine any other than this one; one that I know she will always be very much a part of.