Sunday March 11th 2018 marks Mother's Day - a date in the diary when children around the UK celebrate their leading ladies. But this day won't be a joyous celebration for all of us. Samantha Whittingham, 29, speaks candidly about spending Mothering Sunday without her mum.
When my two older brothers, my two younger sisters and I came home from school one afternoon, we were surprised that our parents weren't there. They were supposed to be home from the hospital after mum had a routine operation on her throat. But I wasn't worried - I was only 11-years-old, the age when your parents seem invincible.
I don't recall much about being 11, but I remember everything about what happened next. I was sitting on the living room floor doing some homework and my siblings were on the sofa watching TV, when dad walked through the front door. He was alone. "I have something very difficult to tell you," he said to us with a white, shell-shocked face. He pulled us in close as he said, "Something went terribly wrong with mum's operation. She's never coming home." I pulled away. "What? That's not funny!" I screamed. He told us it was true, and that he was sorry.
I didn't cry straight away. I just felt terribly, chillingly numb and so dizzy. It wasn't until dinner that evening, all of us sat in front of food we couldn't eat, that it hit me. We all sobbed heavily, holding each other. None of us ate until the next day.
During the operation, which used a laser to cauterise the blood vessels in my mum's throat, an artery was pierced, causing her lungs to fill and triggering a heart attack. She was just 43.
My mum was my favourite person in the world, and I did everything with her. She walked us to and from school every day. At the weekend, I'd go into town with her to do the weekly shop, but we'd always stop for cake and tea in the supermarket cafe before I helped her haul the bags to the bus. I'd watch soap operas with her in the evening and paint her pictures. She was the only person who insisted on calling me 'Samantha', never Sam. She told me to find joy in the simple things in life.
And suddenly, my world felt empty without her in it. Dad tried to keep us busy, but nothing helped. She died on 1 December 1999 and had bought most of our Christmas presents before she went into hospital. I'll never forget opening her gifts without her there to see it.
It became very difficult to see friends - and even strangers - interact with their mothers. I was bitterly jealous, and it made me long for a future I couldn't have. And it made my friends feel awkward too, especially when we were in town around Mother's Day, with all the storefronts reminding me of my loss. My best friend asked if I wanted to wait outside while she bought her mum a card. "Don't be silly!" I said, but I think I was just numb.
We never acknowledged Mother's Day after she died. Dad didn't like to talk about her, and he refused to have any photos of her on display at home. It felt like we had to pretend she never existed. It was awful, but I guess it was just his way of coping.
This distance marked every Mother's Day through my teenage years - I just felt numb and hollow, simply thinking 'this isn't relevant to me'. My brothers, sisters and I supported each other, and we were really looked after at school. But there were so many milestones I wish she'd been there for - passing my exams, learning to drive, getting into college. Her absence was at the back of mind through it all.
Even through my twenties, Mother's Day was simply a day I was removed from. A day of numbness during which I'd just try to keep busy. It wasn't until I met my now-fiancé, Kris, at 23, that my Mother's Day routine changed, and we celebrated by spending the day with his mum. The numbness was still there, but I had to put on a brave face.
Although it still hurts that my mum's not here, I eventually had to learn to channel the pain into something positive. Now, everything I do is to make her proud. In 2014, I opened my own business - Corporate Cakery, which is an online cake shop for businesses. And even though she's not here to witness it or give advice, I base my business decisions on what would make mum most proud.
Whereas Mother's Day was once something ignored at all costs, I now find comfort in opening up and telling people about my mum. So, instead, this Mothering Sunday, I'll remember my mum. I'll have a cup of tea, a slice of cake, and make sure to find joy in the simple pleasures, just like she taught me. And to anyone reading this, I just want to say: don't wait for one day a year to show your mum how much you love her. Please.
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