Mother's Day is fast approaching, and the nation is in the grips of the usual sentimental idealisation of the maternal role: daytime television shows compete to find 'Britain's best mum', while the shops are full of cards, gifts and flowers.
For those mourning their mothers, and for those who are remembering a lost child, however, this slow buildup to Mothering Sunday serves only as a painful reminder of all that they are missing. Just last week, Prince William gave a moving speech about the continuing impact of his own mother's death. "Never being able to say the word 'Mummy' again in your life sounds like a small thing. However, for many, including me, it’s now really just a word - hollow and evoking only memories." The Prince was speaking on the occasion of the launch of the Child Bereavement Charity's 'Remember on Mother's Day' campaign, which asks people to spare a thought for those mothers bereaved of a child, and those children bereaved of their mothers, this coming Sunday.
Yet it is not only these significant anniversaries that can serve to remind us of what we no longer have. Sometimes the most trivial of events can precipitate us abruptly back to an earlier loss.
Last summer, a fantastic new cafe opened around ten minutes walk from our house, serving the most wonderful cakes, pastries and coffees. We went there for Saturday brunch a few weeks ago, and I had a plate of pancakes served with maple syrup and fresh bananas. Earlier this week, I found myself dreaming about those pancakes. I tried to put the craving behind me, and to plod on with marking my final round of undergraduate dissertations, but to no avail. By eleven o'clock, I had managed to convince myself that I was craving pancakes for a reason - that this was my body's way of telling me that I was dangerously deficient in potassium. Clearly, the baby urgently needed me to eat a further helping of those pancakes and bananas! I grabbed my coat and set off.
It was only after I'd found a seat and ordered my pancakes that I realised that the cafe was full of women with small children. Even in my vastly pregnant state, I still had to fight those old familiar feelings of exclusion - of stumbling across a mysterious club that I would never be part of. Yet this time I noticed something different. Many of these women were accompanied by their own mothers. Looking around at all these grandmothers, mothers and babies, the question suddenly hit me: Without my mother to guide me, how will I know how to take care of my own child? How am I going to mother in the absence of a mother?
For the past few weeks, I have been attending antenatal classes. The other women in the class talk about how their mothers have offered to help out after the birth. For some, the thought of having their mothers on hand in this way is an evident relief; for others, it seems an intrusion or irritation. Would I welcome the help and guidance of my mother, or would I be adamant that I wanted to find my own way of doing things? The truth is, I simply don't know. She died during my late adolescence, at a stage when I was struggling to assert my independence from her. I never had a chance to rebuild my relationship with her from the perspective of an adult woman. Yet this gap, this lacuna, does not stop me fantasising about what might have been. And so I find myself grieving anew for my mother. And not only that. I find myself grieving on behalf of my child, for the grandmother he or she will never know.