One of the recurring statements I hear from people who have lost a loved one is ‘I’d give anything for just one more hug’.
One of the common factors which torture a survivor following a sudden death is that we never had a chance to say goodbye. Can we remember the last time we spoke? Did we tell them we loved them or did we have cross words? When was the last time we hugged?
My last memory of Toby is dropping him off at Penzance Railway station on Sunday morning the 1st May 2011. I had no clue this was the last time I would ever see my son alive. The next time I saw him he was lying lifeless in a sea grass casket dressed in the new shirt I had bought him days before.
At the station I remember very distinctly as he got out of the back of the car saying ‘I won’t get out and give you a hug’, in a joking fashion. Oh how I would give anything to turn back time and make my last memory of seeing my son a long, warm hug. I know I told him ‘I’ll always love you’ because I always did that, without fail, even when I was mad with him I would tell him that. But I didn’t get out of the car, walk over to him and hug him, because I was so sure I would see him again very soon.
I have learned not to be tortured by this last memory, as I have so many memories of when I did hug him, he was not starved of hugs. In fact I made special efforts to hug him as often as he would allow as I was brought up in a family where we never hugged or showed any affection. A victim of the post war generation I guess.
Oh how I wish I could have stored up a million memories of what it felt like to hug my grown up son. If only I could close my eyes and go to a place where I could feel my arms around him, breathe in his scent and feel his love.
Those hugs where I could sense he felt awkward ‘Oh Mum…’ he would say, but I knew he also liked them, but would never tell me. I don’t think he ever spontaneously hugged me once he had turned 13, but even though he raised his eyebrows, I could sense that he appreciated my bursts of physical affection. I didn’t want him to grow up in a family that never hugged.
Often it was when he had come down into the kitchen after getting up late and he’d be all sleepy eyed and grumpy, in t-shirt and boxers, unwashed and dishevelled. ‘Come on give me a hug’ I’d say and wrap my arms around him. By then he was taller than me and I was aware that he was a man now, no longer my little boy, but still needing his Mum’s love. He would reluctantly accept and I’d hug him tight, then pat him on the back or ruffle his hair, to set him free. He always hugged me back.
Now as I close my eyes I wish desperately that I could ‘feel’ that feeling again. I didn’t know how precious those hugs were, and I didn’t know that I should have stored up the memory of every single one. I naturally assumed that I would have the rest of my lifetime to hug my son.
It sounds totally bonkers, bizarre and crazy, but sometimes I think that if I made a life-sized replica of Toby by stuffing a pair of his trousers and a shirt – like when we made a Guy when we were kids. I could make a head and then stick on a picture of his face on the head and then I could hug it and then maybe I could remember what it felt like to hug him. Then I say to myself ‘Anne, that is bonkers and rather creepy, and it wouldn’t be any good’.
Grief can do that to you, it can make you lose your mind. So I come back to my senses and am grateful that I had a son for 23 years and I got the chance to hug him and tell him I loved him.