Dear mummy: what would your last words to your mother be?
Ahead of Mother's Day this Sunday and in a heartbreakingly honest insight into grief and loss, Karen Ireland, from Dromore, reflects on all the things she'd say...if only she had the chance.
This year is my 14th Mother's Day without my mum. The time that has passed sometimes takes my breath away, but not a day goes by that I don't think about her or miss her.
Every day I have conversations with her in my head.
I always worried that I would forget the sound of her voice, but I can still hear it clearly.
Most of the time I replay conversations we never had and imagine what her responses would be, or I try to imagine what her take on my life now would be and the things we would talk about now.
Mum was diagnosed with a rare cancer on my eldest son Jesse's first birthday in 2000. She died three months later.
During that time, and the months of tests which preceded it, my mum never spoke about her illness. As a family we tried to broach the subject and the inevitable prognosis, but she point blank refused and in the end, as a family, we had to respect her wishes.
This is probably the hardest thing to live with when it come to thinking about those conversations we never got to have. I longed to talk to mum about what she wanted to happen; I wanted to be able to say goodbye properly.
But mum maintained a dignified silence on all these fronts; instead she lived very much in the moment. If she was angry, scared or anxious about what was happening, she never showed it to me or to my dad or my brother. The minister and her GP tried to talk to her about what was happening, but she simply refused to be drawn on the fact she was dying.
So, what would I have said in that conversation which ultimately I know she spared me from?
I would have told her how much I loved her and how much I was going to miss her. I would have told her how frightened I felt at the thought of being without her even for one day, but I would have promised to be brave.
I would have assured her that I would look after my dad and that I would always talk about her to Jesse and anyone else who came along. I would have promised to keep her memory alive every day.
Sometimes now, I picture us having this very conversation in my head; we are hugging and we are both crying, but she would be reassuring me that she had a peace about what was to come and that I should have, too.
I know how much my mum loved me but I still wish I had a chance to tell her how proud I was of her and how blessed I was to have her in my life for almost 30 years.
Mostly, I would like to have said not goodbye but 'See you again one day mum'.
I regret that I never had a long conversation with mum about her childhood and shared more of her memories.
Like how she met my dad and how she knew he was 'the one'. You always think there is plenty of time for reminiscing, but now that both my parents are gone, there is no-one to fill in the blanks; no-one to talk to about the past.
I wish I had memorised conversations we did have so I could remember mum's outlook and view on life.
She loved being a grandmother and during that last year she was there for Jesse every day. It was a difficult year as she was ill, having lots of tests and in a lot of pain, but she never complained and she always put her family first.
There are so many times I will think 'I wish I had talked more to mum about this or that'. The big things as well as the small.
What sort of a mother did she think I would become and what was her advice and why, oh why, did I not pay more attention when she tried to teach me to cook? We all suffer because of that one.
When I think about the conversations I would have now with my mum, I think about how much she loved to laugh and how much I could share with her as a mum of three growing boys.
I would give anything to have these conversations with her, to hug her and hold her hand and laugh and even cry with her again.
Many times I will say to the boys, 'Your nanny Gwen would be so proud of you' or, 'Your nanny Gwen would soon sort that out'.
So, if I could, I would talk to her about Jesse (14), and how in spectacular teenage style, he has disappeared once more into his cave (sorry bedroom) and stays there until he wants food most of the time. Did I do the same?
I would tell her how much Jesse loves playing rugby and about the two tries he scored in his recent match.
Having given everyone around her a nickname, I know my mum would have called Korey (12) 'the quiet man'. Deep and sensitive, he reminds me every day of my late father and she would get such a kick out of that.
Meanwhile, the destructively creative Teo (9) would be the one to make her laugh with all his antics – from camping in the hallway and cooking on a gas stove, to his attempts to make pizza and making his own recording studio for discos in his bedroom – special events to which we all have to get a ticket to attend.
I know she would have had the patience not only to listen to all the stories but to sit through the performances and share in their lives and experiences.
She would have been the first person I took Teo to see when he got a role in the school play and I know she would have been there beside me on the big night, wanting to go early enough to get a front row seat.
I would talk to her about the difficult year Korey has just had with his health and his numerous hospital stays.
I am sure she would have plenty to say about him falling off the roof while trying to jump from there onto the trampoline and breaking two of the bones in his arm so badly that he needed pins. The same arm he broke two bones in several years ago after falling off a swing while up on the North Coast.
I would moan and grumble to her about my husband Tom's on-going love affair with all things outdoors and the amount of time he spends either up a mountain or on a river.
I know she would understand where I was coming from as she called herself a sports widow – my father Bill was a sports journalist for this newspaper.
I would talk to her about my family and friends and just treasure time talking about anything and everything.
Mostly, I miss her wisdom and calming influence on me. For it is true that as loved as I am by my family, no-one can ever replace your mum.
When I think about all of this, about not being able to have a conversation in person with mum any more, I often think of the Garth Brooks song If Tomorrow Never Comes, and those lines about wondering whether, if you passed away, someone would know just how much you loved them.
Mum loved Garth Brooks. I just hope she knew how much I loved her and still do.
Writer Emma Heatherington (37) lives in Donaghmore with her children Jordyn (18), Jade (12) and Adam (11). She says:
My mum died when I was 15 and she was 36 – she had a sudden heart attack. It was a massive shock and one of those things that are still talked about in our village, as there are a lot of family round here. Mum was the youngest of seven and she left six children behind – my baby sister was only eight months old.
I was at that age when I was starting to recognise my mum as someone more than just my mother. She was very full of life and on-trend and young at heart. She loved getting to know my friends and wanted to know about boys I liked. I was quite shy at that age and didn't want to divulge anything.
My regret is that I didn't share with her enough and open up enough about that side of things.
Mum was so bubbly and full of fun, and friends who came to my house always had a lot of craic with her. I should have appreciated her more for the lovely, vibrant person she actually was, not just as a mother.
I should have helped her out more too. I should have told her just to sit down, have a cup of coffee and have a break to herself.
I remember giving her a spontaneous hug one day while she was cooking dinner – that wasn't like me at all. It wasn't long before she died and I didn't even know why I did it. I wish I had the chance to show more affection like that. I think she would have appreciated it.
I'm a year older now than mum was when she died. I would love to have a proper conversation with her about life in general. The first thing I would do, though, would be to introduce her to her grandchildren – she didn't get to know some of her own children never mind her grandchildren.
I'd also love to hear her sing. She was an amazing singer and my brothers and sisters are very musical.
I would love to get them all together and have a celebration of where we all are now.
We were all babies when she died and I think it would make her proud to see the grown-up versions of us now."
Oonagh Boman (46) runs the Oonagh Boman School Of Make-Up. She lives in Belfast with her husband Leslie and children Skye (15) and Brad (10). She says:
My mum died when I was 19 – it was bowel cancer and she passed away within six weeks of her diagnosis. It was very quick, but I did have a chance to say goodbye. I was living in Guernsey at the time and came home when we found out she was sick. It was still a bit of a shock, though.
I wish my mum was here every day – even talking about her now gets me choked up. There are always times when you want to tell her the good things but also ask her advice.
My mum died so young, but I just pushed on and moved to London. That first Christmas was really difficult because I felt totally alone – there was no mum for me to go home to.
If I could speak to my mum now I wouldn't ask her anything, I would just say 'thank you'. She was such a great mother and brought me up so well with great morals.
If I could do half the job with my children as she did with us, I would be proud. She believed in hard work and family, and we were everything to her, as she had been orphaned at seven.
When I think back to when I was a little girl on Mother's Day, what I remember most was getting her toast for breakfast in bed and a daffodil from the back garden.
My kids are the same, and it's the small things like that you're so grateful for. "
Harry Hamilton (48), the man behind Queen tribute act Flash Harry, is married to Heather. They have three children, Brooke (17), Lucy (16) and Tianna (12). He says:
My mother, May, died in 1991 when I was 25 and still living at home. She fought cancer for three or four years but it progressed into her lungs and that was it.
Her brain was affected, too – for the last six weeks of her life she couldn't speak or communicate with me. That was the hard part, because we couldn't say goodbye and have conversations.
I remember when we went to the solicitor's for her will, I was disappointed that a letter wasn't left with any last words. It's prompted me to write things down for my daughters, just in case.
If I saw my mum now I would tell her that she did a better job of bringing me up than she might have thought. I would also love to parade her grandchildren – both mine and my sisters' – in front of her, so she could see what my biggest achievement has been."
A day when mum's the word
There are many ideas as to how Mother's Day came to be celebrated, but one is that in centuries past when it was common for young children to work away from home, often as domestic servants, Mothering Sunday was a day off to visit home. The children would pick wild flowers from the hedgerows to give to their mums
In the UK 30 million cards are sent on Mother's Day compared to seven million on Father's Day. However, almost half of people in the UK will send a Facebook or text message instead of a card on Mother's Day
It is the biggest flower-buying day of the year in the UK
In the UK, Mother's day is celebrated on the 4th Sunday in Lent, but in Europe and America most countries honour their mothers on the second Sunday in May