Here are the deaths I’ve experienced in the order they happened: My Godfather, my father, my cat; Jim, my cat; Leonora, my grandmother, my patience when I discovered how long hand jobs took, my uncle, my grandfather, and my mum. That’s not all that surprising until you learn that I’m only in my 20s.
My mum died when I was 21 leaving me with no living relatives, three cats, a face that launched a thousand ships and a waistline that made them turn back.
In 2010 I was considering going to University in New Zealand but I was hesitant. Mum was in her 50s and healthy, she hadn’t always been but she was now. She asked me what my hesitation was and I said: “I’m scared you’ll die.” Six months later she did, she got a brain tumour and I still don’t have a degree.
It had always been the two of us. My dad died when I was 6 but they weren’t a couple, they were best friends who had made a Molly. Molly at the point of her father’s death was a type 1 diabetic who couldn’t say her r’s which was unfortunate because her favourite film was Strictly Ballroom and her two imaginary friends were called Rumps and Little Rumps.
My dad was cool but my mum was cooler, which now that I’m an adult woman makes me think he was very fucking cool because he wasn’t intimidated by a woman who was so much cooler than him.
The second after my mum stopped existing, I was on top of her, screaming, begging her not to leave me in the world without her. Life as I knew it had ended but weirdly, my life hadn’t. That’s my resounding memory of the moment my mother died; shock that I hadn’t died too.
Mum was a powerhouse of person, she was a single mother by choice and a film editor by trade. She had kidney failure in her late twenties and was told if she had a baby it would kill us both. It didn’t, and I’m the first baby who was born alive on a drug that I can’t pronounce and won’t even try and spell.
I often think about that, that I began my life by defying death. It feels a little bit like death is my older brother who also happens to be John Cleese. Death as John Cleese didn’t want a baby sister so was deeply affronted when I didn’t die in utero and he’s held it against me ever since. But of course, he’s John Cleese so even when I hate him he makes me laugh.
As a type 1 diabetic child, I would get so overexcited on Christmas Eve that my blood sugar would get so low I would nearly die in anticipation of presents and forcing the cats to wear Christmas bows. As a teenager this would happen when I was forced to interact with a boy I had a crush on, I won’t lie that still happens sometimes. But every time it does I save my own life. That’s real self-care, self-heroism I call it. It’s also pretty handy that to save my life all I have to do is eat a biscuit. Although, sometimes I really don’t want to eat a biscuit, but I do it anyway because I’m a Goddamn hero.
My big brother Death; as John Cleese killed my mum on June 21st – for the two of you reading this who don’t identify as witches, – that’s the summer solstice – the longest day of the year, it’s always the longest day of the year and obviously the worst day of my year. Once, I got one over on Death; as John Cleese by spending the anniversary of my mum’s death in New Zealand. There the 21st June is the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year. I was very smug about that but he got me back this year by somehow arranging mother’s day to fall on my birthday. Whatadick.
Death; as John Cleese wants me to know he’s always around, but he’s an old man so the only way he can communicate that he cares is by shouting at me occasionally. And he does care, sometimes my blood sugar gets low in the middle of the night. I lie there for a minute because I really can’t be bothered eating a fucking biscuit but then in a very real way I hear Death; as John Cleese shout “Death is near!” and I get out of bed and save my life.
I didn’t always want to save my life, but for me, grief was my body keeping me alive in defiance of my mind. My body that my mum made for me. That’s endlessly comforting. She taught me fire was hot and knives were sharp and when I arch my eyebrow men are more scared of me than I am of them. So every time I don’t try and touch fire or scratch an itch with a blade I’m proof she existed. Proof that she did a good job in not making an idiot, or a serial killer.
I don’t want you to think that I “handled” it and now I’m fine. I’m regularly not fine. Every time I stub my toe I cry for my dead mum but every time I pack the dishwasher haphazardly I laugh at how cross she’d get, so it evens out. Sometimes I’m scared I’ve got too used to being on my own, that my fierce independence is actually just isolation. But ultimately all of that means I’m just fucked up enough to be interesting.
Grieving for my mother helped me find my voice as a writer. A voice I’m using now, I wrote a pilot for a TV show that’s a comedy about grief, I also wrote a one woman theatre show about the same thing because, well I guess I’m a one trick pony. It’s called MISS FORTUNATE because being a plus size diabetic orphan is pretty misfortunate but being a cisgendered, spectrum acknowledging but mostly heterosexual white girl whose liberal upbringing taught her heteronormativity is an ill fitting bra that pinches, and queerness will get you some some funny looks but is the way, the truth and the light, is pretty fortunate.
My best mate Angel Rose Denman says
“Being queer is not about who you want to fuck, it’s about how you want to live”.
I say this because my ability to make jokes about my mum’s death, comes from my queerness and that’s the whole reason I was able to survive it. At school my best mates were a gay witch who got his cauldron confiscated once and a Californian, vegetarian, disco goth who made us eat KFC so she could boil the bones to make jewellery. Even if my mum had lived my life would have been weird. Artist and activist Scottee addresses us, his loyal followers as “weirdos” and it’s maybe the only label that doesn’t make me feel claustrophobic. Instead it makes me feel acknowledged.
I don’t need to know there are other people who see Death as John Cleese (although if you do, my instagram is below please get in touch), because my queerness taught me there’s unity in difference.
When I told my mum I was hesitant to go to New Zealand in case she died, she said
“There’s a certain relief that comes when the worst thing you can imagine happening, happens.”
Even when they’re dead, it’s still the worst when your mum is right.
Molly O’Shea’s one woman show MISS FORTUNATE premieres at Vault Festival, 1st – 3rd March, 2019 at 6.20pm with a Saturday Matinée at 3.20. Tickets available here: goo.gl/whDSs3