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Getting To Know My Mum All Over Again – 10 Years After Her Death

Getting To Know My Mum All Over Again – 10 Years After Her Death

Ahead of the 10th mother's day without her mum, Zara Zubeidi went in search of answers from some of the people who knew her best.

The Tyla Team

The Tyla Team

Words by Zara Zubeidi

I'm 10 years old, and fast asleep in the bedroom I share with my brother, Jordan. I feel myself stir as the door creaks open slightly and catch a whiff of Chanel No. 5.

Suddenly, the sun spills through the curtains and the silence is replaced with the sound of my mother's voice - she's singing the same song she sings to us every morning when she wakes us up for school: Good Morning from the 1952 film Singin' in the Rain.

It's one of the fondest memories I have of my mum, Jo. She passed away on August 21st 2012 after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer. I was 21 at the time, studying at university and preoccupied with the trivialities of most twenty-something students: boyfriends, housemates and planning my next boozy night out.

Now that I've entered my thirties, far from getting easier, the gaping hole I've felt since her death feels like it's only getting bigger. There were so many things I never had the chance to ask her, woman to woman, about love, friendships and the future. When did she know she wanted to get married, and how did she get through divorce? Did she always want to be a mother? And how did she navigate friendships as an adult?

Ahead of my tenth Mother's Day without Mum, I went in search of answers from some of the people who knew her best: her friends. My hope was that they could give me some sort of guidance in how Mum navigated the ups and downs in her own life, and perhaps give me an idea of what she'd tell me if she was still with us today.

Zara's mum with her friends, clockwise from top left: Alisa, Alison, Ann, Kate and Gill (
Zara Zubeidi)

Anyone who knew my mum would say she had the biggest heart. I have countless memories of her consoling friends over a glass of wine late at night in our kitchen, comparing notes on husbands and their latest child-related dramas.

Only in speaking to her friends have I come to understand the impact she had on other people. Kate, our neighbour, remembers how Mum helped her when she was suffering with postnatal depression.

"Jo knew what was going on but was very tactfully waiting for me to realise," Kate explains. "I was at home with the girls, trying to get the hoovering done, and they were driving me crazy. I called her, having found myself crumpled on the kitchen floor.

"She got me to the doctor and took care of the girls while I had my appointment. I don't know what would've happened if she hadn't intervened." Mum also helped Kate realise she had to 'live her life for herself', which eventually led to her getting a divorce.

Zara and her mum (
Zara Zubeidi)

Holly, my best friend who grew particularly close to my mum over the years, had a similar experience.

"Jo wanted the best for people, and sometimes that meant watching them make mistakes," she says. "But she always did so with empathy, patience and without prejudice. In one of the darkest times of my life, she gave me the courage to not feel trapped in my circumstances. She built me up piece by piece, woman to woman. She gave me the wings to be me again."

Alison, my little brother's godmother, says Mum was never one to judge. "When I moved away, we didn't speak as much as before," she explains. "But when we did, it was always where we left off. That's what a true friend is, and I haven't had one like it since."

Zara and her brother Jordan, with their mum
Zara and her brother Jordan, with their mum

I couldn't stop thinking about these stories and how they shaped the kind of person my mum had been. While I pride myself in being a loyal and supportive friend, there have been times when I've been too quick to judge, particularly when it comes to other people's relationships. For my mum, it wasn't about dishing out advice - it was being there to pick up the pieces when things went wrong.

Mum's generosity was at her core. Alisa and Jason, who met my mum on holiday, look back fondly on the time she gifted their young son, who was obsessed with lizards at the time, a lizard birthday present with wrapping paper to match. This was just two weeks before she died. She was becoming weaker, but they'd all just returned from a last-minute holiday to Lanzarote. We didn't realise it'd be Mum's last trip away.

Zara's mum (
Zara Zubeidi)

"It was unbelievable that she found the energy to do something so incredibly special," Alisa and Jason tell me. "She made everyone feel so loved. She would've spent her last pound on other people just to see them happy."

But her caring nature also had its downfalls. "Your mum was more likely to help others than ask for help herself," says Ann, who was Mum's former stepmother-in-law and went on to become a close confidante.

Kate says Mum "gave constantly", adding that "it made it hard to watch her be used by people."

This is something I can resonate with. As my boyfriend so often tells me, I tend to put everyone else's needs before my own, resulting in countless sleepless nights as well as struggles with my mental health. But thanks to counselling I'm aware of it - I just wish my mum had realised she sometimes needed to put herself first too.

Like anyone, Mum had her faults. And one quality I seem to have inherited is her tendency to overshare, particularly with people I don't know very well. In Mum's case, it sometimes came back to bite her. One particular neighbour used the information she had gleaned from Mum to her advantage, and it ended up being an incredibly traumatic time for all of us.

"Your mum was a strong lady with a soft heart," Ann tells me. "I did advise her to not tell everyone her problems. While she'd move on, they'd remember what she'd told them. But that was your mum - friendly, trusting and open."

Zara and her mum (
Zara Zubeidi)

Perhaps it's the Scorpio in me, but I've always found it difficult to forget. If someone wrongs me, I'll forgive them - but I'll remember the hurt they caused for a very long time. Mum had an entirely different mindset. Despite her tumultuous love life - Mum was left to raise my two older brothers alone after her marriage to her first husband, before splitting up with my dad when I was six - she refused to dwell on the past or hold a grudge.

"She didn't believe in regrets", Ali says. "She believed in going forward and being thankful."

"Jo would pick herself up after a cry, a glass of wine, and a good old hug and chat," Kate adds. "She didn't indulge in self-pity."

It's an important message for me, both in terms of being able to forgive and accepting some things are simply out of my control.

Zara and Jordan with their mum (
Zara Zubeidi)

Even when Mum knew she was going to die, she somehow managed to take it for what it was and as Gill, her childhood friend puts it, "picked herself up and got on with it."

"We were on the way to one of her hospital appointments and she told me she wanted to be buried, because cremation was a bit 'final'", Gill remembers. "We were crying with laughter. She saw the funny in everything."

When I set out on this mission, I thought I'd find the answers to my own uncertainties. And to some extent I have - speaking to Mum's friends has helped me in ways I never imagined. I cried, I gasped and oh, I laughed. But ultimately, it's helped me realise that parts of Mum have been with me all along.

I'll throw my brother a surprise birthday party, or walk past a shop window and spontaneously buy a Christmas present for my niece months in advance - just because I know she'll love it. And then there's the courage Mum has given me to stand in the face of hardship. When my older brother had a car accident in 2020, and was put into an induced coma, I made sure I was there to support his partner - when I could've crumbled to pieces.

So, as I enter my thirties, I'm focusing not on finding the 'answers' but on having the strength to face whatever the next decade may throw at me. Because if there's one thing my mum has taught me, it's grit and resilience.

I recently stumbled upon a handwritten poem Mum wrote for me ahead of my first school trip away. I must have been about 10 years old, and she tucked it into the front pocket of my bag to find later. It ends with the line, "Just remember and always be the kind of person you'd want to see."

I can't think of a more fitting description of the person who touched the lives of so many - and continues to do so today.

Featured Image Credit: Zara Zubeidi