I’m writing this sitting with A in a hammock in an orange grove in the South of Spain. It is as idlic as it sounds, not a cloud in the sky. A is reading a book about science, it is my lovely lot in life to be surrounded by men, with a love of science. Every few pages, A looks up with a ‘huh’ waits expectantly for me to ask ‘what?’ He then reads me a section. I feel I am reading the book as well, which works out nicely because I always meant to.
Until it occurred to me a minute ago that this is probably one of those moment I’ll want to remember, I was reading also. My book is an autobiography about a woman who hikes the Pacific Coast Trail, alone, after her mother dies (no I did it know that fact when I bought the book).
I’ve just read a line where she’s scared on the trail, though she knows she’ll always be safe because her mother has died and that was the very worst that could happen. It made me smile and think about Miss E, my fellow motherless duckling and taker of wonderful photos. Quite soon after I was diagnosed, she had shared how shaken she had felt – “I mean, I thought we were bullet proof.”
I understood the sentiment but somehow my brushes with mortality had the opposite effect. I saw potential hazards everywhere. I became fearful for all my loved ones, practically driving A away with my constant worrying. I never worried about myself however.
I’ve switched locations, I’m now under an umbrella by a lovely turquoise pool, still surrounded by orange trees. The air has that scorched land smell and we have fresh squeezed juice for breakfast. Perhaps because I’m in a place this lovely, perhaps because I feel so warm and safe, or because of the book I’m reading, or maybe because it was inevitable but I’m allowing myself to think about my mother.
When my Mum died, I slowly and painfully became aware of the life events she wouldn’t be around for, the solicited or unsolicited advice I’d not receive, the fights, the love. I’d never get to fully understand what made such a complex woman tick. We’d never ‘do’ weddings or babies – I just never thought that cancer would be another thing on that never ‘do’ list.
Not being a mother myself, I’m not sure how it feels when your child is ill. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be a mother, so perhaps I’ll never know. Either way, I’ll never be able to phone her up exhausted and apologise for everything I put her through. However, I never banked on knowing how it feels to live with cancer or what it takes to get through Chemo either.
There have been times recently, when I’ve been cut to the core at how little I understood about all this, how draining it is emotionally and physically. How all encompassing and how white knuckle scary it is. How sick you can feel (and this is before chemo, fertility treatment and my Ops have been enough). She must have hid a lot, I thought I knew it all, I was 19 and I thought I’d seen all her illness. But I see now that I was still her child and she hid things.
Sometimes I hide things, A always makes me promise that’ll wake him if I wake in the night. I never do and then he’s mad the next day. I always point out, there’s is very little point Us both being awake, he can’t physically do anything and it’s best he’s rested, to deal with everything he deals with in the day. Besides just having him near is soothing, asleep or awake.
Quite soon after her death I went through a phase of worrying. If something else horrendous happened, how could I believe my mother was watching over us, protecting us, as everyone had been at pains to tell me. I reasoned if something bad ever happened, I’d feel like she deserted me twice.
I eventually mentioned this to Da, who kindly and softly reminded me that this is not what we believed. No matter what a comforting image it was, she was not on a cloud, margarita in hand stomping out all mountains in our way. The only way she watched over us, remained with us, was through the love we had for her – the conversations we shared, the life we had all lived together. I am lucky, I have emails, letters and birthday cards too.
Ma taught me a lot about how to deal and some times not deal with cancer. Her dramatic personality, coupled with pretty hardcore steroids, occasionally had explosive consequences. It was her grace, I admired most.
Grace, was the first word I thought of, when I was trying to imagine how to plough on with all this. My Mother was also the founding designer of Cancer Chic, she rocked Cancer Chic hard. Unless it was a really bad day, she was always up and dressed, she always put on a little makeup too. Even in hospital, she requested I come and help ‘put her face on’. These may sound like small achievements to some but trust me, some days they are huge.
Ma kept a journal, hers was a lot more private than mine, but I think it helped keep her sane. She started on a path towards a Masters degree too. Gosh she was strong and smart to boot.
Like animal species the world over (A’s book rubbing off on me) I watched My Mother, to learn the Art of Survival. It was just, at the time, didn’t know I was doing it.
PS there’s now a traditional Spanish trumpeter playing in village below, his music drifting up to us. Oh, I’m wearing a coral red on my toes called ‘Macbeth’ too. Today is a good day.