Tomorrow is my 27th birthday. Today, it will be thirteen years since my Mum lost her long fought war against Cancer.
Although I remember little of myself from that time, I remember her illness in explicit detail. I remember the moment she told me “I’ve got Breast Cancer.” I was 9 years old. I remember the teacher at school asking if I was ok, if I wanted to talk? Well no, not really. I couldn’t yet comprehend the enormity of what it all meant. I remember going to chemo with her one time and watching the 13 attempts it took for the medics to find a vein. I watched how she didn’t even flinch as they dug around with the needle, so I wouldn’t see her pain. I remember the first time she went into remission and put her wig on the Guy for our 5th November bonfire. I remember the way she celebrated her 35th birthday, hoping it wouldn’t be her last. I remember that awful day when she told me the Cancer was back and it was terminal. I remember accepting her decision to end treatment, but still not really believing that she would die. I remember the few short weeks we had left, when her body wasn’t being poisoned with chemotherapy and we could almost pretend that she wasn’t sick. I remember the day I came home from school and she no longer recognised me. I stopped going to school after that, until it was over. I remember sleeping on her bedroom floor for those final two weeks, listening to the whir of the machine that flooded her body with morphine; and the rattling of her breathes, as her broken immune system allowed her body to succumb to pneumonia. I remember a very brief lucid moment toward the end when she told me she loved me. I remember laying with her on the bed and holding her after she’d slipped away, telling her how much I’d miss her. And I do. All the time.
It’s strange you know, living a life without a Mum. I so often see friends of mine, taking those everyday moments for granted. And why wouldn’t they? It’s very hard to know what you’ve got, until it’s gone. I have experienced so much happiness in my life, but so much of it has been without her there to share it. She wasn’t there when I fell in love for the first time; she didn’t attend my graduation; she didn’t help me pick out my wedding dress; she has never met her grandchildren. She’s not at the end of the phone when I need advice. She’s not a short drive away when I need to see her. And that’s a hard reality to face every single day. But I am ok. I’m doing ok. I am surviving. Because she made me strong.
I remember a conversation we once had, when the Cancer had returned and she knew there was nothing more to be done. She said, “I don’t want you to be bitter. Please don’t feel bitterness toward me because I left you.” I’m not bitter, Mum. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of you. I’m not bitter. I’m proud. I’m proud and I’m grateful that even when you knew you were dying, your main concern was me.
Cancer took away her life, but I don’t want it to define her. I try to remember the person behind the illness. My Mum. She wasn’t perfect. She was ambitious, almost to a fault. Her career was hugely important to her, but so were we, my sister and I. We were loved and we knew it. She was fiery tempered and passionate. She was the life and soul of every party. She was fiercely intelligent. She was an adventurer who travelled the world in the short time she had. I remember seeing the world with her. I remember cold Sunday mornings, curled up with her watching Dapple Down Farm. I remember the time she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because my hamster escaped and ate the carpet. I remember the pride on her face when she brought my baby sister home. I remember her terrible cooking. I remember her willingness to get up early at the weekends to take me to ballet/ice skating/horse riding (or whatever else my whim was that week). I remember having a happy childhood with her. She was a good Mum. Irreplaceable.
I often wonder what she’d make of me now. Whether she would get on with my husband or approve of my choices. What kind of Grandmother she’d be. If she’d be proud of the woman I’ve become. I guess I’ll never truly know. So every year, on the eve of my birthday, I will grieve for the time that we’ve lost, Mum, but I’ll cherish the time that we had, because I was lucky to have had you at all.