It’s 15 years today since my mum died. It was 5 years before that that we all started to live with dying. My mum most of all, seeing herself deteriorating, having to deal with the pain and the procedures. But the rest of us too.
I remember when mum got her diagnosis. Ovarian cancer. Possibly 6 months to live. I’d been shaving my legs in the sink, getting ready to go out. I’d nicked some skin on my ankle and blood flowed everywhere. And then she told me.
The news left us reeling.
I remember her last weekend. I remember the Saturday night of her crying out in agony, wishing herself to die. I remember the waiting, knowing it was going to happen, but when?
I remember when she finally did let go. That I wasn’t there. I was eating soup with the twins downstairs. I remember the Macmillan nurse coming to tell me she’d gone.
I remember the sense of release.
I remember how utterly peaceful she looked afterwards. From twisted agony to nothing. Serene.
But what I don’t remember so well is my mum. Her as a person, without illness morphing her into someone else. In front of others she was brave, a fighter, resilient as the disease wrecked its way through her body. In private she was irritable, scared, frustrated and angry.
I remember my dad being there more than my mum as a child. He was the one who would take care of us in the evenings (letting us write the scores on the doors of the sideboard as we played The Generation Game), who read our bedtime stories and who sat by us until we fell asleep. Who would take us on day trips in the summer, swimming at the weekends and over to visit Nan and Grandad on a Sunday morning via the sweet shop. Who endured My Little Pony and The Care Bears at the cinema, who would do the chauffeuring to ballet classes. Mum always seemed to have an excuse not to join in. Later she admitted she didn’t really enjoy the child thing.
Later I hadn’t emerged from the egotism of my teen years and to get to know her on adult terms before her illness. I missed out on my mum. It wasn’t just death that took her from us, but the long, drawn-out process of dying too.
And yet she’s shaped me and how I parent my own children. I don’t want my children to remember me only for my final years, whenever they may be. I want them to remember that I was always there for them. For the fun and the silliness, for the mishaps and the hugs. The one who wiped tears and bottoms and grazed knees.
My mum was only 50 when she died, just 11 years older than I am now. I can’t imagine only having 11 more years left.
I remember sitting in church at the funeral, the pews packed with people, some I knew, some I didn’t. I remember the priest telling us about a woman I didn’t really know. I remember the wake being full of laughter.
I’m a different person without my mum. I’m stronger. I have my own opinions. I don’t feel pressurised to be who I’m not. But I also miss her and wish that I had known her. I can’t change the past though. I can only change my present and future, making sure my children have memories of me. I want to be known for living, not dying.