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Thursday, 26 February 2009

How I feel - mum and cancer

The phone call from Mum came on Monday afternoon. "How are you doing?" I asked as usual. "Not too good" she replied. Now with Mum, such a response can be anything from feeling tired to having flu. This time it is more serious - she has been diagnosed with cancer. The whole telephone conversation felt very surreal with me trying to remember what one is supposed to say and do in such situations. Trying desperately to think of a book or a film where a character finds the right thing to do when told their mum has cancer. Found myself saying inane things about it hardly being a surprise as she has lost several siblings to the disease. Mum kept repeating the mantra of "I don't want you getting upset". So I didn't and after talking on the phone, informed my husband of the news and then did the school run with total equilibrium.
Later that evening once the children were in bed, any level of self-control disappeared. I found myself sobbing uncontollably and treating my husband to a huge emotional outpouring of how much I loved my Mum. "Why can't you tell her that?" he asked. "Because I am my mother's daughter!".
So I am going to write here about the wonderful character that became my mum when I was eleven months old. She always wanted to have a daughter to treat well. She said she wanted that girl to have the things she went without during her childhood in the Thirties. Two sons came along shortly after her marriage but no daughter. One day in church, we says she felt called and felt there was a little girl waiting for her. She went and banged on the adoption agency's door even though they were closed till they let her in. She was right of course and that's how she became my mum.
To describe Mum is challenging. Firstly she loves to get her teeth into a project of some sort and is, therefore, very good in a crisis. Over the years I have delivered lots of projects for her from school misdemanours to being the first child in the family to go to university to relationship breakdown. She has organisational talents and due to her age and circumstances has never quite reached the huge potential she had for some brilliant career. However, she has channelled her energies into working for the church on a voluntary basis raising money, running dances, doing funeral teas and committee work. She is an inspiration and I think I get my sense of taking on the apparently impossible from her along with a keen sense of social justice.
Mum did factory work but found her passion as a cook in hospitals and schools. Food is a huge part of our lives and a focus for family gatherings. Mum never did things by halves when we had visitors. Table settings and everything was just perfect. Nobody does it better.
Mum can be very feisty and like all mums and daughters, we have clashed on occasion. This has sometimes led to long silences with us both being too proud to back down. Over the years, I have come to realise that she lacks self-belief and the mixture of that with never really doing all that she could has led to a deep sense of frustration. Sometimes, as her children have pursued careers, I think she has found it hard to relate to what we are talking about. Too often, I have perceived that as a lack of interest on her part. She is also great at telling me how wonderful my brothers are but saying little of what she thinks of me. My brothers report she does the same to them so they get fed up of hearing how superb I am. I know there is nobody I would like to impress more than my Mum.
I scored huge points when I delivered her 3 grandchildren. She was well into her seventies when my first son was born. Being the amazing woman that she is, she moved into a totally new area so that she could provide childcare whilst I went back to work. So my first-born had the magical, caring and fun presence that she brings - a great start in life. She remains a lovely grandma to him and my other son and daughter. When she walks in the room, balloons and party-poppers follow. She stayed with us at Christmas and my husband dined out on stories of staying up late with her playing charades and other party games whilst the drink flowed.
She is just brilliant and a larger than life character. I love her totally. I do not know what lies ahead but maybe she will read this one day or I will put it in a letter and she will realise just how vital she is.

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