Room 4

If you’re a sensitive person, I advise you not to read this.

When my mum died, it wasn’t like the typical scenes you see in movies when people die of cancer.

The room was dim, and grey. There were no pristine white sheets, white walls, bright windows. The blinds were drawn and the room was cramped and small, especially with the three or more chairs we had crowded round the bed at any one time.

In the movies, the cancer patients always seem to have a perfectly bald head, or a neat headscarf. Their eyes might look a little sallow, their skin a little pale, but for the most part they look like beautiful ghost of a person. (disclaimer: I’m just going on what I’ve seen in movies and tv shows)

The image of my mother’s dead body is one that haunts me. It’s the kind of image you think of late at night when that childlike fear of the dark comes alive, and you wonder what might be in the dark shadows of your bedroom, or hiding in your wardrobe.

And I hate it.

I hate that sometimes, when I think of her, that is the first image that comes into my head. I don’t want to remember her like that.

She looked skeletal. Sagging skin wrapped over frail bones. Sallow cheeks, head tilted back, mouth open wide in a way that horrifyingly looked like a pained scream.

I only glanced at her face once when I entered the room where she died for the final time, but that image will haunt me till the day I die.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing “beautiful” about her death.

There was only pain.

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Graveyards

I did visit her grave, eventually. When we had the headstone finally in place. After we all argued over what should be put on it, what shape it should be, what colour the fucking lettering should be.

As if any of that matters.

She didn’t even want a headstone, she wanted to be buried with a tree planted above her.

But, then again, she always used to love walking around cemeteries and graveyards, reading all the headstones; trying to find the oldest one. She was fascinated by them somehow. I remember all the times she made us take shortcuts through graveyards on the way home, and I hated them, they really scared me. I used to imagine the bodies reaching up out of the ground in that cliche way they do in movies, and pulling themselves out of the ground. That was only because I’d seen my friend at the time playing stupid zombie video games that kids our age shouldn’t have been playing though.

Now I just find them sad. Sad and quiet and peaceful. There’s something terribly touching about seeing other people there visiting the graves of their own loved ones. Just standing still, head bowed, staring down at the ground; sometimes a hand laid on the top of the stone, trying to feel some connectedness to the person whose name it bears.

I didn’t really feel anything different when I saw mum’s grave for the first time. I thought it would hurt like a stab to the heart. I thought I might crumple to the ground in tears at the sight of this very solid, very real proof that she was gone forever. I suppose I must have already accepted that she was gone for good a long time ago.

I walk past it now on the way home from work about once a week. Sometimes I stop to stand and stare for a little bit, but mostly I just carry on. I don’t feel any connection to her there. It’s just a memorial, just a stone with her name on.

She’s not there.

 

bedtime

When my sister and I were little, our mum used to always come to say goodnight to us at bedtime. Some nights she would read us stories from books. She would always sit on my sister’s bed because I had the privilege of the top bunk. I remember we used to have a big hardback book of all the collected Narnia stories, that she used to read us a bit from each night for a while. And then there were the picture books  – Kipper the Bear, Each Peach Pear Plum, Where’s my teddy, “Hoho for the robbers, the cops and the robbers hoho”. One of my personal favourites was “Where’s my hairy toe” which was a very strange story now that I think about it, but I liked to scare my sister with the big double page spread illustration of the big hairy monster yelling “You’ve got it!”, pointing out of the page at the reader. She used to hide under her blanket from it. I was a good big sister.

Then some nights mum would tell us stories that she made up as she went along. They were always about two little girls with the same names as us, and they would always have magical adventures with a big purple dragon named Herman. It’s a shame that I don’t remember more specifics about the stories, but I do remember there being a part where we found the dragon egg by tripping over it in a forest. And we also had magical jewellery that gave us magic powers, though I forget what kind of powers. They would be different ones each story I think – invisibility or being able to fly, things like that.

Another game we used to play (it was just a way to get us to be quiet and go to sleep really I’m sure!) was where mum used to trace a face over our own with her finger, and we’d guess who or what it was meant to be. Sometimes it would be a clown, sometimes animals, or even one of our own teddies specifically sometimes. It would go something like this:

Mum:   “a pink little nose” *traces a little triangle on the end of my nose*

“Biiiig whiskers” * traces three lines on each cheek*

“pointy ears” *traces two triangles at the top of my head into the hairline*

“and two green eyes” *gently traces two circles over each eyelid*

Me: “I’m a cat!”

Mum: “Yes!”

And then I’d ask for another, and she would even though she had to awkwardly lean over the wooden edge of my bunk-bed while standing on my sister’s bed to reach me. Her hands were always dry and her fingers would be scratchy on my face. I feel like I can still remember exactly what it felt like now. That was so long ago.

Remembering

One of the most frustrating things is trying to remember her face without the help of a photograph. Trying to remember the way she smiled, trying to remember the sound of her voice, and the way she talked and laughed, without the help of a video. And even those things can’t capture her perfectly as she was. They’re just tiny snippets that revive her for a second, a minute… And I worry that there’ll come a point when I can’t remember her face from a memory rather than a photograph.

It’s difficult, because it feels like she’s preserved in my memories. But they will inevitably fade. Just yesterday I was trying to imagine having a conversation with her – how she talked, how we talked to each other – and I realised that with each passing day my ability to remember her like that is fading. It almost feels like the more time that passes since she died, since I last saw her, last spoke to her, the more she dies again.

And I still haven’t visited her grave. I’m sure there will be a day when I feel like the time is right to, but a part of me can’t help but think that there’s no point to it. She’s not there. “Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep.” That’s what they read out at her burial. But I will go. Because I know she would have wanted me to. And because some part of me hopes it will bring some kind of closure or catharsis.

I’ll bring her some purple flowers on a sunny day. I’m just waiting for the time to feel right. Or maybe I’m scared of what I’ll feel.

The week my mum died

On 30th December 2014, I lost my mum to cancer.
This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a while now. It’s more about catharsis than anything. I don’t care if people read this or not. And it’s probably not going to be easy to read (or to write).
I guess the tl;dr version of what I’d want people to take away from this would be
1. Appreciate and spend time with the people you love while you can. Don’t take them for granted.
2. Cancer is a bitch. We need to give everything we can, and do everything we can, to research it and stop it. It affects everyone.

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