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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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First Pangs of Loss: Friday 28th November

I was in Boots, picking up some waterproof mascara for the funeral on Monday, and I overheard a girl bickering with her mother.

“Just say what you want then” she said, in an exasperated tone. Her mother mumbled something back and she said “Ok then. It’s not difficult. JEsus CHrist!”

Then it hit me. I was never going to argue with my mum ever again. I was never going to call her up to tell her my news, pre-empting it with “I know you’re not going to like this but…”.

My mum had deeply traditional views. She was educated by nuns in Northern Ireland, and although she had tried to escape their judgemental attitudes and threats of hellfire, brimstone, and general damnation, she still wasn’t a big fan of fornicating or homosexuality. Her dream for me was to marry some moderately rich, capable guy, who had a steady job and was good at filing tax rebates, like an accountant or a dentist. Financial stability was her obsession, and she would love for me to be with Mr. Collins as opposed to gambling on Mr. Darcy.

I believe that old JC (or Jesus Christ, as he’s known to the general public) was a socialist, leftie, egalitarian cool dude, who just wanted people to be nice to each other. I don’t think “homosexual” is synonymous with paedophile, and I 100% support gay rights, including adoption and marriage. I don’t believe in marriage and I don’t see a house and kids in my future. If I do have children, I want my partner to cut his hours and do his half of the child rearing. For me, marriage, with its inherent “forever” concept, was invented when women died in childbirth. I intend to live a long and healthy life, and to enjoy every moment.

So you can imagine our conflicts, our eventual stalemate. Towards the end, my mum mellowed considerably. Here’s a good example:

“So, I have something to tell you and you’re probably not going to like it but I don’t want to deceive you” I blurted, my heart pounding. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff. “After my six month trip, I’m going to Bilbao, and I’m moving in with Yoann”.

There was a prolonged pause.

“Oh.” she said. “Is that it? I thought you were already living together and just hadn’t told me”.

Oh Mother. You were always one step ahead.

Sorry Your Mum’s Dead Cards: Monday 24th November, 3 days after

It was the day after Mum’s death, and my sister had suggested we mark the occasion with going out for a meal; we hadn’t been able to go out for the past month as we wanted to spend as much time with Mum as possible.

So out we went; my sister, my boyfriend, and a very close friend of mine who was in town for the night visiting. The food was wonderful and we ate and chatted. I spoke briefly about the stresses of the past two weeks and my shock and disbelief, and enjoyed hearing about things other than that topic, like my friend’s uni course and general gossip. It felt good to talk about things other than Mum’s situation.

When we had finished the meal, my friend said “I’ve got something for you”. She pulled out a card. I opened it.”Look Yoann” I said to my partner. “It’s a sorry-your-mum’s-dead card”.

I’m not sure if I was surprised to receive the card because it’s such a British thing to give cards (and I’ve lived outside of the UK for four years now), or if it was just part of the general shock of the whole ordeal. I was lucky that the first card was from such a close friend, as I think a casual acquaintance might have freaked out at my glib reaction.

My sister printed a note to the neighbours, explaining that Mum had passed away and thanking anyone who had helped her, inviting them to the funeral. The week before the funeral was punctuated by rustles at the door, wordless cards stealthed through the letterbox by people who wanted to pay their condolences but didn’t want to intrude.

“Sorry your mum’s dead card!” I proclaimed when I heard the letter box open. Sometimes they were just publicity leaflets, but it gave me and my sister a chuckle anyway. Our dark sense of humour comes from Mum.

Arrival: Sunday 9th November 2014

I let myself in with my key, and gave my sister a big hug.

>Thanks for coming.

>Sorry I didn’t come sooner.

>I didn’t realise. I thought she would get better.

>Thank you for everything you’ve done.

I walked in to my mum’s room. I can’t really describe what I found there, mainly because she is one of the proudest, most independent people I know, and she wouldn’t want me telling anyone how she looked or how we helped her to do things. But I can write this blog post because she was always quietly ELATED that I had a blog, and dreamed of me becoming as famous as Terry Wogan. I’m writing it for her in a way, even though she will never read it.

She was calm, and she wasn’t in pain. They had installed the syringe driver a few hours before, which meant that she had a tube coming out of her dressing gown and a box on the bed about the size of four packs of cigarettes.

This was it. This was the moment Mum had been dreading. When she wouldn’t be able to get out of bed, when she would need help doing everyday things. The worst had finally happened.

It was midnight. As I sat on her bed, I had a sudden temptation to laugh, hysterically. Not because it was funny, because it definitely wasn’t, but more in a “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKING HELL” way.

My sister chattered to me about visits, about what had been happening. She must have been so lonely here  by herself, with only the phone ringing every hour for company. With kindly, but unknown, professional strangers coming in and out, calling on the phone to check up on what was happening, what had already been done, or get directions to our house that no GPS on earth could locate.

It was OK. I was there now.

Palliative Radiotherapy and Summer Christmas: July 2014

The oncologist has said that Mum’s prognosis is 6 months (to live). One can never be sure; it could be six weeks or six months. My sister (who is a GP) explained to me that people usually plateau, worsen gradually, and also very sudden things can happen.

Mum was scared going for the palliative radiotherapy. They told her that it wasn’t painful, and just like an x-ray. This was only partly true.

The radiotherapy, attacking the cancer in her spine, had caused the tumour to swell, causing agonising nerve pain. From my house in Bilbao, I did the best I could. I called a carer and paid her to be with Mum as an interim, before state care started.

Mum got worse and worse. We thought she was going to die. I was supposed to be working at my friend’s summer camp for the 4 weeks of July, so I told her I could work 2, and then just 1. I really thought that Mum might die.

My sister arrived a few days after me. She told me that I had arrived just in time, and that Mum had been dangerously dehydrated, and her kidneys could have shut down.

I had it in my head that Mum was going to die, so I went a bit mad “doing things”, e.g. keeping busy to not face my feelings. I got the house ready, clearing out the fridge and the cupboards, restocking them with food, trying to get rid of excess stuff (it was hard to get anything in the cupboards as there was so much stuff everywhere).

In a few days, Mum was feeling much better and  able to walk around and eat her child-sized portions again. My sister’s partner came, my partner came, my other sister came. With all of us being together, we joked it was like Christmas. We had a big roast dinner together, and mum seemed very happy, despite her pain from the cancer, and the nausea caused by the morphine.

I didn’t take any photos because Mum always hated photos (for as long as I had known her, anyway) and I didn’t want to see a scared look in her eye as she shied away from the camera.

We all had a wonderful time together, laughing and joking. Mum was smiling from ear to ear, asking her perspective son-in-laws questions and laughing along with the banter.

My Mum’s Cancer and Me

I’ve deliberately not written about my mum’s cancer on this blog. My mum is an incredibly private person, and didn’t even tell her own family the extent of her illness until quite recently. I didn’t want to betray her confidence.

So I’m going to write about me and how it has been affecting me for the past 2 years. I hope that what I write will give someone else comfort, let them know that they are not alone in how they feel, and let the friends and family who have seen me these past few years make sense of my behaviour.

Here goes nothing.

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