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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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motherdaughterrelationship

It’s Almost Impossible to be Unhappy in Bilbao

I cried on the plane to Bilbao again today, knowing that I won’t be back in the UK for a while now. Home isn’t perfect, but it’s so…. normal. You know what to expect. You know roughly when stuff opens, and what time it closes. You count the money without thinking about it. Your brain doesn’t get exhausted by speaking a foreign language, trying to interpret signs that are make zero sense to you.

As soon as I got back to the flat, I lay down on the sofa and had a good old cry. My mum is 100% dead, incinerated, soon to be scattered. Her house is empty. I worked really hard over the summer, emptying the garage and cupboard after cupboard, giving things of no sentimental value to charity (which is where they came from), and my sister did the final clear out of Mum’s clothes this week. Don’t ask me where she got the mental energy. I just sat there, feeling waves of sadness hit me and trying not to get in her way.

I peeled myself off the sofa as there was no food in the house, and I put on my “walking in Spain face”, which tries to be neutral, yet with a hint of “I take no shit”. I’ve been working on softening it in the year since I left Madrid, but it’s still pretty sharp.

The lift in my building arrived. There was a young couple already in there. I got in. The lift didn’t move. “Your backpack” they said, smiling. Anther person got in. They all chatted.

I went to the supermarket, got my stuff, and then waited in the queue. Someone who worked there actually bothered to tell me I was in the 5 items or less queue, smiling, while his other coworkers consoled a crying child who had mislaid it’s mother, feeding her chocolate. When I was ready to pay, the cashier leant over conspiratorially, and told me that I was really missing out by not having the store card. She called over her manager to sign me up, and I dictated to him my details, while a lady behind me remarked “I learn English my whole life and look, she’s learning Spanish and she speaks so well. Where are you from?”.

Back in the lift of my apartment, I stopped to hold a door open for the person entering behind me. She started chatting to me about how cold it was (in Britain it’s 10 degrees colder right now,  but no one likes this to be pointed out). I smiled and nodded, agreeing about the “cold”, while thinking “You know nothing Jon Snow”. As I left the lift she called after me “Happy New Year!”.

I suppose that people are generally happier and friendlier during the holidays, but Bilbao is just such a happy and friendly place in general. It’s the complete polar opposite to Madrid. I wish wish WISH I had moved to the Basque Country earlier, but I always remind myself that if I hadn’t lived in Madrid for 3 horrible years then I wouldn’t have met my lovely partner.

I’m so glad I live here now. Basque people are so lovely and kind,  so polite, so positive, so gracious and welcoming to foreigners. I hope people treat them really well when they are in the UK.

Music, Death, Life, and Lindy

A few months before my Mum died, I put some music on Spotify, and my mum said: “Ah great, I love jazz”. She told me about how as a student in Belfast, she used to go to jazz events in a hotel in the city by herself because her friends weren’t into the music but she was. I’d known her my whole life, lived with her for 18 years, and I never knew that she liked that type of music. I suppose that she was a private person, and I was a difficult teenager (which she always refuted, but I know I was a complete twat), but still. I felt grateful then that she was dying of cancer, and that we still had a few precious moments left together when she was (relatively) well.

In the last few weeks of her life, when she was bed bound, we put on playlist after playlist of jazz music (she also loved Abba and the Bee Gees, but those didn’t really seem appropriate). “Which music shall we ruin now?” we joked, knowing that this music would be forever linked in our minds to watching our mother get weaker and weaker, eyes glassy with morphine, smiling when she heard our voices.

She’s been gone two months now, and I miss her like crazy. I’m incapable of going to weddings (I’ve declined 3 invitations thus far, and will probably not be going to another two) because I just can’t bear the thought of her not being there to watch me tie the knot, disapproving of everything  but also quietly, fiercely proud of the woman I’ve become.

My boyfriend and I enrolled in a Lindy Hop class in January. We dance to the swing music, which we both love, and I think about my mum. I feel close to her then, and I know that I’m doing something that she never did but would have enjoyed before she got sick. I don’t dance perfectly, but I dance for her.

Disbelief: Sunday 23rd November, 2 days after

I can’t believe that my mum is dead.

For the past six months, I’ve called her every day, sometimes twice a day. I’ve spent at least two weeks a month at her house.

When my mum was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my whole life changed. Things that had seemed so important before (Spanish class, getting Spanish people not to hate me with the fire of a thousand sols, going out, friends, work, weddings, being vegetarian) just sort of faded away. I just started to think “A tomar por culo”, “I don’t give a crap”. I just didn’t have the energy, about everything. I had bigger fish to fry.

I stayed in and watched box sets that I had illegally downloaded. Breaking Bad, The Following, Orange is the New Black, Girls, Once Upon a Time, Sleepy Hollow, The Wire…I was sick of hearing happy people complain about normal things, like their boss, weight, hair, or not having money. “My mum is dying” I wanted to say. Although I felt I couldn’t say that as it wasn’t fair, and would cause social awkwardness. I know that feeling, when someone starts to talk about something awful that I know nothing about, and I think “Shit, what do I say? How to I fill this ever growing silence? Say something, quick!” and then I just blurt out something ridiculous like “Have you tried this cheese?”.

I got stressed out. My shoulders cramped, I couldn’t move my neck. I started to have panic attacks. My brain stopped working. I started reading books with pictures; art books, graphic novels. Almost nothing in foreign languages anymore. My brain seemed to have lost that capacity, hopefully temporarily. I was scared.

Now she’s gone, what do I do? My whole life, my mother has been my compass. Everything she said not to do, I did, with gusto. I dyed my hair a thousand colours until it fell out. I volunteered my ass off, working for free ever since my first student loan freed me from the need to have a minimum wage job. I swore (and still do) like a sailor. I play poker, beat all the boys, and rub it in their faces. I’ve never dated someone for their wealth. I prefer trousers to skirts.

And she was still so, so proud of me. Anything I did half well was some kind of miraculous marvel of wonderment. My mum always thought the sun shone out of my rear, even/especially in the face of evidence to the contrary.

I never appreciated her until she was dying. I never forgave her and accepted her as an imperfect person who always tried to do her best, until the last years of her life. I suppose the young judge their elders harshly, until they get to that age where they are expected to do all the “adult things” and they are like “Oh. This shit is actually quite difficult and tiresome”, and they realise that actually being a child with no responsibility had it’s up side, and that having the keys to the house and the car means you have to pay the bills too.

I’ve asked my sister if she can disapprove of me and she has said that she will try but I doubt that it will be the same. You really never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Medium TV Programmes: Thursday 13th Novembr 2014

Mum likes to have the TV on while she’s in bed. She’s grown quite fond of the “ghosty programmes”, as she likes to call them, like Most Haunted, and ones where mediums pass over messages to audience members.

This morning there was a medium programme on in the background while I was giving Mum her morning tea. The presenter was talking to two women about their mother, and he said “she says to tell you that she wants to thank you for everything you did for her in those last three weeks”.

>It’s true you know.

>What’s true, Mum?

>Everything you’re doing for me.

I’ve been a bit watery recently, but Mum’s eyes are usually closed so I’d been getting away with letting some tears roll down my face while I was holding Mum’s hand and feeding her ice. She heard my loud breathing/sob and turned her face to me.

>Are you crying?

>Hmm.

I know she doesn’t like to see me cry. She’s only seen me cry twice about her health. Once when I came to visit in May 2014 and she was much thinner; it took me by surprise and I just burst. Another time when I was staying with her in the summer, and she was saying that I could give one of my children her first name as a middle name, a practice that she had always been virulently against before she was sick. When I cried, she would say softly “Noooo, nooo, don’t you cry. It will make me cry, and then if I start to cry, it will all be over”.

>There’s nowhere else I would rather be Mum.

>Thank you.

>I love you.

>I love you too.

Flight Booked, Decision Made: Saturday November 8th 2014

Mum fell last night. She was outside, she fell, she couldn’t get up. She is one of the most fiercely independent women I know. This does not look good.

I try to support my  sister via text, kicking myself for not having taken a flight earlier in the week. I felt like I wanted to “save my energy” in some way, as if Mum’s cancer were a marathon, and I wanted to conserve my reserves for the final sprint at the end.

I must go to support my sister. It must be almost unbearable to be there on her own, taking care of Mum, trying to keep it together both mentally and physically. The flight is double the expense of a “normal” flight, but they need me.

Useless, depressed, and I don’t even have cancer: August 2014

First my partner left, then my sister left, then my other sister and her boyfriend left. Now I’m alone with Mum and it is killing me. I cook for her twice a day. She’s not able to eat much and she’s convinced that certain foods are causing her to feel sick. Vegetables with the skin off. Lacto-free milk and cheese. Diabetic icecream. Nothing works and Mum continues to be in pain. I feel useless, unable to do anything to alleviate her symptoms.

I feel grateful that we are getting this time together, and that time has been running out for us to get to know each other before she passes. We’ve had some good chats, as adults. I’ve listened a lot, which is new… I liked to talk before, but now I’m more interested in what she has to say.

She likes to tell me how, although she loves us, she wouldn’t have children, if she could live her life again. Or if she did, she would only have two. Although I’m her third daughter, I don’t take offence to this. I find it funny as I have no plans on having children, although that may change. (Who knows, with all the medical advances, maybe my partner can carry our child and give birth to it, seahorse style. On second thoughts, Junior was a terrible film, so best just steer clear.) “You can be happily married without children” my mum says, sagely.

She’s refusing to start care on every possible grounds she can think of. She says she doesn’t have the money (even though it’s quite cheap in our area), then she says she would rather give me the money, which makes no financial sense as it would barely cover my rent on my flat, in Spain.

I’ve felt like I haven’t been able to take a long term job as I want to keep the freedom to come and spend time with Mum, but I definitely did not want to be left to cope with Mum alone, and to gradually start doing everything for her. She normally has prescriptions delivered, but when there has been a problem, I have gone to get them. Pharmacy, GP, pharmacy, home, don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry. The doctor’s surgery Mum is registered at is a big, semi-impersonal practice, with a dickie fax and a problem with misplacing prescriptions. The thought of Mum being left without morphine makes muscles in my stomach contract as if a phantom has kicked me in the gut.

I decided to leave. I realised that my taking care of Mum had become enabling. I was only helping her to deny reality by not starting/accepting care, and as much as I had tried, I felt lonely, I felt depressed, and I missed home. I hadn’t lived in my home town for 8 years, and I didn’t want to start now, when I was feeling psychologically vulnerable.

I told Mum I had a job interview and was heading home to the Basque Country for a few weeks. Mum and I had a blazing row. I said some things that were true but unkind. She was very very angry. I think she was most angry that, for the first time in her life, she needed someone else; she is such a proud and independent person.

“I don’t want a carer. I don’t need one.” she said. “I don’t want them touching me and talking down to me. They speak to me as if I had lost it. I don’t want them touching me ever. I couldn’t bear it”.

I lay on the sofa, unable to get up, unable to watch TV. I was depressed and unable to stand or contemplate doing simple things like making food or even checking my phone.

Finally the day came to leave and I dragged myself out of my pit. Mum’s wrath had been appeased by Deborah’s arrival from London later in the day, so I kissed her goodbye, hoping it wouldn’t be for the last time.

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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