My mother is dying.
How is it that I am writing those words, that hold such horror and truth? This fact comes to me in nauseating waves; this all encompassing grief that is all too familiar.
It has been 4 weeks since my worst fears were confirmed: incurable lung cancer.
My sleep is fretful; my dreams murky and unsettling. I lie awake; unable to succumb to the exhaustion. It is only when I suddenly wake, my heart pounding, that I realise I have been asleep. I don’t know if I’m here or there. My body is drenched in sweat.
Sometimes I am blissfully in denial. As if what is happening is some distant fictitious story, far removed my own life. And there are times when I forget, when I am consumed with the mundane activities of life with two small children. These routine day-to-day moments keep me busy and far away from thought.
Then, I suddenly remember the awful truth.
My mother is dying.
And the sickening reality of it hits me and the sorrow rushes over me, along with the tears and gut wrenching sobs. I expected to have another twenty years with her, and just like that, it’s reduced to months. It just seems so unbelievable and ridiculous.
It pains me to think of all the things she will miss out on. I will never get to see her age and become that sweet old lady I’d always envisioned. She won’t get to witness my youngest brother get married, or have children. She won’t get to watch her grandchildren grow into teens and adults, with their own lives and interests.
It is especially painful to realise that my children won’t remember her. They won’t know the joy and enthusiasm that bubbles out of her, her endless optimism. They won’t know the kindness that emanates from her, the warmth she exudes. They will know it through me, and the anecdotes I tell them, but they won’t know it for themselves.
She is the centre of the family; the lifeblood, the thread that binds us all together. The home that she and my dad share is overwhelmingly her. What will it be without her? I am apprehensive about the moment I step foot into the house once she is gone and her absence is everywhere; becoming a presence in itself.
Everything reminds me of her. Everything is now poignant.
I walk the concrete aisles of the garden centre, searching for blooms that will make our garden beautiful. As I read the names of the flowers I recall my mum saying them. Clematis, hibiscus, azalea, gladioli. I remember watching my mum lovingly tend to her flowers, her plants, the soothing nature of silence and the sprinkle of water as she navigates the curves of the flower beds, with one hand on her hip and the other holding a watering can. Who will take care of the garden once she is gone?
I sort through Everly’s closet and there hanging at the back; all the bigger sizes. Will my mum be around to see her wear these?
All these small, incidental details, now so significant in their intricate importance in the tapestry of our everyday life.
It’s as simple and as impossible as, ‘I don’t want her to die.’ I want to shout these words whilst lying on the floor, kicking and screaming, like a young child who exhibits their emotions in the same way they feel them; unedited, in their whole rawness.
There’s nothing to be done. We wait. We watch. And feel this deep ache in our hearts as a woman who we have loved and cherished for the entirety of our lives gets destroyed by a disease.
We’ll have to bear witness as she embarks on the debilitating journey of chemotherapy, and endures the myriad of crippling side effects that are part of it. Knowing that the inevitable conclusion will still be reached, sooner or later. Something so awful, so incomprehensible, so painful, and all we can do is let it come. The helplessness is suffocating.
We don’t know precisely how long she has. We don’t know when, or how. All we know is statistics: the overall 5 year survival rate with stage IV lung cancer is 1-2%. The median survival time is 8 months. This is information that we have researched ourselves, poring through hundreds of articles and medical journals, in the hope of finding answers. The most the doctors will commit to, once pressed, is a vague, “everyone is different.” The discussion of death is still a taboo even in terminal illness, it seems.
It is difficult knowing that the worst is yet to come. The ending of life is just the beginning of the infinite road of grief. I learned that through William and Noah’s death. That anticipatory grief is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the grief that comes after. The sadness is tenfold once that person is actually, physically gone.
And so this weight of anticipatory grief sits heavily on my shoulders once again. It has been 5 years since I experienced these feelings surrounding the death of my own children, and now here it is again with my mother.
An unwelcome sorrow that I had become wearily accustomed to, now entering my life for a second round of heartbreak.