I’m privileged enough to have had a wonderfully happy house throughout my childhood and upbringing. It’s almost always been filled with activity, music, laughter and conversation. Barely a weekend would go by when we didn’t either have someone over, or visit someone’s house, and seeing friends of my brothers or parents who I didn’t know, sat in our kitchen or lounge, was an everyday occurrence. Mum played her saxophone (or foghorn, depending who you asked), Dad would play the piano, as would my brother, my other brother, my Mum and I would dance around the kitchen to Caro Emerald whilst baking and cooking. It was certainly never quiet.
Even a year ago, you’d never have known that Mum had terminal cancer. As a palliative medicine consultant, she was working pretty much full time with people who were at the end of their lives. She didn’t look like a cancer patient. She was on hormone treatment at the time, and her hair had grown back from the chemo she’d had during her first bout of cancer just 18 months before. We’d both get up on a morning while the male members of our family were still asleep, have breakfast, chat, and head our separate ways to work. On evenings we’d both return; tired but still keeping up with any household chores that hadn’t been attended to during the day (or asking other members of our family to do them). At weekends, we’d visit people or have people over. The house would be filled with laughter and chatter.
Not anymore. When I get up on a morning now, everyone is still asleep. I get up in silence, creep around the house getting ready for my run before returning, showering, and getting ready for work as quietly as possible. I walk through the door on an evening now and I see and hear nobody. It’s silent. Sometimes I’ll get a “hello” from my brother who’s revising in the office, welcoming me home, but that’s about it. I’ll walk through the house towards the bottom of the stairs and there’s no music coming from the lounge (which is now my parent’s second bedroom, from when Mum couldn’t get upstairs). I normally pop my head into the living room to greet Mum who will be sat in her chair watching TV; she doesn’t always hear me come in. Dad’s often sat in there, too. Upstairs will be my other brother, headphones on, watching something or listening to music. He used to spend his evenings on the computer in the living room, talking to us all, and I’m not sure when that changed – though I think that’s probably a teenager thing and may well be the most normal thing around here at the moment.
It feels like Mum is fading into her chair. I know that the whole dying-and-coming-back-to-life thing was clearly going to affect her, and you’re never quite sure how that will translate. But Mum’s always been so active and so sociable. People do come round to see her, but my brother and I can’t remember the last time she left our house/garden. Also, for someone who’s always been early to bed, early to rise (and told us off if we’ve been to bed late and got up late!), she now sleeps for around 15 hours a day; going to bed really late and getting up around midday most days.
I suppose change isn’t uncommon for someone with a terminal disease, but I underestimated the extent to which it would affect our family and our house. Mum getting up late means everyone else gets up late. The lack of Mum tidying up means nobody really tidies up. Her being less active means we’re all less active. Being at home feels like wading through treacle, everything just slows down. It feels harder to revise, harder to get up on a morning, harder to get dressed. Everything feels slow and drawn out.
Even though I’m not a superfan of Harry Potter, the best way I can think to describe it is like there’s a ‘Dementor’ living with us. Entering the house, I feel smothered and devoid of energy; filled with an overwhelming sense that something is wrong. I feel uneasy, unsure, anxious and depressed. The last couple of days, all I’ve felt like doing is crying.
I don’t feel able to write a positive post this week. I feel quite low – it’s tiring trying to stay on top of everything, and some mornings I just do not want to get out of bed. When I’m at home, I do my best to stay busy, to clean, tidy and bake when I’m not revising, and to spend time with my family as much as I can. At work I throw all the energy and love I have at the kids I look after. I’m incredibly lucky to have friends who are organising things with me so I have stuff to look forward to, because that’s something I sorely need right now. I’m thankful for all those people who are looking out for me, and recognise more than ever how precious and comforting small and normal things, from my brothers making fun of me to the constant struggle to locate the garage key, can be in the midst of all of this.