Pretty much all summer long I’ve been itching to move back to university; I’ve complained about the mess in the house, the lack of independence, the lack of cashpoint within fifteen minutes of the house… pretty much everything. I’ve made a home for myself in York, and the house where I grew up doesn’t feel like home anymore.
Somebody asked me last week if each time I said goodbye to my Mum I thought about whether or not it would be our last. The very quick answer to that question would be ‘no’. When Mum was first diagnosed, I did for a while, but not anymore. Can you imagine living like that for 18 months?! You’d drive yourself insane. Furthermore, any time I say goodbye to anyone it could be the last time I see them. Accidents happen all the time and we never know what life might decide to spring upon us. (It’s morbid, I know, but still true).
I think I’m struggling to accept Mum’s declining health, and I’ve got to the stage where I’m just running away from it. If I’m not at home, then Mum’s health stays where I last left it. If I’m not seeing her every day, her disease is halted in time. Without seeing her condition change, I can pretend that it doesn’t.
When I’m at home, I can blame the loneliness and isolation I often feel on living in a tiny village and not being able to drive, which limits opportunities to meet with friends. But back at uni, I’m confronted with the truth that the lonely ache I feel is for the Mum that I grew up with, and that pit in my stomach only grows if I think about the number of friends I’ve lost since Mum became more ill.
I long to be able to walk through the door and see Mum chatting away whilst unloading the dishwasher, or cleaning up after baking a cake. I have dreams where I’m walking around Tesco with her. I wish that I could go clothes shopping with her, and walk around various shops all day arguing about socks, or something equally ridiculous, and having ‘lunch’ at a coffee shop (it feels like cheating to say hot chocolate and a piece of cake count as lunch, but it was our thing, so who cares?). But I can’t do or see these things anymore, and I never will again.
After a busy morning on my first day back at uni, I sat down for a moment, and I cried. Rather than the stupid, sniffly, ‘I’m not really crying’ crying, though, I let myself go and just cried properly. Mum might not be dead, but I’m grieving right now and I’ve been grieving for a long time – grieving for the life and the Mum I once knew. The boundless energy and busy nature of Mum as I knew her when I was growing up could not be more different to the shadow of her that sits, sleeps and watches TV for most of the day nowadays.
The night before I left for uni this week, I said goodbye to Mum. She hugged me, but she is so weak and small now that it wasn’t like the hugs I’ve grown up with. I knew her arms were around me, but I barely felt it. The following morning I said goodbye again, and we had a perfectly ‘normal’ conversation, but she was still in bed (to be fair, it was half eight on a Saturday morning, but healthy Mum would have been up and about an hour or two before then).
These days I’ve gotten pretty good at fielding responses to Mum’s illness – I diplomatically answer everyone around me and aim to be positive and busy the majority of the time. When someone tells me that Mum’s illness isn’t fair, I shrug my shoulders and respond that life’s not fair. But I am angry. This disease is taking her life and our future with her and I can’t understand why it chose her. This cancer is not just taking her life, but it is affecting our family in ways that I’d never have imagined.
Anger is an important part of grief, but it’s not an emotion I find easy to cope with, especially when a lot of my anger these days is actually directed at cancer itself. I feel like this anger is useless, and won’t get me anywhere. I could let it sit and fester in me, but that would just destroy me. I have to turn it into something useful. So I channel it into the positive things I do everyday: I keep volunteering, keep campaigning, and keep trying to make the world a better place.