I can't sleep. It's 4.00 am. It just keeps running through my head. Around and around.
My Mother has been fighting the most aggressive form of lung cancer there is. One year ago she was diagnosed out of the blue. We had held a party for my Father in July of last year. Food, wine and laughter. Both of them in relatively good health, young at heart, in their mid seventies, their 56th year together. The sun shone and we spent the day outside with family and friends.
In September she developed a niggly cough. Maybe a chill or a bug. Nothing to worry about. She left it for a while, maybe a week, like you do. It wouldn't shift. She saw her Doctor and was prescribed a course of antibiotics. She kept coughing. She finished the course. It was getting worse. I took her to have a scan of her chest on a Sunday. "Wait two weeks for the results", they said. By Tuesday the Doctor was sitting next to my Mother in the house and softly whispered what we all feared. She looked at my Father, then me, then back to the Doctor. "So what happens now?"
The world comes crashing down.
I penned the first piece over seven months ago as a sort of cathartic measure. A way to express the emotions I was feeling. I never intended to publish it but a few weeks ago my Mother asked me if I had written anything. She writes beautifully herself (The View From This End) and has always encouraged us to be creative. I was tempted to say no. As a Mother I didn't want her to read my pain. But I could never lie to her. Even as a child she would fix me with those eyes and I couldn't. It never changes. Parent and child. 30 years of difference but she can still put me in my place with that Mother's look.
So I said yes, I had written something. She asked to read it. I took her my laptop and placed it on her lap in bed. She read without expression and then paused and said "Publish it, I'll be your first follower".
There have been many shared experiences with my Mother over the last year as she has fought this vile disease with every sinew in her body. Many days have been horrendous, some uplifting, a few even funny but she has never shown an ounce of self-pity or shed a tear (at least in front of me).
It still doesn't seem real. I thought I could cope. I have been coping. I am coping. Coping... being strong... being there... at home... at the Hospice... sitting with her... people passing away in the night... not there the next day... seeing how they suffered for weeks. Their husbands and children, like me, smiling as we enter the Ward and as we leave. A wave, a blown kiss at the door. Then the smiles disappear. The stomach turns over. Despair, grief, helplessness. I feel my strength ebb away.
I'm beginning to wobble. I love to be with her but hate what is happening. I can't find the smiles. The smiles have gone. Why won't they come back. She needs to see me smile. And I always made her laugh. Now I can't. I hate it. Hate... and love.
We don't know how long she has left. No-one does. Maybe someone. Please don't let her suffer, please. She said to me tonight, "What if I don't get in, you know, upstairs?" Her eyes wide and locked on mine. "If YOU don't qualify," I said, "then it must be pretty empty up there". She closed her eyes and smiled gently.
I can't sleep. It's 5.28am.