We are having to get used to being a family of 5. It always feels like someone is missing when we sit at the dinner table, and I still sometimes instinctively bring 6 plates to the table to lay. For the first few weeks after mum died I would wake up with a feeling that something just wasn’t quite right – and even sometimes now I find myself just almost waiting for mum to come back and the not-quite-rightness to resolve itself.
Its strange looking back on the past 6 months. We have been so deeply sad but have also had happy moments as our new unit of 5. When one of us is down, the rest of us are ok and feeling stronger. We all help each other. It's just up and down always and what helps is knowing that when you’re feeling your saddest, it’s possible to push through and feel ok again. Its good to remember that – how fluid emotions can be.
One of mum’s biggest fears before she died was whether we would be ok without her. She was (and always will be) the heart of our family and imagining a life without mum was not ever possible – I still can’t quite believe it even now. However, somehow life still keeps going forward and we are doing ok.
I love talking about mum. I mention her as much as I can. Sometimes it's as if she’s not really gone because when I talk about her she could almost be here. It's sad to think that the memories I talk about will become more aged and it's sad that we can’t make any more of them. However, its not just memories that mum has left us with, its also her impression on us. She’s in everything we do, everything we think and every way we act. So while the memories of days might fade, her imprint on us won’t ever.
We are all in France at the moment; somewhere we come every year that has happy memories of mum. Tonight we are eating ‘garlic prawns’, which is as it sounds - prawns fried with lots of French garlic (oh so complicated). It was one of mum’s favourite dishes to cook here. We are not really marking an occasion because we think of mum always, but it's nice to do something that mum would have enjoyed today, and it's nice to be altogether as family.
I could write so much more about how these 6 months have been for us and how we are all getting along, but for now this is just a note to say we are doing ok.
A eulogy for mum
When I was younger, I used to worry about all sorts of things. When I say these things now they are going to sound a bit silly but at age 10 they would keep me up at night. I remember lying in bed with my stomach twisted in fear at the thought of earthquakes, tsunamis but most of all super volcanoes. Super volcanos really did scare me the most.
After what would seem like forever tossing and turning in bed trying to go to sleep but with these dramatic images of super volcanoes exploding over Brighton, I would creep downstairs and into mum and dads room to mums side of the bed. Mum was very good at waking up immediately and she would lie and listen to me tell her what I was worried about as if it were the most legitimate worry in the world. Then she would say ‘Ella, worrying about it isn’t going to do anything. Its just going to mean you don’t sleep. If its going to happen (which it wont) you worrying about it wont change it at all’
This would then immediately qualm my fears and I remember so well that feeling of worry turning to nothing – the realisation that I was just wasting my time thinking about it.
Mum had that power you see. With only a few words she could turn your mood around. She always knew the right thing to say. She was a problem solver and a ‘do-er’.
Mum approached her life, as well as her diagnosis, with this active and positive approach to things. Her continued determination never faltered.
The day before mum died I helped her to the bathroom so she could brush her teeth and get ready for bed. There are about 7 stairs going from the bathroom to mum and dads room and once she had walked up them once (on the way back from the bathroom) I said mum why don’t you walk up them again as a bit of exercise (because you’ve been in bed all day). So mum walked up them again and then clambered down and up them one more time without me even asking (so doing it three times in total)
Before bed mum then stretched her arms up to the sky and then walked up and down with me for a minute to get some blood into her legs.
I’m telling you this because I think it just described perfectly what mum did till the very end – she kept going. She never gave up. Even when all the odds were against her she just kept going. She never once accepted that her diagnosis would mean life should stop and this is how I know we will face life now without her here – we will keep going.
One of mum’s favourite quotes comes from a book called ‘A man’s search for meaning’, written about a man’s experience in Auschwitz:
‘What alone remains is the last of human freedoms - the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.’
This is exactly what mum did and I think it has to be one of the hardest things to do – because the easiest option can often be to just give up and accept what’s happening. The easiest thing to do is to assume you have no control. // Mum certainly did not just accept she had no control – she found control.
I’d always remind mum that with everything that was happening we as her children were learning so much. This ability to recognise that you have the power to decide what shall become of yourself, mentally and spiritually, can take years to learn. You can learn through words and be told that’s where your control lies, but every day mum was teaching us this in her actions. Mum chose to face her life as well as her diagnosis with optimism, determination and energy. Her spirit really was unbreakable.
When we were younger mum would religiously read us a story before bed. One of my favourites that she read was a book called ‘Pollyanna’ – about an orphaned girl who goes to live with her only remaining relative; a stern and cold aunt Polly.
In the book, Pollyanna plays ‘the glad game’ – something her father had taught her to do. He believed that no matter what happens, there is always something to be glad about and we should always look for for the positive aspects in every bad experience. When I was younger – and even now - me and mum would play this ‘glad game’.
Mums diagnosis proved to be the biggest test of them all for the ‘glad game’ but sure enough mum found ways for it not to be such a bad thing. It meant more time with friends. It meant we appreciated each happy moment more. It meant we became closer and stronger as a family.
To find the good in every bad was something mum taught us and now will give us the opportunity to put into practice.
These daily lessons that mum has given will carry on. She has had such a profound impact on not only everyone she met but also on who we are and who we will be. This is comforting because, in a way, I know she will always be influencing us in ways that sometimes we might not even realise.
To lighten the conversations about what it would mean to die I would tell her that actually, if she died, we would probably listen to her more because she wouldn’t be able to argue back. I’d say ‘mum, of course we can live without you’
Of course when I said that, I didn’t mean that it would be easy and I didn’t mean that we wouldn’t miss her. What I meant is that we will keep going and we will learn to live without her. But learning to live without her doesn’t mean she isn’t here, it just means we have to listen more carefully. Because like mum chose to face everything with determination, optimism and energy, we are going to choose to face life without mum in the same way. Her lessons will continue, and she will inspire us always.