As with most things in her life, when it came to cancer, my mother fought til the end.
But every day was a mystery. We couldn’t be sure whether the new day might be her last. And we couldn’t tell whether the huge amounts spent on mainstream and alternative therapies were helping or doing harm.
The ones who loved her warmth and personality throughout an otherwise healthy life, had to take each day as it came – ever thankful for each sacred moment remaining to be shared with her.
Not the timid type
My mother was not the timid type when it came to protecting her family from rude guests or flavourless lunchbox snacks. She lived and gave with an unwavering sense of family, of integrity and raging fieriness. Actually, she seemed pretty immortal to most of us! It was invariably to her that most people turned to when in need of a shoulder to cry on or a tower of strength. She was the one with all the tricks and jokes up her sleeve. The creative person able to turn two fridge shelves of random produce into a culinary masterpiece.
When she was diagnosed with cancer that was aggressive and untreatable, I felt my world shift in a violent way. I was 17 years old and about to enter my final year at secondary school with a seven-year-old sister pulling on my hand asking me to teach her another ballet step.
I cried – a lot
The rest of the time I spent trying to make up excuses for distancing myself from my close circle of friends. Or turning to people that I didn’t really want to be friends with. I started seeing someone a little older who was emotionally distant, because that meant not having to share what I was feeling, leading in turn to more tears, more disagreements, and more confusion.
A healthier activity was dancing. I kept that up all the way through, stopping only after my mother’s death, because it reminded me of her. Despite dizzy spells and slight disorientation, she came along to a dance competition in the earliest days of her diagnosis. All four of us were there; me on stage, with mum, dad and little sister cheering from the audience.
I miss everything that my family once was
I miss the sort of nurturing that is sacred to the relationship between mother and daughter. And I would be lying if I said that I did not fall in a heap soon after her death.
I was lucky to have a surprisingly strong support network at school. My teachers amazed me with their concern and desire to help with personal concerns along my way through that year.
It seemed that all the time, with perfect timing, people were popping into our house to give the support we didn’t know we needed – neighbours, old friends and extended family, friends from school. Even well-meaning strangers, too.
All of this culminated at the burial of my mother
We had all been with her along the way, and when it came to preparing the church ritual, I found strength within myself to organise the entire thing on my own. It was my way of not only saying goodbye to my mother in a very personal, yet public way, but thanking the various people who had helped so much along the way as well.
It was the sense of community; friendship and family that helped carry me through the death of my mother.
We couldn’t prevent my mother from getting sick. We could all only do the best that we knew at the time. But the love and generosity expressed by others reaching out to my family at this time now outweigh any moments of darkness surrounding the event.
Five years later, I remember every gently spoken word, every act of kindness
It must have been a nightmare for my mother Renata. Her being so ill all the time, for eleven months, must have tested every single value and personally held belief she had.
I know that she died with resentment and regret. For being pulled away so early – before her youngest had even turned nine. But with that came a quiet teaching, to always love without restraint or fear for tomorrow. I know she took this knowledge with her as well.
Not only did my mother give birth to myself, and my sister – raising me to the age of 17 and her to the age of eight – she also taught us that love has no boundaries, even after death.
I hope that if you or a loved one is suffering from terminal illness, you can see the experience as a stepping-stone to your own immortal Heart, and a life lived in accordance with its teaching.
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