Right. Enough is enough.
Stop with the distractions.
I went off the beaten track for a few weeks there. Didn’t I?
Got caught up in the bright lights. Of hospice newsletters. End of life articles. And other such glamour.
But let’s get back to it: the matter at hand. The story.
Oh. If you want to play catch up with my last ‘on-piste’ post, here it is.
And if you’re new to Funny Matters. Welcome! You might want to start from the very beginning (a very good place to start). In which case. I’d rewind to here.
We had very different ways of looking at the world. Me and Mum.
Fundamentally. Inside. We were like two peas in a pod. Two highly sensitive peas. With a cheeky sense of humour. And a child-like enthusiasm for chocolate eclairs. It was just that our views from the pod were slightly different.
Mum was very traditional. Your classic post-war meat and two veg type.
Her rules were simple: Sunday’s were for roasts, not shopping. Christmas Day lunch should be early, so as not to miss the Queen’s speech… And since when did we need pre-made pancake mix?!
My relentless questioning of all rules – and innate desire to break them – must have been a constant source of frustration for her.
So, no. Generally Mum didn’t go in for the wacky stuff.
But what do you do after a terminal cancer diagnosis?
After the initial shock and fear becomes normal, that is. Abnormally normal.
The oncologist had left us in an awkward place. Said Mum’s lung cancer was inoperable. Incurable. 12 months. Maybe 18. Then left us to process it.
When the traditional options run out. And you’re told there’s nothing left they can do. What then?
We took onboard everything the hospital told us to. Of course we did.
And then we did the opposite too.
I lured Mum into my world. The world of trying other things.
I read books. Went to talks. Collected articles.
Became a quasi-expert in nutrition. Natural therapies. Integrated medicine. Other things which some may choose to call wacky.
But again. What else is there to turn to when the non-wacky things dry up?
We explored. Investigated. Dabbled. And dipped.
Ultimately. Of course. I was looking for ways to heal Mum. To find the holy grail of combinations to decode cancer’s impenetrable padlock.
But also. I wanted to find a way of supporting her. Physically – to combat the harshness of constant chemo. And also emotionally. Mentally.
She followed my lead. Opened herself up completely.
I said juice. She juiced.
Masses of green veg. Every day. More than once.
She changed her diet. Quite radically.
I introduced her to the idea of mindfulness. Of breathing properly.
For Mum. This part was vital. The inevitable fear and panic of diagnosis was like a caged beast. It needed to be let out. Exercised. And then tamed.
Breathing exercises helped keep her compromised lungs as strong as possible. But also relieved anxiety. Tension headaches. Migraines. Stress
And deep relaxation. This one was tricky. Mum wasn’t the greatest at relaxing. Up until that point, her idea of relaxation was biting her nails in front of a particularly good episode of Silent Witness. Or re-positioning the living room furniture on a weekly basis.
This was a woman who even found having a facial stressful.
But crikey. Before long I even had her meditating.
She mentioned she quite fancied the idea of Tai Chi. Had heard it was good for balance. I jumped on this. Found a class nearby. Not Tai Chi. But it’s more hardcore-sounding relative: Qi Gong.
We went to Qi Gong together. Every Sunday.
It was quite far out. In terms of the wack-o-meter, I mean. It was a small group of people. Mostly folk already open to the wonderful world of ‘woo-woo’.
It was all fine for me. Christ – I went to drama school. I’d rolled around on wooden floors to Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopédies’. And spent hours pretending to be a meercat. My inhibitions had long since dried up.
But it was a challenge for Mum. Very much outside her comfort zone. This wasn’t ‘Keep Fit’ in a church hall. Or ‘Aqua Aerobics’ in the kiddie pool.
She wasn’t used to putting herself out there in these circles. She was shy and lacking in self confidence.
At first I wondered if she was just going along with these things because she trusted me. I have to admit that thought hurts. A lot. Still now. The idea that I let her down. By ultimately not being able to save her in the end.
I also thought perhaps she was just humouring me.
But. On the other hand. I do know that at some point she started enjoying going a bit woo-woo.
I watched as she went through the various stages. Week by week in Qi Gong. From ‘this is nonsense’. And ‘I feel like an idiot’. To ‘well everyone else is doing it’. And then ‘this is actually rather fun’.
I could start to see the buzz she got out of doing these things. Of letting go.
And the wonderful and unpredictable Nicky. Who led the Qi Gong class. Everything Mum would normally run a mile from: Ballsy. Extremely tactile. With a penchant for the word ‘bollocks’. But Mum loved her. As well as her enthusiasm to help Mum in any which way she could. Mum called Nicky her ‘guardian angel’.
It was wonderful to watch this transformation in Mum. Opening herself up to new things. Experiences. And opportunities. And at a time when going through the biggest challenge anyone could face.
One Sunday at Qi Gong. It was warm enough to venture out of the hall. To go into the field outside.
For some reason Nicky had us being monkeys. Don’t ask!
But there we were. Me and Mum. Lolloping around the field – in broad daylight – pretending to be monkeys.
We looked utterly ridiculous. Quite literally going ape. And Mum was laughing. Proper belly laughing. Even messing about more than the others. Picking imaginary fleas from my head. And eating them.
It’s such a lovely memory. Unforgettable. My traditional – almost Victorian – Mum. Running around a field. In public. Being a monkey. Looking so free. And both of us almost crying with laughter.
I’m welling up with pride. Right now. As I write this.
At a time when the fear must have felt all consuming. She opened herself up to a new world. A world we shared together. A shared experience which was as special as it is hard to define. Where we both learnt things about ourselves. And each other.
I saw a new side to Mum in those final months. And was immensely proud of her.
She did so much during that last year and a half. Really went out on a limb. Opened herself up. Did things that she would never normally have done.
When I couldn’t go to Qi Gong. She’d go anyway. She even took her own meditation stool with her.
Her self-confidence grew. Her shyness faded. And more. She found herself a choir group to join. Went on her own. And loved it!
Did any of it work though?
Did all this wonderful woo-woo keep her alive? Ultimately, no.
Although who knows to what extent it helped her.
Personally. I believe it was all these things that kept her ‘healthy’ for so long.
Fit. Active. Her normal energetic self. Despite the almost continuous stream of chemo in her system. Right up until those final 8 weeks of decline. 18 months after diagnosis.
But more importantly. We shared something magical together in those final months.
I learnt a whole new side of my Mum. And she no doubt learnt a whole new side of herself too.
By now. You’ll probably have picked up that I like to look at the positives of a situation.
True: Finding a positive from your Mum’s terminal cancer diagnosis and subsequent death is a tricky one.
Missing a plane – or even being made redundant – is a tad easier I tend to find.
But there is one.
Mum’s diagnosis transformed our relationship. It blossomed. And we connected in ways that words can’t do justice.
And that. Was a 100% pure blessing.
Would it have happened if she hadn’t have received that diagnosis?
I don’t know. I’ll never know. But in some weird way I like to think not. Maybe that’s just an eternal optimist speaking. Who cares?!
Every day I wish my Mum was still here. Doing the things I loved her for. Doing the things that infuriated me.
But I thank whatever it is that’s out there: God. The Supreme Being. David Icke. Whatever. For allowing me to have the relationship we did in those last 18 months.
Something magical happened between us.
And for that I’ll be forever grateful.
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