It’s nearly 10 years since you left me. I knew it was coming yet found out there’s no preparation. I still see you taking your last breath when I close my eyes, hear it reverberating in my skull. My life did not benefit from discovering the ‘death rattle’ is a very accurate description. It hurts but I’ve accepted that’s part of my life now; my strongest memories of you will always be the times you broke me.
I remember making you eat. I was young and clumsy, prone to injury when cooking. I didn’t understand anorexia so was angry when my efforts were left on the plate. I thought you selfish for expecting me to feed us then only nibble broccoli, so sat by you and made you take more bites. I don’t cook now. I’ve forgotten how and grown too lazy to learn.
I remember cleaning the house, pretending I was Harry Potter so my life seemed more interesting. In my head you were a cruel Aunt Petunia, making me scrub the kitchen to suppress my power rather than so an infection didn’t kill you during chemo. I struggle for motivation to clean now. I’ll live if it’s dusty; there’s really no rush.
I flashback to when the agony was too much for you. Your screams filled the house and I panicked, trying to find the phone so I could call your parents. You begged, then screamed some more, for me to not call. This would worry them. So I didn’t call anyone. I ran out the house and realised your screams filled the street so retreated back inside. You were my responsibility. I don’t think I was even 13. Now any sudden loud voice- either one delighted or agonised- instills panic.
All too often, I’m back in the room when you first started forgetting me. The tumour took its toll on your brain and you thought you were a child. That time dad was there with me. It was late so he didn’t have work, meaning I wasn’t alone trying to convince you it was bedtime. I think you died not knowing who I was, your last day talking to me was the same sentence on a loop. I can’t bear to be with anyone I sense will be anything of a project now, even a child. Sippy cups aren’t cute, they’re how we kept you alive when you couldn’t hold a glass.
The damage to my spine from lifting your mobility scooter in and out of the car is still here, so thanks. I’ll accept the bumps to the head after hitting the ceiling when standing on the stairlift were my fault.
My efforts for you were not appreciated or fully understood outside of the house. I felt hated, and with good reason. After I didn’t bring the washing in on time, you admitted my grandparents wanted to tell dad he’d done a bad job raising me. My brother had never done anything but I was an awful person because I wasn’t faster than the rain. You’d be happy to know my relationship with your parents is much better- a full appreciation and love for each other.
I wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. One time I wouldn’t leave the house to visit you until the BBC had finished the special announcement of who would be replacing David Tennant in Doctor Who. I reasoned you spent so much of our lives in hospital we’d have plenty of time to sit uncomfortably surrounded by people much older than you but in better health. You never got to see Matt Smith on the show. Turns out there wasn’t much more time.
After everything I did for you, you still died. I hated you for getting sick, for leaving me to face the world without your help. I was angry nobody understood and confused about what to do with newfound freedom. Even with my desperation to keep you, when you were at your worst I remember thinking, “Do it. Die”. You’d be free from pain and I’d have my own life. I despised myself for ever having that thought, even if I didn’t mean it, because it happened. It felt like my fault.
After a long time, I did find my way back to myself.
Unfortunately or fortunately, this is not the life I’d be living with you still here. I suspect I’d still be in Yorkshire but in a job with decent pay. Without losing you, I wouldn’t have bombed my school and college exams in a very ill-judged act of rebellion. Maybe I would have made it to Oxbridge; it was always considered within my capabilities. You’d be happy for me to go to university but expect me back. I don’t consider Canada an option in this alternate universe.
I’m somewhat jealous of anyone who can remember a loved one with rose-tinted glasses. I always felt remembering the person you were, not an idealised version, was more respectful but it makes me question if you’d be proud of me. You were prone to jealousy and often selfish. Here I am living my dream on my own. Cancer or not, you were still disabled with other illnesses. You would still want me there to care for you because I had before.
People will never understand, no matter what I tell them and in how much detail, the impact losing you still has even when I have largely ‘moved on’. You first got sick when I was 7, more than half my life back then was imagining how you’d die. Now I’m abroad the pain keeps coming back. I’m young enough for people to ask about my parents, to push on when I purposely have not mentioned what you do for a living. I’m reliving being that lost, angry kid again. I want to scream, “She’s dead! Fuck off!” but that’s not acceptable when you’re 25.
Hopefully you’d at least recognise the daughter you have now. Not just the face which hasn’t changed much or the fact I have worn your necklace since you died, but the heart of me. So many of my interests and life goals have changed. You’d recognise the love for some of the same popular culture immediately but my sense of humour got darker and my personality is different. I’ve lost the compassion which compelled me to care for you.
All I can hope for is that you’d like what you saw. I think I represent you well. I still love you and always will. You’re my mum.
PS I must confess I have read your diaries. There are things in them which family members would be uncomfortable finding out I know, and they are like a punch to the gut, but I’m sorry to say I’m glad about the invasion of privacy. I know you loved and appreciated me, even if you did think I was weird.