This past Saturday, August 12th, was the second anniversary of my mother’s death. Seven Hundred and Thirty Days. It’s an absurd number of day’s with out her, a number that I once thought unthinkable to live through.
I started this post that same day but I was too tired to finish it. I’ve come to a point in my grief where it’s no longer that paralyzing hurt or that feeling of ever present pain that comes after, that state where the grief defines you. Now it’s transformed into something else.
It’s an ache that never goes away but I don’t think about, it’s just there. It’s like one of those cartoons where a little rain cloud is always following a character. The sun might be blazing in the sky but above you, there’s a cloud. It’s too small to ruin the day or block the sun, it just big enough to remind you it could start raining.
It’s listening to my friend ask her mother about a recipe and her mom showing her how it’s done. I’m happy for my friend, I enjoy the meal but at the same time I’m acutely aware that the recipes I never asked my mother about, never took the time to learn, are lost. I can look them up, but it’ll never be quite right because my mother never followed recipes, they were more like guidelines to her. If it said a pinch of that spice she’d put in four, so no matter what I do I’ll never get the food to taste the way it did when she cooked it.
It’s every holiday, birthday, memory, every single thing in my life will for ever have a tiny rain cloud above it. It won’t ruin that day or memory, I’ll still enjoy it, but not as I did before she died.
It’s the natural cycle of things that a child outlives their parent, that’s what people – some people – who either still have their parents with them, or people who’ve had the privilege to see their parents live a whole life, tell me. It’s true. As a child it’s a violation of nature to outlive your parents, that’s not supposed to happen. But, without any intention of trying to diminish the loss and grief of anyone who’s lost their parents to old age – I understand your pain in no less than mine – I still have to disagree. There’s nothing natural about your mother dying of cancer at age fifty-six.
On average, women in Sweden live to be eighty-four years old, I was counting on thirty odd years longer with my mother. I was counting on being sixty something when she passed, not thirty-three. Cancer is an anomaly, a mutation on a cellular level that is not supposed to happen. It’s a virus in our hard drive and we caught it too late.
In November 2014 my mother went to the gynecologist to seek help for what she believed was irregular menstrual bleeding due to menopause starting. She left with Cervix cancer after being told that the discomfort she’d been feeling was a tumor the size of a golf ball in her vagina.
By the end of that month, we knew the cancer was an aggressive type that had spread to her lymph nodes and lungs. They told her to fight, so she did. She got every nasty side effect from the treatment there was. Christmas Eve started with me calling for an ambulance and ended with her doped up on morphine and me crying in the hospital bathroom, muffling my sobs with a towel so she would hear how sad and scared I was.
She fought like a beast, she made Leonidas in ‘300’ look like a wuss. We got a short window of time when we thought we won. We didn’t, the tumor in her cervix, lungs, and lymph nodes disappeared, but tiny ones hid in her brain instead. The doctors couldn’t have done anything even if they had found them, she had received all the chemo and radiation her body could handle.
I used to be one of those people who rolled my eyes at cheesy plots, then my life became one. From the day we found out she was sick until the day she died I left her three times, obviously, I had to work and I had my own apartment that I stayed in occasionally, but between November 2014 and Agust 2015, I left Stockholm three times. During nine months I spent a total of six day’s away from Stockholm. The last time I left was on the 11th of August 2015, I traveled here to Gotland, where I live now, to house sit for my Aunt. My mom was supposed to come with me but she had to cancel. She had started to feel dizzy two weeks previously and it had become progressively worse.
At this point, the doctors had told us she was symptom-free, you’re not officially free of cancer before you’ve been symptom-free for five years, but we believed she had won, there were no tumors. We’d been to the hospital to find out the cause for her dizziness, they told us it was a late side effect of the treatment. Looking back I know I didn’t believe them. I thought it was strange that after having every side effect possible a new one would pop up a month after she finished her last treatment. I’m not sure she believed it either, but we both wanted to, we were exhausted.
She told me to go, that I had to because we’d promised my Aunt and there was a cat and a lizard that needed looking after. I remember crying on the bus that took me to the ferry. I knew. I knew something was wrong. Felt it in my core. At three in the morning on August 12th, my mom’s partner called me, screaming into the phone that my mother was unconscious in the hospital and it was bad. My voice was so calm when I spoke to the doctor. I didn’t cry when she explained that my moms head was filled with tiny tumors and one, located in her brain stem, had started to bleed and that my mother would not wake up again. That it was a matter of hours.
Hollywood could not make up a cheesier plot; me standing alone in my Aunts kitchen while my mother was dying in a hospital with only hours left to live. There I was trapped on a fucking island in the middle of the Baltic Sea and the first plane wouldn’t leave for another four hours.
Fortunately, my best friend had already moved back to Gotland so she came, she drove me to the airport and my mother waited for me. I came to the hospital around eight in the morning, she died a little after twelve.
Now when people make snarky comments about cheesy plots all I can think is how lucky they are to not know it could happen. How blessed they are to not understand that somewhere that cheesy, “unrealistic” plotline has actually happened time after time to countless people. Most stories, how every lame, has a grain of truth in them. It’s happened to someone.
It’s been Seven Hundred and Thirty (Two) Days and I can finally bear to think back on those hours in that hospital room.
After she died me, and my Aunt, we repeated as a mantra that at least she never understood what was happening, she died thinking she had beat the illness. Today I can be honest with myself and admit that, with what happened those last two weeks, she probably knew she hadn’t.
I’ve been telling myself that those noises she made when the drugs started to wear off and the single tear that ran down one cheek was an involuntary bodily reaction, something that just happened. I can’t possibly know that I can’t be certain a part of her brain wasn’t conscious until she drew her last breath. All I can do is hope that if she was, she heard what I said, heard me tell her not to worry about me, that I loved her, that I understood if she didn’t have the strength to fight anymore.
It’s been two years and now my grief isn’t a block of cement around my feet pulling me down, it’s just there. It’s a part of me now. I don’t fall apart anymore but on these big dates, her birthday, my birthday, the anniversary of her death I get so tired, it’s an acute exhaustion that goes marrow deep and I can bearly function. I almost miss that shattering grief, that feeling of crying until it feels like you’ll throw up. It’s a cathartic release that I miss. This ever present grinding grief I live with now doesn’t have a release, it’s just there.
It’s true that time heals all wounds, what they conveniently forget to mention, is that it also leaves a scar as a reminder of what you’ve been through. But I can’t change that. I have to live, because I’m thirty-five years old and how ever much I miss my mother, being alive is pretty wonderful, even without her here. I have to adapt and accept what I’ve lost.
When I was young, my mother married a wonderful man from Egypt. His mother taught her to make this recipe with potatoes and chicken roasted in some kind of tomato sauce in the oven. It’s comfort food in the best sense, I always meant to learn how to cook it, but it was one of those dishes that took a whole day to prepare, so she rarely made it.
I found the recipe a few months back, yesterday I decided to cook it. Now, I can’t cook it like she used to, so I didn’t even try. I rarely eat meat these day’s so I made it vegetarian, took out the chicken and made my own version. It didn’t taste exactly like hers, but it was close enough.
It’s been two years since my mother died from Cervix Cancer. She was fifty-six years old and not even close to finished with life, not ready or willing to die. When she drew her last breath I thought I would never recover, that there was no way I would survive it. Today I live with a scar as depth as the Mariana Trench, but it’s a scar. Scars itch, they disfigure and remind us of times and pain we’d rather forget, but they don’t bleed.
I’ve accepted that for every thing that happens in my life there will always be a hint of bitter, but that doesn’t mean the rest isn’t sweet.
I miss my mother every day. I would have liked thirty more years with her but life happened and life isn’t always kind. I feel like I’ve come to a point where I can say that life is good, it isn’t exactly how I would have liked it to be, but it’s good. I like my life even though my mother is dead.
It might sound tame. With today’s constant feed of AMAZING lives in social media, ‘good’ is probably seen as kind of… meh. Considering where I was and how I felt two years ago or one year ago, feeling ‘good’ is pretty awesome.
If you’re a woman reading this, I leave you with a request: if you’re young, get the HPV vaccine and you’ll never have to worry about Cervix cancer. If you’re over twenty-one please make an appointment for a ‘Pap smear’. I know we all hate to go to the gynecologist, I had my first test done after my mother died, and we get them for free here in Sweden.
If you do a Pap smear you can detect the cellular change before it even becomes cancer or if you catch it early you have a 70% chance to survive, if you don’t there’s a 70% chance you’ll be dead with in five years. Cervix cancer is one of the deadliest types of cancer but so easy to prevent before it even has a chance to fully develop if you do a Pap smear every two-three years.
We all know what to look out for in breast cancer but no one talks about cervix cancer (or any type of gynecological cancer), read up on the symptoms and if you’re around the age where menopause is to be expected, don’t believe people when they say spotting or irregular bleeding is “probably menopause” go to your gynecologist.