I’m not sure she ever did or, perhaps, she constantly did, it is hard to differentiate these two things. From the moment I could walk, before I even uttered a sensical word I knew not to touch her medicines or equipment. She told me they were important for her health but dangerous for mine. She would sort through her tablets, explaining what each one was for. That stayed the same most of my life. She would explain that she had to be admitted to hospital sometimes because she is “different to other mothers” she has “CF” and that means “sometimes she is sick and she has to let the doctors take care of her” and this was enough for me. It was enough to me until I was 6 or 7 and my uncle, who also had CF had just received brand new lungs. He was so sick just before the transplant, unlike my mum who was running around after me and swimming every week.
She thought this would be his big break. His freedom. His life. We all did. We rooted for him. A few weeks later he died.
I couldn’t understand any of it. “How could he die? The operation was supposed to make him better? How could this happen?” It was during this period I started to think: “If he died, could my mum die too?” She explained that he was much more ill than she is but there is a serious probability that one day, she too will be that ill. Initially, I was so shocked I couldn’t ask anymore questions, despite my parents best attempts to openly talk about. Eventually, I just stopped believing it. She was too strong, too healthy, too stubborn to ever be that ill.
There were moments that made these words echo in my ear like a cruel joke. Moments when I saw her slip through my fingers and barely just make it back.
Eventually, as more of our friends and family got more and more ill and passed away I realised that maybe it didn’t matter how strong or stubborn or lucky she was.
Those dark thoughts were part of normal daily life and learning to compartmentalise at times was important and often necessary.
When I was nine years old you told me I could be an astronaut, in fact you told me I could be whatever I wanted. I now realise that was ridiculous since I was almost legally blind and got car sick.
That is when you planted the seeds. You were raising me not to settle. You encouraged all of my whimsy and ridiculously free-natured mannerisms. I didn’t realise it then but now, I understand. You told me never to accept what I find to be mediocre. Not in love, not with my passions, not with my friendships and especially not with my dreams. You made me laugh when I was sad or angry. You gave me my sense of humour. Now, after a day of lab work that has gone wrong I make a joke and we both laugh. I got this quality from you. When I am broken you help me find the missing pieces and you constantly tell me I could find them without you but I know that isn’t true. You push me when I am on the verge of quitting and you tell me to run when it isn’t worth fighting for. You never doubt me, even when the world is telling me I’m taking the wrong path, you trust me, blindly and totally. This is where I get my blind faith from.
Most importantly, you taught me what true love and mutual respect looks like. When I was growing up I always knew I wanted someone to love me the way you loved mum. It is because of you that I know what I deserve. It is because of you that I didn’t settle in love. I wanted the blissful existence you both had even when times were hard. I wanted someone who looked at me the way you looked at mum even until her final day. Others would say that love like this is fictional and unrealistic but having seen it first-hand I know I too can have that. You made me want someone that really would love me in sickness and in health. You know what? You knew that mum might not live until old age and you didn’t care. You watched her brother lose his battle with CF and you threw caution to the wind and followed your heart. I wanted that. You taught me that love doesn’t involve logic or science. Love doesn’t follow any rules or any perfect path. When everything in our lives was dictated by timelines, rules and regimes you showed me that this one thing wasn’t. None of it mattered. All that mattered was this indescribable thing you felt for her. For all of this, I am eternally grateful. You taught me endless lessons. You are the unsung hero of our story, did you know that? I really mean that. You held us all together when we were almost falling apart. When a mean boy hurt my feelings you drove to my university campus to take me home and when mum lost her damn good battle with CF you promised me everything would be okay eventually.
Thank you for being my best friend, my role-model and my inspiration.
Your words dis-heartened me. I felt worthless. I felt self-conscious. I forgot a little bit of myself. Every time thereafter I forgot a little bit of myself even more.
Eventually, my old self was a distant memory. I was left with scraps and pieces of my old self. Little patches that had no real order. I kept trying to piece the jigsaw back together but it was useless. The pieces were damaged and deformed. Then one day I was sitting in a Starbucks on O’Connell street and a song came on and a little piece of me came back. I grabbed it and made sure not to let go. It inspired me just enough to remember a little of who I was. I read Star-girl by Jerry Spinelli on the lawns on Trinity College and got interrupted by some awesome guy rocking a long, boho skirt and Dr. Martens and I remembered again. Another snippet was mine again. I was proud of my individuality and my unkempt hair. I started to see your harsh words as a comedy sketch, not a horror movie. I saw a gorgeous lesbian couple celebrate their long-awaited wedding on the news and I felt whole. I felt less small. I remembered that I am important. I missed the jokes I told, you know, the ones you didn’t laugh at. Suddenly pieces of myself were coming back and I almost had a full jigsaw. I was serenaded on the streets by a guy with a giant sunflower on his lapel. He was singing out of tune and prouder than all of One Direction and I remembered that I am smart, no matter what you said. I cried with laughter at the Amy Schumer’s SNL monologue and I remembered I am talented, despite what you may think. I heard an old, weird Bjork song and found myself dancing in an uncontrolled, uncoordinated manner and I remembered I am unique, in a really damn great way. I stopped re-calling your terribly specific hateful comments and started remembering the reasons I am great. I saw my mother fight with everything in her just to survive and I was proud of who I turned out to be. I read a heart-felt story about a little girl who couldn’t go to school because the other kids taunted over her skin condition and you seemed small and insignificant. That is because you are. I’m sorry you are so hateful. I am sorry you feel the need to try and take everyone else down with you. I am not sorry for my epic jokes or my offensive dress sense. I am not sorry at all, you know why? I actually think I’m kind of great. Now, I gotta go, I got this life to lead, bad jokes to tell, dodgy dancing to do and retro hair-styles to rock.
All the best,
P.s here’s a little pic of my gorgeous face in case you had forgotten the intensity of its beauty.
It has been a year since our last encounter. A year since you touched my heart and reminded me of who I am. I did not realise it at the time but you were right. On that cold, bitter October day you knew me better than I knew myself. I was looking at my life through very tinted glasses. You were looking at my life with a wealth of experience and wisdom. I didn’t even notice the warmth, compassion and empathy you had for me. I failed to see that you were a woman who had been there, done it. You had lived that moment I was in. You had been there once before and you could see it all with 20/20 vision. You told me I could do it. You told me I could pursue a PhD. You told me I could finish my last year at University, no matter how sick my mother was. You told me I would make it work. You told me I wasn’t thinking clearly. You told me I needed a break, not a permanent one. I was convinced you were wrong. I thought you couldn’t possibly understand what I was going through, what I was feeling. You didn’t know me.
How wrong was I? You spoke like a true mother that day. I look back on that dark day and I don’t recognise myself. I was scared. I was lost. You tried to guide me. You did your best. I see that now. Thank you. Thank you for everything. It is because of you I am back in College. I hope to one day have a more prestigious title than ‘Miss’ and that is down to you. Women like you are rare. Women like you are the women made to be mothers and teachers. One day, I want to be a woman like you.
Your kindess may have gone unnoticed in that stressful moment but it is recognised now. It fills me with warmth and empowerment. I am grateful. Thank you for everything. I hope one day I can be the wise woman advising someone as lost and hopeless as I was that day.
Teenage years are challenging. Maybe not for everyone. In fact, I’ve actually heard some people say some positive things, just kidding. My teenage years were not my favourite. It was a tough time. I had no idea who I was yet I knew exactly who I was. I knew what I stood for and I knew what I tolerated. I was angry about life. I didn’t see it then because I really was happy but now I see I was also angry. What was I angry about? Was I angry that my mum was hospitalised a lot and we missed a lot of precious moments together? I am not even sure. I think I was angrier that life was capable of allowing someone to suffer as much as she did because watching it was like a form of torture. It hardened you a bit. This made me less tolerant of most of the teenage woes my peers were experiencing and perhaps this made me less fun to be around. I was maybe too assertive for a fifteen year old and too opinionated for my own good, or maybe not. I would call out everyone who did one thing and said another. I took myself too seriously. I questioned everything. I constantly questioned what was right and what was oppressive and unnecessary. I’m babbling now. I was too aware of serious things. I wasn’t as dumb and absent-minded as I could have been, or should have been. I see that now. I was serious. I didn’t find ‘hobo’ an appropriate insult or smoking cool. I knew when things weren’t right. Having an ill mother makes you look at the world differently. I am not saying I wasn’t concerned with normal teenage things like boys and hair-dye, I was.
Most teenagers are a mess of hormones, emotions and thoughtlessness. I was all of those things and more. I was on this higher plane of what life was. I was living it to the max and offended my happy-go-lucky peers as I did so. Having a sick mother makes you angry, I see that now. I did not see that then. If you had asked me then if I was deeply affected by having a sick mother I would defensively say no but now I say YES! However, now I am not a defensive, angry, confused teenager with a bad haircut and braces. Instead now I am just a normal person who has more self-awareness, is only sometimes angry at the world and still has a bad haircut.
‘How was I to know that what we carved in stone would be so temporary? How was I to know that my first crack at love would not be the last?’ – Hayley Williams.