“When did your mum tell you she had CF?”
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.
People constantly say the same thing to me. It usually goes something like ‘How do you cope? If my mum was sick I wouldn’t cope at all! How do you do it?’
They mean well. They think this is a compliment. A testament to how strong you are and it is, kind of. What else would I do? I have a few problems with this statement. Firstly, don’t knock yourself. You don’t know how you would react until you too are placed in a tough situation with no way out. Don’t underestimate yourself or your ability to cope. That is the first thing that bother me. The second is; it isn’t that hard. I mean I hardly have a choice, do I? My options aren’t exactly vast, are they? I have two options: cope or don’t. That’s it. That’s all I got. Which would you choose? It is hardly a tough choice. In fact, it isn’t really a choice. Thank you for acknowledging that I am coping well, it really does mean a lot but what else would I do? Decide to take up recreational drug use to deal with the fact my mother has a crippling illness that is stealing her from me? What good would that do? It would mean she is still suffering and I am just now doing drugs? How does not coping fix anything? In fact, perhaps not coping is the more rebellious option because, really all I am doing is continuing to be a normal, functioning human-being. What exactly is exceptional about that? This blog-post is not meant to read like a cynical rant. That is not what this is. This is just supposed to be a probe into the human psyche, my psyche.
I don’t cope well because I am some kind of super-human superhero who can conquer everything she takes on (although, sometimes I like to think I am). I cope because it’s what you do. You just cope. It isn’t a conscious choice. It isn’t brave. It certainly isn’t exceptional. You just do it.
I still complain. I still get irritated and angry. I still act like you, you without the dying mother. We are the same. I am not stronger or braver than you. You have just been luckier than me. If you too were confronted with this heartache you would cope too. Have I mentioned it’s just what you do?
Lots of things make me great and unique but this isn’t one of them. I am strong. I am brave. I am a kind of hero, I hope. However, not because I have a sick mother. I am all of those things because I choose to be. You can choose them too.