The purpose of this assignment was to write about loss, based on a prompt from an image.
|I was thirteen when that photo was taken. That holiday was last time we all went away together as a family. It was also the last time I saw my Dad really smile. He used to be so happy. He was the life of a party and a great storyteller. I can see him now at our house at Christmas, beer in hand, surrounded my uncles laughing uproariously at some story from when they were kids. Most of them seemed to involve some kind of near death experience. My cousins and I would listen enthralled. Mum would just listen, smile and roll her eyes-she had heard it all before.
We didn’t notice anything wrong with Mum straight away-she was good at hiding things from us, the way that most mums are. I also wonder if we didn’t want to see that anything was wrong-when you are young, you feel like your parents are invincible. We were also a nice family from a nice suburb-we didn’t really know what it was for things to go wrong. Mum and Dad worked hard in nice, safe jobs, my sister and I rode our bikes, swam in our pool and played with our friends; invited them around to the same house my parents had brought just before I was born, in a street full of houses that looked exactly like ours. We went on holidays to the same place every year. We did pretty well at school. It was uneventful, but compared to what came next it was paradise.
The final two weeks of holidays flew past and before we knew it we were back at school. Not long after, mum was sick with that she thought was a cold which never completely went away. She didn’t go to the doctors right away-‘who goes to the doctors for a cold?’ She would occasionally complain of aches throughout her body. Things went slowly downhill from there and soon she did go to the doctors.
None of us had ever heard the words ‘Multiple Myeloma’ before; they are not ones that you hear of everyday. Even now when I talk about it people don’t know what it is. For our family though, from that day onward it was practically etched into our brains. My sister and I came home from school after mum and dad had been to the specialists for what seemed to us like the hundredth time.
“Sit down please, girls’ said dad, in a quiet tone of voice I had never heard him use before. He gestured towards the kitchen table where mum was sitting . Mum looked….I don’t know. I still can’t find the exact words. Closed off, but defiant? It seemed like more than that. I do know now that she was frightened, but trying not to let it show. Strangely enough I don’t remember much more, I remember hearing those two words, then a lot about ‘treatment’ and ‘prognosis’. It felt like my head was full of static, like I was listening to Dad through a badly tuned radio. I remember him talking like he was unsure of what exactly he was saying. Medical jargon was not hugely useful to electricians. Now he and Mum had to learn a whole new language jut so they knew what was going on.
Soon enough, Mum began treatment. The next few years passed in a whirl of hospitals, appointments, horrifying procedures, sleeping in uncomfortable plastic seats, trips home with the help of a community nurse, home care workers and a mile of adaptive equipment aimed at making every conceivable task slightly easier for Mum. Then she would relapse and the whole cycle would begin again. Dad stood steadfast through it all being the strong one, but part of him went too-his laughter, which was sad-I’m sure Mum would have given lots to hear that again. Then one day, Mum’s specialist, a dour man in his fifties and a social worker who didn’t look that much older than me sat down with us all and talked us through what we all knew but couldn’t say-it wouldn’t be long now.
Sitting at Mum’s bed, watching her sleep, she looked so fragile. The doctors could do no more, it was now just about ‘making her comfortable’, which just involved giving her more medication to minimise the pain she was in. Nothing about this looked very comfortable, it looked like it was prolonging agony. Mum faded in and out. Some days she seemed more lucid; some days she wasn’t. then, One day in January, almost exactly five years after that photo was taken, she looked straight at me and smiled. Just for a second, she looked the same as before she got sick; it was easy to see her swimming at the beach, laughing with us over a Christmas picnic lunch, mocking Dad’s tales of juvenile delinquency.
‘It’s okay, Mum’ I choked.
Standing on that beach now, this many years later, I can still hear them laughing. Dad, my sister and I come here every year to talk, remember and just be with Mum. it’s a big change to the holidays we used to have here. Every year I think about what she might be doing, if things had been different. Dad is still quiet, introspective-its often hard to know what he is thinking. I laugh more these days than I did growing up-at lots of things; big things, silly things; darkly funny things, plain old funny things. I think she would like that.