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A milestone I wish I could sidestep

2 Feb

Today is not a day I wanted to see again. 2nd February 2011 and I heard those words for the first time “Strongly suspected lung cancer”. A precise yet misleading jumble of words only superceded in its devastation by the final field on a form flashed up on screen at the doctor’s surgery a week later:

<header> Prognosis=

<body copy> 6-12 months.

Of course there was to be nothing as munificent as a whole year.

And so the rollercoaster began. The concrete cancer diagnosis, the tests that confirmed its spread to the liver. The terrifying fits and subsequent brain scans that showed further metastisis. Radiotherapy. Chemotherapy.

And then 10 weeks later, the end.

So it’s a year to the day my sister rang to tell me the routine scan bore shadows.

And with those words I remember she took my voice.  Leaning against the glass of my patio doors for support, silent, the breath sucked right out of me. Curious physiology.


Happy Birthday Mum

25 Oct

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 72.

I remember vividly her birthday last year. She, me and all the Milks, my sister, her husband and their girls, and a special day out at London Zoo. I’d just had my fringe cut and, as always, was nervous what my mum would think.  At 33, her opinion was still the most important to me. A daughter dancing for her mother’s attention.

We had taken a picnic. A trademark affair. Couscous and roasted vegetable salad, an assortment of sandwiches, delicious rye bread from the deli. We sat on a rounded bench encircling a dwarf maple, our feast of delights spread out around us, carefully placed among the splattering of pigeon droppings.  Later, we sang happy birthday as my mother pretended to hide under the hood of her jacket, much to the delight of the children, as we tucked into the most delicious coffee cake I’ve ever eaten. (made by my clever sis). And I remember thinking fleetingly – “Could this be the last time we all celebrate together like this?”.

I don’t know why this thought came into my head that day. Perhaps holding something perfect in your hands makes you fear the loss of it.

2 months later as we all sat together on my mother’s old red velvet sofa and posed for a photograph the same thought came into my head. “What if this is the last picture we have all together like this?”

2 months later came the diagnosis, and 4 months later my mother passed away.

I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but I knew what was to come. Instinct wrought from intimacy.

I miss you mummy, every day.

Brahm’s lullaby – played at her funeral.

30-something orphan

17 Sep

Original sketch by Doodlemum

Today marks the 4th anniversary of my father’s death. It is also 5 months exactly since I lost my mum.  Two journeys, both with many more miles to tred.


This week I locked myself out of the house.  Returning from a hard day’s work – forlorn, within an inch of my patience. Two tired children yelping and jumping at my knees like impatient, rivalrous puppies vying for  attention.  A childminder desparate to reclaim her family home, a husband tied up in another meeting, neighbours immersed in their own bedtime squabbles. My desparate calls unanswered – two, three, four times.

And as I stood on my own doorstep I have never felt so alone.

When you lose your parents, you cease to be someone’s child.  An obvious point, but in that subtle twist of perception is something more significant. The moment you are orphaned you lose the people whose primary role is to protect you.  Unconditional, instinctive, tribal. This is no comment on my loyal husband who I love dearly, or my sister who is truly exceptional.  Yet as peers, the needs of our own families must come first.  The selfless, unquestioning devotion is focussed on the children whose lives we have been entrusted to protect, nurture, bring to fruition.

And the truth is, my parent’s job was done.

Yet the vulnerable needy child in you is always there.  The infant yearning to be wrapped in its mother’s arms, safe from the loom of the bogeyman. We still crave to hear those words  “Don’t worry darling, I’ll sort it all out for you”, to hide under the duvet and to let someone else carry the burden.

But the truth is, the buck now stops with you.  There won’t always be someone else to come to the rescue.  And that can be a lonely thought.

treasured possessions

20 Aug

“Check in the bureau” my mum whispers, barely audible. “Bureau drawer” she repeats, “might be worth something”.

Two weeks later I open the drawer in my mother’s bedroom to find a small box hidden amongst a pile of carefully folded knickers. A humble, tattered cardboard box belying the treasure within.

A month later and my sister and I wander nervously along Piccadilly, peaking into the shiny windows of high-end jewellery shops with impressive names. “Come on, let’s do it!” I challenge, and as we take a deep, nervous intake of breath we push the heavy door and a bell chimes our arrival.

A man in an expensive italian suit comes forward, flanked by a burly security guard. Glass cabinets glint in the corner of my eye as class oozes vapourously around us.

“How can I help you?” the man in the Italian suit utters, eyeing us with poorly disguised suspicion. “We were wondering if you bought or valued jewellery” I whisper. “Ok, let us see what you have” he generously volunteers.

The burly security guard steps forward and gestures for us to sit at a low table as the classy italian puts on some gloves and lays down a deep russet velvet cloth, smoothing out the edges with the back of his hand. As he takes out a small magnifying glass he motions for me to take out our offerings.

Stumbling around in my oversized, Primark bag amongst the nappies and breath freshner and pocket-size hairbrush I finally locate the old tattered cardboard box. Opening the lid surreptitiously, still hidden within my bag I select the best of my wares and lay it down on the cloth.

Without reply the cool Italian beckons me to continue, and I nervously lay out all the precious items from my mother’s box onto his cloth. Slowly, in exaggerated motions he lifts each one up in turn, draws it to his magnified, glassy eye and turns it over, before laying it carefully back down. He repeats this procedure with each piece in turn.

When he is finished he looks up at me and says slowly and with emphasis  “There is nothing for US here”.

And I am left to scrabble all my mother’s jewelery together as the burly security guard opens the door for us to fall out like scolded, impudent urchins.

It turns out that the clusters of diamonds my mother stowed away for safekeeping are merely modest studs of marquesite , the gold only plated, the semi-precious stones nothing but coloured rock.

Lucky that I can hear my mother chuckling as loudly as my sister and I giggled that day.

Baby buns

29 Jun

I’ve got a real thing for baby buns. They’re just so soft and squidgy and pudgy and grrrr.

There’s something so wonderfully joyous and sensuous about a little  bottom. I usually have to stop myself from eating one when I see it.

One of my earliest memories is of being chased up the stairs by my sister pretending to bite my bottom and squealing with delight.

I remember when Big Milk was born, his cute little peach of a bottom strangely crooked at the top, kinked to one side from the way he’d been squished in utero. Something so wonderfully intimate about that.

And little Milk – a gorgeous round chubby delight of a bottom with dimples on the sides like winking eyes.

When you’re a mother, and despite all the horrible stuff you regularly have to deal with at the bottom end,   you will throw yourself in with joyful abandon, just to land a real smacker or an enthusiastic pinch on that mound of fleshy gorgeousness.

I love baby buns and dread the day my children’s no longer belong to me.

For my sister

17 Jun

I couldn’t do any of this without you.

You are my strength, my support, my courage. You hold me up when I am weak, inspire me when I am faltering,  gather me when I am lost.

With you holding my hand, I know I will be just fine.

My sister, my best friend, my heart.