Today marks an anniversary. On this day, thirty years ago, my mother lost her fight against breast cancer. The disease took her quickly, as we had only known about it for less than a month before, although she had had her suspicions for a long time previously - fear had stopped her from taking action.
My sister called this morning and asked how I was - and I asked the same of her. We talked for a while, as we always do on this anniversary, and as I put the phone down I began to think. And I began to cry - silent emotions filling my heart, misting my vision until the warm wet tears spilled gently down my cheeks. And I wondered who or what the tears were for... so, as is now my way, I decided to write it through... to put it down in words and make sense of the feelings that are rumbling inside me. For this is a definite rumble - none of the crashing, churning bone-breaking stuff of the past two years. No, this is something that deserves appreciation and gentle attention - so that is what I'm doing. Paying attention to whatever is going on for me, and doing my best to appreciate with gratitude the gift that's behind it - for there is always always a gift.
Today I am one more year further on from that day. One more year older (though not necessarily wiser) and one more year along the roller-coaster journey that is my life. And I am lucky. For already, at 46, I have lived two years longer than my mother (and nine years longer than my father). I know all the good things that I am and that I have today - and I am lucky enough to have learned to appreciate life with more senses, colours, sounds and feelings than ever before. It is vibrant. Exhilarating. Intoxicating. And I am learning to ride with the twists and turns that continue to show themselves. So I don't think the rumbles are anything to do with 'today' - no, I think they're something to do with an older place, perhaps even primal.
Hearing my sister brought it home I think. You see, as she was talking, and as we acknowledged how many years had passed since that life-shattering day, I was suddenly transported back to the senses and feelings of that time. You may remember from previous posts that we had both learned to keep our emotions controlled. How to maintain a strong exterior in the hope it would hold everything together. We learned to move along with swan-like grace while our legs and feet paddled like fury below the surface, not just to keep us afloat but also to kick at the monsters that were lurking beneath and threatening to engulf us at any moment. Our hearts were constantly pounding, thumping at our chests from the terror and exhaustion of the situation - but nobody knew.
When mum had first gone in to hospital, just ten days earlier, my sister and I were the only two people who knew what was wrong with her. Nobody was to know - and, had I not confronted her with my own intuition, I suspect that we would not have known either. So we kept this dreadful secret. We smiled at our grandmother who had come to look after us, we carried on as usual at school, and we said nothing to our friends. We believed that if we stayed strong and brave, that this unimaginable nightmare would pass and that everything would return to normal. But of course it didn't. And when she died, I think it was just too much to comprehend. We both just went in to shock and literally shut down.
My sister was 11 years old and I had just turned 16 - and as I look back now at those two little girls who were so suddenly orphaned, both so lost and frightened, stuck in a reality from which there was no escape, my heart bursts with sadness and also with pride. We were so very vulnerable, yet somehow managing to keep ourselves together (at least on the outside) little realising the years of misery that were to follow as we trapped and at the mercy of adults who clearly had no comprehension or interest in our welfare. Our lives were, quite literally, turned upside down. We had to leave our home and our friends, moving to a new town to live with people we hardly knew - and where we never felt welcomed or at home. For the first few weeks of our new life I was on a camp-bed in the dining room...
In those dark days, months and years that followed on from 6th February 1981, I am pretty sure that I would not have had the strength to carry on had it not been for my little sister. Yes, of course I felt responsible to look out for her - and I'm sure that was a huge part of what kept me going. But more than that, it was the love and support that she showed me in return - that was the most important thing. That was what kept me strong and determined, even in the face of relentless and unimaginable horrors. We both passed all our school exams with flying colours, both went to university (although I dropped out) and in the years that followed have both become successful professional people with great reputations in our own fields. Quite an achievement I'd say!
And so now I turn my attention to my son, Dylan, who is today only a few months younger than I was when my life changed for ever. And it really brings everything home to me with a bang. People often tell me that my son is mature beyond his years - although some say it as though it's a bad thing, that he's left his childhood too quickly. I can understand their point of view, and I can also appreciate why some may feel he's becoming a young man too fast for his years. But, then again, they don't see the child-like behaviour that comes out when he and I are alone and watching a DVD in front of the fire, or the silly playground face-pulling games we still play when nobody's around. These are the private codes we share between us, and one of the many connections that make me so proud to have him as my son.
Yes, I accept it's true, I'm sure I've played a part in speeding up his development - and you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. Mum always spoke to me as an adult, and I'm certain that was one of the many things that helped me get through the tough times. So I have always done the same with Dylan. And, because of my own experiences, and because he has no siblings, I am also very conscious that he has as many life tools at his disposal as early as possible. I fully understand that fate and fortune can turn on a sixpence, so I am keen for my son to be well equipped for any eventuality.
And the past couple of years have proven to me that indeed he is. Because he has already gone through his own tsunami with the shock and aftermath of Cam's disappearance. And he's shone through all of this as a strong, wise, beautiful human being. Because of him I stayed strong, knowing I had to be here for him - much like I felt about my sister after mum's death. And, like the experience with my sister, I realise that what helped me even more was the unconditional love and support that my son gave to me at the same time. That was what really got me through.
So where is the gift? Well, I have already been inundated with countless blessings as a result of difficult circumstances. Today, though, I think the gift I've found through those rumbling emotions is this. It's gratitude for the love and connection I share with my sister and my son - my cherished family. Two people who've been through the storms and have survived. Two people who I know I can count on and who can count on me. To Dylan and to Abigail - I love you.
And bringing that sense of love and gratitude to the surface has just made my day more radiant than it was before I started writing - so thank you for reading!
And to mum? Thank you for making me the person that I am. I hope I'm doing you proud, and I know that one day we'll all be together again - not too soon though, eh? There's a fair few more decades and plenty of adventuring left in me yet - bring it on!