I have not posted for a while. This is a long post. Please excuse me.
Tuesday this week, marked six weeks since my Mum died. Her name was Mary Anne Millar Macleod, once she married my Dad in 1966: Macleod-McCormack. My Mum and Dad were together for 59 years since Mum was 15.
She was feisty, intelligent, quick-witted, fun, a task-master, a damn-fine teacher, a red-head, political, an historian, focused, stubborn, respected, elegant, determined, dramatic, a lover of the islands she grew up on, their traditions and culture, a lover of country music, a Christmas fanatic, outspoken, a writer, could read a book a day, demolished the newspaper, informed, she remembered every detail no matter how minuscule and could hear the grass grow.
Since that Tuesday 6 weeks ago, there has been a very acute feeling that ‘something’ is missing.
Mum was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in May 2018 and began chemotherapy treatment on June 18th, 2018 – the only path available to her – this was scheduled to finish at the end of October, it finished early June 2019.
This cancer was Mum’s second.
Mary had ovarian cancer when she was just 36. I was 11. My age and, without doubt, my parents shielded me from much of that trauma. Years later, as she coped with the various side-effects the early 80’s chemo and radiation therapy left her with, it was summed up for us that parts of Mum’s body were ’20 years older’ than the rest of her. Sadly, these ‘side-effects’ seem to have masked the onset of her new cancer. As her new treatment progressed and we encountered problems, we were informed Mum was very sensitive to chemotherapy because her bone-marrow had already taken a battering as a young woman. (The doctors did not put it like this, but you understand.)
When Mum died, she still had the four small black tattooed dots on her abdomen and back, which marked, 38 years previous, where the doctors inserted the radiation pack. After being 38 years cancer-free, it was devastating to learn of this new cancer, lots of painful memories came flooding back, but we came to terms with the news and got on with supporting her ‘fight’ against it. There was nothing else we could do.
I have read in recent times that many cancer patients dislike the term ‘cancer fight’ or ‘cancer battle.’ I understand why. What they are doing is:
living as best they can while following the path of treatment they have chosen, provided there is a path open to them.
Metaphor v Reality.
My Dad, my Auntie Margaret, close friends at home and away, our Macmillan nurses, her Consultant medical team, our GP practice doctors and nurses, hospital medical staff, the community nurses and friends within our Hebridean island community; so many lent their support, as did our neighbours and friends in our local community in Ireland. Mum threw everything into her reality. She gave everything she did in life her full attention; her reaction to her cancers was no different. Her stage 4, oesophageal cancer diagnosis meant she should have died before August 20th. Her will was always resolute. However, though she provided us more time, sadly, the outcome is still the same.
Despite all this, during the last 15 months, we have had good times. Amazing times. One, in particular, was ‘the party.’ July 27th. It was a beautiful day. We hoped to take Mum outside to join some of her closest friends; however, quickly realised we could not even get Mum out of bed so, nine friends piled into the bedroom. Noel (my husband) and I were head-chef, and sous and the stories and laughter began. Mum was always good at rising to an occasion.
I wasn’t able to work for the first six months; I could not do it. Then there came the point where I needed to sing. Singing makes me feel good; it’s mindful of me to sing. Those gigs were tough, leaving for those gigs was tough. Make-up, my curls, and clothing became a protective shield. The best thing about this time away was: I came back with tales, photos, and videos and shared them with Mum and Dad.
Regarding the work I did, I must thank:
The Chieftains and their management team for bearing with me through my turmoil, their kind emails, and calls. My road-sisters Cara Butler, Tara Breen, Triona Marshall, Niamh Ní Bhriain for the laughter and hugs. My agent in Germany Daniela Wilde for accepting the two-week tour she had booked, be reduced to two days. SHINE: for understanding, I was out of the picture. Graham Maciver from @studio27.p and Karen Maciver for supporting me through to the completion of our Iolaire centenary documentary during what was the most stressful time and the many other musicians and writers who put up with my inability to focus quite as before.
Mum was effectively bed-bound since day 1 of her treatment in 2018. In her bed, Mum was safe; she chatted away quite the thing; when Mum was out of bed, only then, were we reminded of how ill she was. Mum did not wish to die; she loved life too much, but she got her second wish, which was to die at home, with her family, on the croft where she was born. I will be eternally grateful to all the medical personnel who supported my Dad and I during this time.
What I am most grateful for over these difficult months, is the time I have been able to spend with Mum and Dad. My Auntie Margaret; retired Sister/Ward Manager Margaret Dobson, said I made ‘an excellent nurse’ I threw everything at that ‘role.’ Sound familiar?
What a fifteen months this has been. I am very aware that what has happened has not fully ‘hit’ me yet, it will no doubt ‘hit’ when I least expect it. Or else, over time, slowly seep in. I am also aware; I am not myself. There is a new normal; to which, somehow, I must adjust.
I have decided to ‘throw’ myself back into life. What else can you do? Life has been so different this last year, moving forward is daunting. You may find me curled-up-in-a-corner crying. I feel very vulnerable. And even so, I know, I will also be heard laughing. I am going to do my best to keep picking myself up and get on with life because that – Mum – is what you would want.
Dad and I miss you every day.