I think I’d only been staring out the window a couple of minutes when Travis touched my shoulder and said, “Babe?” It was that moment I felt the tears running down my eyes again, tears which I’d desperately over the last week been trying to hide from mum. Of course, that was the moment mum had woken up. She saw me crying for once.
The past few days I’d managed to hide them so well. In fact, I was running out of reasons for my wet eyes. I’ve hugged her while the tears stop, for instance. Yesterday I hid them with a gigantic snough – a cross between a sneeze and a cough – but most of the time they’ve not been seen because the morphine’s kept mum sleeping.
“Why are you crying?” She actually asked that. It was a question that left me feeling rather incredulous and I started laughing.
“I can’t believe you just asked that question,” I told her.
I paused, considering my next move carefully. For the entire duration of mum’s cancer, I’ve just been talking and laughing with her about things that really don’t matter – the fact that I’ve had a great day at work, for example, how much I love my colleagues, how excited I am about moving with Travis, that he might be able to get a job close enough to me to make the journey to and from work matter less. Not once have I told her what is really in my heart.
Mum and I have always been chalk and cheese. I am the black sheep of the family, a title I’m actually proud of. The punk. The extremist – though, granted, I’ve never been that extreme. Clothes she thought were beautiful were my idea of hell. I forever offended her by telling her in shops that the dress she was looking at was hideous. Of course, she always made them look incredible – she has a great eye for clothes – while I looked like a macaw.
We had a good laugh today at Mark’s expense, regaling Travis with tales of Mark and heights, the most prominent memory of which was a trip to Mountfitchet Castle, where he got halfway up the siege tower before his teacher – also afraid of heights – had to go and retrieve him. Then came the tales of me and how from a young age I always nagged them to let me go on the fastest, highest, scariest rides at amusement parks. My height only saved them from letting me on them for so many years.
I told mum that I’m proud of her. She’s fought this cruel disease of hers head on for such a long time now, and her fighting has been inspirational. I’d have given up by Christmas, I told her. She smiled.
“I won’t be here at Christmas,” she said.
“I meant last Christmas.” I meant it too. If I’d been diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer, I would have seen what my chances are, probably gotten as far as a bit of chemo and surgery, then when those failed I’d be booking myself a one-way ticket off a cliff.
“I’ll be looking down on you,” she told me. I smiled. “But you don’t believe in that.”
“You’re wrong,” I said. “I just have very selective belief. I know Grandad, Stuart, Nanny Peggy, Uncle Frank, Uncle Bert and everybody else I love are up there looking down and tutting at me right now. I know you’ll be there too.” I hugged her. I didn’t hug her too hard, no matter how much I wanted to, because with her cracked rib I didn’t want to cause her anymore pain than she was in. That and the fact that you can make out every detail of every bone now. After all, it’s coming up two weeks since she ate anything and she’s not on an IV.
“You have no idea how much I love and appreciate you,” I said.
“I’ve always known how much you love me,” she replied. I don’t think she does or ever will, actually, but it’s nice to know that she knows it’s more than I’ve ever said.
I spent most of my time with her today watching her ribs rise and fall when her eyes were closed. She’s talking in her sleep too, a side effect of the morphine, and I thought she was talking to Grandad. She wasn’t though. She didn’t know who it was. “I have to say, your hallucinations are shit,” I told her. “I think they’re not giving you the really good stuff. Let me know when you’re seeing dragons and unicorns.”
I left her with the promise that I’ll see her tomorrow. Travis left her with the promise that he’d look after me, dad and Jamie for her. And that was that, we left her with a smile on her face, hugs and kisses, and then took the long drive home. I started crying on the way while listening to the first CD my parents bought me, a Bee Gees compilation. I know it was her who bought and wrapped it for me at Christmas all those years ago, late 80s or early 90s – I don’t remember. Travis swapped the CD straight over to Bowie’s Reality. There were less tears at that point. Not none, but a lot less.
The last couple of days, I’ve been confused why I’ve not received a call saying to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I don’t want her to leave me – well, us – but I know she has to soon. I’ve now found out she’s waiting for Grandad to collect her. She’s received her orders there, too – tell him I said hi, and for crying out loud TALK to me in my dreams! She nodded and smiled. “Don’t worry, I will,” she told me.
I’ll miss her so much, but I’m so grateful that while she’s awake, she’s still her. My broken heart will continue loving her as much as she always planned on loving me before she became my mother.
Mark, Jamie and I are all so lucky that we had, and still for now have, a mother willing to give everything for us. We always had what we needed, whether or not we wanted it at the time, and she remains loving, caring, and considerate to her last breath. It really is a privilege to be the daughter of Barbara Ann Harris, and I hope I can become the inspirational, talented woman she is.
Until that day, I am just Kate, daughter of Barbara, the most amazing woman alive.