This post is a little deviation from my usual entries, but I feel that each post makes me reveal a little more of myself and my journey, not only from a baggy t shirt ill fitting bra wearing teenager, but also from a girl to a woman. As with the majority of the population I have not had the smoothest of journeys but it has a happy ending…
My Dad was transferred Australia for a stint in the 80’s. It was there that he met my Mother, in Brisbane, Queensland. It was her job to greet the sailors and show them around the town – and it seemed it paid off 😉 They married in England and had my sister, then moved back to Oz and had me in Sydney. When I was a toddler they moved back to England and lived in Devon.
It was around this time that my Mum discovered a lump in her breast. She consulted her Mum, my Nan about it who told her not to worry and that it was normal. In those days people didn’t have the awareness that they do now and so I guess Nan just assumed that all would be ok. A few months down the line my Mum became very ill and it was discovered that she had breast cancer. She ended up needing chemo and a mastectomy. I remember how puffy and red her face was and how thin and greasy her hair looked. But I also remember how brave and beautiful she was. Bands like ‘Dire Straits’ remind me of her and how she and my Dad would sing along to them whilst driving through France on holiday. I remember how I used to have awful eczema and had to avoid dairy and she tried to slowly introduce it back into my diet by feeding my butter one morning – which I spat onto the floor. I remember when I shut my thumb in the desk and insisted on going to hospital with her and my Nan, who had come over with my Pa from Australia. I remember being taken to ‘Tumble Tots’. I remember my Mum joking about how my sister and I should learn to use a water pistol to put out my Nan’s cigarettes. I remember my fourth Birthday and how my Nan and Pa gave me a gorgeous pink dress and shoes which I went to show my Mum, who was still in bed unable to get up. I remember visiting her in hospital. I remember that time my Dad woke my sister and I up in the night and we went with our family friend, a vicar, to the hospital. I remember seeing my Mum and being told she wouldn’t wake up. I remember the funeral. I remember the jar of ashes. I remember writing her letters and sending them to her in the wind. I remember the nannies.
Sometimes it’s better to have bittersweet memories than nothing at all.
I remember the day my Dad sat Tor (my sister) and I down and asked us if we wanted a new Mummy. I copied my big sister’s cries of ‘yes!’. He then asked who should be our new Mummy. Tor said ‘Miss J’, her teacher, and I enthusiastically agreed. My Dad told us with a smile that Miss J and he had met at a parent’s evening and that he was planning to marry her. I was rather thrilled as she always called me ‘Squirt’ and let me run into her classroom at the end of the school day and rifle through Tor’s work tray. She would be a good Mummy. My Dad proposed to her on Valentines Day at a cafe and she accepted. She then asked us with a smile whether we wanted to carry on calling her Ingrid. Tor, followed by me declared that we would call her Mummy and that was that. The wedding was in August and despite me getting muddled with my bridesmaid duties and wandering up and down the aisle with my Mum’s bouquet looking a bit lost,it all went well and off they went on their honeymoon. When my Mum returned 2 weeks later she was accompanied by a terrifying looking man…who I was then told was my Dad minus his beard! Not long after that we moved house and continued to do so a couple more times over the years, such is the nature of my Dad’s job. I was content, I loved my new-found Mum and Grandparents. My sister begged my parents to give us a little brother but they never had children together. I don’t know exactly what was discussed but I think that they felt it would be potentially harmful for Tor and I to have to grown up with a sibling or two who had their real parents around.
When I turned 7 I started to grasp what had happened. My Mum had died. It was then that the tears started… I would lie on the bean bags in the play area in my classroom at my school and just cry. My (step)Mum worked at the school and tried to not panda to me but would also comfort me and explain things. Eventually I got over my phase but I have always been unable to stop myself crying at the littlest things – seeing people in pain, seeing old people struggle, sad endings, happy endings, kinda words, harsh words and I blub. I used to get teased for it in junior school and it became a little embarrassing – but I literally do not know how to hold the tears in.
As the years progressed my once close relationship with my Mum became distant and rocky, as it did with my Dad. I wasn’t a particularly awful child but I was stubborn, refused to apologise and often behaved in slightly mischievous manner – like the time I threw love letters into the boy’s next door’s garden and pretended Tor wrote them. That earnt me a two-week long grounding but I do recall that it was worth it 😉 But however strict my parents were I cannot deny that they were pretty much perfect. My Mum would work part-time to look after Tor and I and for that I cannot love her enough. She ensured that she was there for us to love and care for us as a mother should. Yes my parents had rules and curfews but they did it for a good cause and I would like to think that Tor and I turned out well, especially Tor who has a degree, a steady job and has never really rebelled. My relationship with my parents improved a lot after my drop out from University and subsequent year travelling round Australia and New Zealand. I feel like I matured and they relaxed and that both parties now appreciate the other. I tell Mum things I would never have dared to do in my teens and it feels so good. My sister was always close to them both. She struggled slightly at her wedding when it hit her how no one from our Australian side would be there, but this was more than made up for by our Baltic step family – my Grandma is Estonian, my Grandpa Latvian.
My Nan and Pa had trouble accepting my Dad’s new marriage and especially hated the way we called Mum ‘Mum’. When Tor and I went to Australia aged 16 and 18 and saw them for the first time in 12 years we found things a little strained. As I resemble my Mother very strongly not only in looks but in personality, preferences and mannerisms my Nan found it difficult to not tear up and begged to call me ‘Julie’, my Mum’s name. I found things increasingly emotional as I saw my grandparents several times over the next five years. I was so thankful that last year I was able to see my Nan, Megan, one hour before she died. She was a little delirious but I hope she thought of my Mum when she saw me and I hope she is happy now that she is back with her forever. There was no doubt that my Mum was her favourite and she was never the same after her death.
My Grandpa died recently, a few months after Nan and whilst I am still not over grieving for them I can’t help but feel peace at the idea that the three of them have eternity together.
My (step)Grandparents are just amazing. Tor and I are their only Grandchildren and as my Dad’s parents died before we were born they have been spoiled by seeing us every Christmas and living just down the road from my parents. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome following on from my Mum’s death and whilst I still think of her and how life could have been I also feel so blessed at the way things turned out.
I wish my Mum had known what those lumps had meant before it was too late. I wish that every woman could be educated in how to spot possible cancerous lumps. It takes a few minutes to examine your breasts and it is free to see a doctor or nurse should you be worried. Check out the Coppafeel website for more details, or if in the US check out this site for free mammograms and let’s help give two fingers to breast cancer. It doesn’t have to be scary and it doesn’t have to end lives.