How do you define one day from the next when you are dying 

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Mum the day after she finished her radiotherapy treatment

It’s a way we humans greet each other: How are you? And sometimes we care about the answer we give or receive, other times it’s like an entrée to the true discussion.

It seems easier to say that Mum’s okay, doing fine, than delving into the morbid details of the process of dying. I search my mind for some interesting tidbit that isn’t going to bore, or overwhelm people.

Even my response about myself has flatlined to a ‘tired’ because what else could I be.

I could say that I’ve had enough, even though I know there is still a long road ahead. I could say I want to lie on my bed for days drowning in my Swoon album Mum gave me after Dad died. I could say I have no idea, and that it changes from moment to moment.

Now, a measly four weeks since we found out about the tumours, four weeks since Oliver Sacks announced to the world he was dying, things have quietened down a little. I keep trying to adjust to what I’m calling the new normal.

Mum’s party has calmed down with more gaps between visitors and the greater family  who have other urgent things that are screaming for attention. She says she’s feeling a little better now the radiotherapy has finished, but still says ‘when I’m feeling a little better’ when we all know that moment may never come.

She has become more reminiscent, telling stories from our childhood. I sat on the floor drinking a cup of tea near her, she exclaimed how looking at the top of my head reminded her of when just she and I would go to Bulleen Village when I was a preschooler. She talked about how those were special days, with the other three kids in school, time for the two of us. Three days later I took her out for her first coffee out since our world turned upside down. She chose the cafe that reminds her of Bulleen Village – the fine food, good coffee and good service. All that was missing was the groups of Italian men sitting on benches talking.

The stories flow and I can’t get enough of them.

‘We had a gang of kids to play with,’ she said. The house next door to her house, which was also the general store in Balmoral, was a boarding house. Because it was still early days post World War Two, three families lived in the boarding house. There were plenty of kids to choose from and didn’t matter if you get along with one, there was always someone else.

She talked of how all of us (her kids) all ran away from home at some stage. My eldest sister aged somewhere between four and six left to buy new shoes with her friend Marki as his shoes were muddy. When the bus to Box Hill didn’t come quickly enough they came home to find police and parents all out in the street.

I remember running away from home – to the end of the street. I made a big noise about leaving, packed my bag packed with the coleslaw mum was making, my favourite ball and my favourite soft toy – Purple Animal. When no one came to look for me, and the sun went down, and the smell of dinner wafted to the gate post (where I had crept back to), I came home, pretending that I was always going to.

Mum laughed at the memory, then sighed and said, ‘All kids run away in those early years.’

And we all came back.

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Mum, who still manages to keep smiling

This is the third post in a series about my mother’s journey with terminal cancer.

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