Family isn’t an important thing. It’s everything.
– Michael J Fox
I walked into Grandma’s room, she was sitting on the end of the bed, her face red and wet with tears. I hated seeing her cry and to this day, it still, almost inevitably starts me off. She had just heard the little boy next door had lost his courageous battle with leukemia. I was still in primary school and this was my first experience of how painful cancer could be. Devastating lives, cancer doesn’t care, how old, how innocent, how utterly unfair it is to descend upon these people and leave so many hearts broken. It should never have happened to him or so many others who came before or after. People who should have their whole lives in front of them instead have them ripped apart and even those who ‘survive’ are changed. For me it’s a weight I carry that wasn’t there before, it’s a fear of reoccurrence that although diminishes, I don’t know will ever leave. I can only hope and pray that someday, maybe even in your life time, (wouldn’t that be something) no one will ever have to suffer the costs of this disease any longer.
It was another ten years before my life was touched by cancer again. This time I was at university, in my second year and living in a shared house, playing at being grown up with three others. I got the call one evening and sat at the bottom of the stairs while your grandpa broke the news. My grandma had gone.
It didn’t feel like she’d been ill for very long at all, it had happened far too quickly and I felt a pang of guilt that I wasn’t there, I was at university, a hundred miles away, enjoying myself. I thought back to when I had seen her last, sitting in her armchair, waving me off. Saying goodbye. All I wanted at that moment was to be back at home, I wanted to be there for my family, to sit with them and to cry together. Instead I had to eventually hang up and feel that isolation that comes with moving away from your childhood home.
I remember taking a National Express coach back home and listening to Turin Breaks on a portable CD player over and over and then never listening to that album again. I didn’t really know what to expect, at that point in my life I was lucky to have not attended many funerals. We all gathered at her house before walking the short journey to the church. I’d never seen it so full, it felt like the whole town was there. As I looked around I felt so much pride and gratitude to be part of such a unique family. The Wings were like The Godfather’s Corleone family without the violence, blackmail and deceit. It sometimes felt and still does today that if I go back home and mention my maiden name that an immediate connection will be formed, a warmth felt between two strangers who share a small part of history. Your great grandparents were wonderful people and were not only dearly loved by all who knew them but also an integral part of the community. So many hearts were broken that day but it was through the love that they nurtured within us all that we were there for each other. Even if it was only a squeeze of the hand, an arm round the shoulder or an eye caught across a room, no words had to be spoken to feel you weren’t alone in your grief.
Family was then and still is everything, it doesn’t have to be through blood or marriage, love makes families and it surrounds you both more than you are yet to know. One of my greatest wishes is that you feel that same safety net, now and always and even though we live a little further away, family is as important as ever.
You probably won’t remember this particular trip but for the first time this Easter we went away for a long weekend with most of my cousins and some aunties and uncles and the plan is to do the same each year. You Grace met quite a few people for the first time, totally unaware of how privileged we are to be part of something so special. You’re too young to understand now but the photos and shared memories will add to our story and I already can’t wait for the next one, watching the next generation form those bonds and carry on such a beautiful legacy.
Cancer is so very cruel and it took away so much from my life. But cancer also gave me a better perspective. It allowed me to evaluate more clearly what is important. To know the difference between which thoughts are stealing my time and effort underseverdly and to know which ones are worthy of my attention. To know what can wait another day and what or who needs me here right now. And you my dears and the family that we share are everything.
All my love, mum xx