The day after Boxing Day, just as we were settling down to be bored by the telly and eat ourselves fitter after a record breaking session on the Matchmakers, my lovely mum was taken to hospital. This is nothing new. Mum was diagnosed with MS about 22 years ago and now has progressive MS, meaning it just gets worse. Even worse than getting worse, MS is sometimes boxed into stages and she is in the ‘final stages’ box. Horrid.
The day after Boxing Day we were told she only had a few days to live, she had had a heart attack and a series of small strokes, add in a chest infection and her inability to eat and the prognosis just wasn’t good. We sat at her bedside and listened to her mind wander, she could see people who weren’t there, small red animals, cannabis plants (she wanted to eat them) and a hospital ward full of small, happy children. The only thing she could not see was the end. We had asked doctors to be honest with her, and they were. They explained how her death would be managed and why it was happening the way it was. She nodded and asked questions and then forgot completely. She forgot to die so completely she is still with us. It just wasn’t on her to-do list I guess.
While preparing myself and my family for losing her I reached out to her old friends for memories of a younger mum, a woman who I know little about. Mum took her mumminess so seriously that everything else she was, was carefully placed in a box and stored under the bed, to be brought out at a time when she had more time to be her. Trouble is, she never really got that time.
By the time I (as the youngest) no longer needed cream crackers after school and my Sunday bath running for me, MS, like a cruel sibling took opportunities and smashed them. Enjoying your MA? I’ll take your legs so you can’t walk to Uni anymore. Passed your driving test? Loving your job promotion? I’ll take your arms so you can’t drive to work. Love meeting new people? I’ll make you so damn tired you can’t leave the house.
Our mum gave me feminism, not just as an idea but as an actual way of life. She gave me The Female Eunuch for my thirteenth birthday with a warning to only use it as a basis of my thinking, to reach out and make it work for me and (and this is the most important) that being strong does not mean making others weaker. She hated gender division and believed in everyones ability to love, to care, to earn, to parent. She was part of the Stevenage School of Non Violence and truly believed in listening to your enemies. Listening so well and for so long that they feel their anger and power just slip away.
When expecting babies, parents-to-be often think about the parents they want to be and look back at their own experiences of being parented. We take bits we want to emulate and identify the bits we don’t. Spending this special time with my mum, the woman who can no longer hold my hand, the woman who knew that feminism isn’t about who you hate or are angry with but who you ARE, spending this time with her at the end of her life and looking back on a life not wasted has taught me more about inner equality than I should really know. Don’t waste a second.
High excitement in the ward yesterday as she ate her first solid food since Christmas Eve. Only mash and gravy but may well have been lobster.