Cancer is a bugger.
3 short years ago I lost my mum to a gruesome battle with cancer. How often do you hear a similar story nowadays?
We all know someone who’s faced, survived or been taken by cancer, don’t we?
Long story short, my mum had been treated for and was in remission from throat cancer until she got an horrendous toothache. Went to the doctors and she was doubled over with pain. A week later and they found a malignant tumour that’d attached itself onto the bottom of her brain and into her spine. Inoperable. Months to live.
That was in August 2017 and by February 2018 she’d died. The tumour was nice enough to give us one last Christmas. But by the end she was non-verbal, immobile and hadn’t eaten or drunk anything orally for months.
She wasn’t a quitter but by that February she’d thankfully decided enough was enough.
That time, those feelings never leave you. It’s etched into your brain. You can recall the clothes you were wearing, the weather and (in my case) what you said to the poor chap at the petrol station (sorry, I now know you were just trying to help).
Watching a loved one die is a life event.
You can’t cheat nature.
Even though it’s the natural order of things, losing a parent, losing anyone close to you, feels so unfair.
I was a for all intents and purposes a fully grown adult when mum died. I was 25, teaching English in a high school and living on my own with a mortgage. Sound as a pound to the outside world.
However, when you see your parent in such a vulnerable state every fibre of your being wants to preserve what’s left of them. You desperately cling onto anything that has memories of happier times when they weren’t sick, and you were a child.
Those things for me were books.
Born a reader.
My mum was many things; a social worker, a phenomenal cook (isn’t everyone’s?), a comic, a critic, a wife, a fiercely (almost too fierce) friend, but the one thing I’ll always remember her for is being an insatiable reader.
Every part of me that loves books I owe to mum. So, in my grief for her that’s where I turned.
And I truly believe that during any form of grief. Reading is a truly sacred refuge. Here’s why:
- You feel connected to them – many families have books that’re passed down from generations. Or even books that have been recommended by family members. Reading my way through my mum’s stacks of books made me feel like we were sharing it together. And also think of how or why she would’ve loved that book.
- Escapism – seems obvious but it’s true. Reading is the only real activity you can do for you mind that will truly focus ALL your attention on something else. You’re engrossed in another character’s story, troubles and emotions. For that moment you don’t have to feel sad about your own.
- They can make you laugh – obviously if you’re going to read ‘A Little Life’ you may find yourself crying more than laughing. But reading something like ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ or even a child’s book like ‘I Want My Hat Back’ can really lift your spirits.
- It’s good for you – and it will make you feel good! Unlike finishing that half bottle of wine or devouring that tub of Hagen Daaz, reading will make you feel accomplished and pleased with yourself.
- It helps pass the time – it can feel like time stands still when you’re grieving. But reading is a great thing to help with that.
Like with all the really hard things in life. There’s no easy way to grieve. But I know that reading was my friend during that time.
‘Reading teaches us to be patient in a world that wants us to be intolerant.’